Program puts spotlight on ovarian cancer

Published 8:09 am Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Shepard Cancer Foundation is offering an educational opportunity about a disease that flies under the radar and whispers its symptoms to those affected.

The Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center hosts educational programs monthly, offering valuable information about various forms of cancer. One program this month, called Knowledge is Power, will highlight ovarian cancer and feature various speakers to give insight on the disease, said Pansy Champion, president of the Shepard Cancer Foundation board and 13-year ovarian cancer survivor.

Champion said the program’s primary focus is to educate people about ovarian cancer and its symptoms, a proactive approach to a cancer that has no type of detection or screening. September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, another reason the program is being offered.

“It’s really to give people some knowledge so they understand when these symptoms appear, they seek medical attention and don’t wait,” Champion said. “It’s not talked about like breast cancer, and there’s not a detection for it.”

At the event, Champion will address attendees, sharing her experience of having ovarian cancer. In 2002, she was experiencing health complications, including abdominal pain and swelling. Champion went to the doctor four times over the course of four months, and doctors claimed she had symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Finally, after continuous pain and swelling, she decided to seek medical attention from her OBGYN. She was then diagnosed with ovarian cancer and underwent surgery, Champion said.

“We, as women, have to listen to our bodies and pay attention to our bodies,” Champion said. “I wish I had known (sooner) and wish I had seen the proper doctor and surgery wouldn’t have been as difficult. My mission is to get the word out about the deadly disease. The more education and awareness there is about ovarian cancer, the likelihood of a person surviving becomes greater. I’m passionate about it. I just want to help other women.”

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague, according to Champion. The sickness often starts out, mimicking symptoms of menstrual or digestive irregularities — bloating, pain in the belly or pelvis, trouble eating and urination problems, to name a few. However, these symptoms don’t necessarily mean a definite ovarian cancer diagnosis. If a woman experiences some of these symptoms for more than two or three weeks, it may be time to see a doctor, Champion said.

According to Kristi Fearrington, oncology social worker at the cancer center, the program is a result of a considerable donation Champion made under the condition the funds would be used to raise awareness for ovarian cancer via education.

“We were happy to oblige because we hadn’t addressed that cancer individually and specifically,” Fearrington said. “From her donation, we are able to offer this program. It is truly one of those cancers that can sneak up on you. We feel it’s important to get the word out to women.”

The free program is set for Sept. 17 at 5:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church and will include guest speakers Champion and Dr. Brenda Peacock, a local gynecologist. Dinner will be provided, but pre-registration is required in order to make sure there is enough food for attendees, Fearrington said.

“Nancy Reagan is the one that said, ‘a woman is like a hot tea bag; you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water,’” Champion said. “I’m in hot water, and I’m hoping to change this awareness to help other women. I’m hoping, one day, the awareness will get out there and there will be a test to detect ovarian cancer.”

First United Methodist Church is located at 304 W. Second St., Washington. To reserve a spot for the Knowledge is Power program about ovarian cancer, call toll free at 1-800-472-8500.