Painting the town teal

Ovarian Cancer Support Group spreads awareness message for fellow women

WOMEN WHO are diagnosed with ovarian cancer must navigate a scary range of emotions while dealing with unchartered health challenges — but in Polk County there’s help available from a local support group.

The Ovarian Cancer Support Group of Polk County, “Wings of Teal,” holds monthly meetings, provides information, arranges special events, and offers fellowship for members and caregivers. Carol Vonesh, one of the co-founders of the group, says having others to talk to about ovarian cancer can be a tremendous help to women who face the diagnosis. “The most important message that we are trying to get out is that of women empowering themselves with knowing their bodies, and knowing what the symptoms and risk factors of ovarian cancer are,” Vonesh says. Members look forward to the fellowship of the group; many have formed wonderful friendships.

“We started this group because we wanted to help other women in our shoes,” Vonesh explains. “We felt like we could help each other not only through support but through experiences. It quickly became one of those situations where the more we put ourselves out there, the more we realized there was a huge need to educate women in our community.

“As a group, we all want to help women avoid the situation we find ourselves in now. We want to bring the symptoms and risk factors of ovarian cancer to the forefront in order to help our children and grandchildren and other family members, as well as our neighbors’ friends, and all women,” she continues. “We want people to know that we are here in Lakeland and hope to spread to the surrounding communities. Right now, we are a small group but with very big aspirations.”

September was National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, and the group organized a special event. “Our group chose to honor those who are going through the battle of their lives, and those who have lost their battle, by spreading awareness in the form of a movie event called ‘N.E.D. the Movie.’ As we are under the 501(c)3 umbrella of the Watson Clinic Foundation, we sometimes get together and co-host events. This was one of those times.”

The movie is about six gynecological oncology surgeons who also are rock musicians. “They combine their music with documentary to talk and sing about the importance of being aware about gynecologic cancers. N.E.D. stands for ‘no evidence of disease.’ ”

Another way the group recently was able to call attention to its cause was by asking for approval to have Sept. 10 declared Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day in Lakeland. Getting the word out is important. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says more than 21,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year. More than 14,000 will lose their lives to the disease. It is the fifth-leading cause of death in women in the nation.

“The reason for this is that there are no symptoms in the early stages and when they do start to present themselves, they are vague and often mimic other medical issues,” Vonesh elaborates. “There are no proven or standardized tests or diagnostic tools to diagnose this disease, so it usually is not found until the late stages.”

The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and the ACS advocate for early awareness in hopes that women and doctors can pick up on the signs in the earlier stages. When diagnosed in the late stages, a woman has a 35 to 45 percent chance of a five-year survival rate. When caught in the early stages, the statistic jumps to 93 percent. “Unfortunately, there are many women today that have never heard of ovarian cancer,” Vonesh points out.

“We try to instill hope and positivity in our group. Through our Facebook page we network with other groups across the nation,” she says. The group belongs to the the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, the American Cancer Society, and Women and Girls Cancer Alliance.
Of course, there are difficult and sad times in the group. “We all face challenges, including physical and emotional,” Vonesh shares, “but you will not find a more dedicated and caring family of sisterhood and their husbands in Lakeland.”

“The women of our group celebrate life,” she adds, “and when someone’s cancer returns, as did mine, you feel wrapped in a family of support and love and hope. Our women are strong and courageous, and even when facing the fear that cancer brings, we keep moving forward. I love my group and the women in it.”


article by MARY TOOTHMAN

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