The bond of friendship between women is amazingly strong; Karen Campbell (KC) was a woman who had many friends. Inspired by KC’s tragic battle with ovarian cancer, her friends are honouring her wishes to get the word out, spread awareness; to “shout if from the rooftops” to give this deadly disease a voice.
While breast cancer has a 90 percent survival rate, with ovarian cancer that statistic is a 70 percent fatality rate within five years of diagnosis, making ovarian cancer the deadliest of women’s cancers. The reason that ovarian cancer is so difficult to survive is that the early stages of ovarian cancer are almost impossible to detect; by the time it is diagnosed, most cases have already progressed to stage 3 or 4, a point at which treatment becomes much more difficult and death becomes more certain.
There are two contributing factors to ovarian cancer reaching such advanced stages before diagnosis.
- Women tend to ignore the symptoms of ovarian cancer simply because they are so common to many women. They are: bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly and urinary symptoms.
- Recent research shows that ovarian cancer most often begins in the fallopian tubes, rather than the ovaries, as it has long been thought. Additionally, and frighteningly, there is no reliable screening test for the early detection of ovarian cancer. Pap smears, blood tests and traditional external exams do not detect ovarian cancer.
KC’s girlfriends have told the story of KC being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and happily going about her work, spending weekends with her fiancé at her cottage, and spending time with her friends. They recall her as a “tiny little thing,” who was “cute as a button” and who people “gravitated toward.” Very quickly after her diagnosis, within weeks, the disease took over her life. KC underwent surgery that was followed by chemotherapy. She was left in constant pain, couldn’t eat or drink and vomited a black liquid.
Her friends recall that KC went through the stage of being angry; questioning her illness. The next stage was acceptance; an acceptance that her friends have said they aren’t sure they could have reached. Slowly though, KC started to get better, and finally went into remission. One of her friends, Kelly-Jo Wellings, recalls, “KC often talked about how this could happen; and why didn’t she know about what to look for.”
Within a few months, however, KC’s cancer returned and she returned to the hospital. By the end, she was completely bedridden, weighed in at barely 80 pounds, and lived in a morphine haze as her organs began shutting down. As KC battled the disease that left her so debilitated she continued to have conversations with her friends about how important it was to get the message out to women, to tell them to be vigilant about the symptoms, for women to be aware of their bodies, to make sure that women were more diligent about pushing for further testing when they had symptoms.
During this time, a group of those friends decided to take up KC’s call to action and met with Ovarian Cancer Canada. They were able to talk to KC about their plans; KC was delighted and told them to “shout if from the rooftops!” She wanted more women to know more about the disease that was taking her life.
It wasn’t long after, on December 9, 2010, at the age of 57, Karen Campbell slipped away.
In the two years since their friend, KC’s, death, Kelly-Jo Wellings and Sue Harper have dedicated themselves to working on something that would honour her memory. As a result of their discussions with Ovarian Cancer Canada, the Karen Campbell National Award for Research Excellence was created. The inaugural award was presented in February 2012 to Dr. David Huntsman, a Vancouver-based pathologist who conducts research which focuses on molecular distinctions between types of ovarian cancer subtypes. The award honoured the work of his team at the B.C. Cancer Agency and Vancouver General Hospital. Their work has led to the discovery that ovarian cancer comprises five subtypes which all behave like distinct diseases; their work gives clinicians more specific data to work with when diagnosing, treating, and most importantly preventing ovarian cancer.
The legacy left by KC has gone beyond the aching loss felt by her friends; those friends were forever changed. One friend, Sue Harper, makes sure that nothing goes unsaid which means making sure her girlfriends know how much she loves them. In their dedicated work to honour KC and in their understanding of just how precious friendships are, they are giving hope to other women through raised awareness; and through the Karen Campbell National Award for Research Excellence, real strides are being made in researching this deadly disease; they have given a voice to ovarian cancer.
The 2012 inaugural LOVE HER events were a huge success! Raising over $300,000 collectively, the Vancouver and Toronto events set the stage for an annual glamorous, prestigious, and highly anticipated fundraising event in support of Ovarian Cancer Canada. By the time of this publication, the 2013 LOVE HER events were held on February 28 in Toronto and March 7 in Calgary; and the second Karen Campbell National Award for Research Excellence was presented to Dr. Anne-Marie Mes-Masson, a professor in the Department of Medicine at the Université de Montréal, scientific director of the Institut du cancer de Montréal and director of cancer research at the Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal. Over the past two decades, Dr. Mes-Masson and her research colleagues have developed some of the most comprehensive tissue banks and cell-based models for ovarian cancer in Canada.
Lend your voice to the growing chorus to bring an end to this horrible disease. For more information about sponsorship and volunteer opportunities, please contact:
Karen Cinq Mars, Vice President Marketing and Business Innovation