The Silent Killer

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Over the weekend, I saw Junie B. Jones was trending so I wanted to know why. Sadly, the author, Barbara Park, has passed away due to ovarian cancer. Always sad when a beloved author passes, especially an author who has made a piece of your childhood. But she leaves behind her body of work for future children to read.

But while I read Junie B. Jones as a child, that isn’t actually what I wanted to talk about today. I want to talk about ovarian cancer. Because Barbara Park passed away from ovarian cancer.

Now, in our country, for better or for worse, we talk a lot about breast cancer, go pink, and all that jazz. And while the conversation certainly isn’t always good (please, please watch Pink Ribbon, Inc. – which you can find on Netflix – It’s a truly amazing look at this and I also wrote this post here on why I don’t support Susan G. Komen for the Cure and you can check out thinkbeforeyoupink.org), I think it is safe to say we are aware that it exists. We definitely, definitely, definitely need to change the conversation around it, but I would hope since we are aware of it’s existence, that it would be easier to change the conversation. I cringe every time someone sends me a message on Facebook saying “Change your status to this to raise awareness for breast cancer.” I think we’re all plenty aware of breast cancer – and funding for actual research to find the cause as well as ways to prevent it are the best thing we can do now, not changing your facebook status.

But what we’re not talking about is ovarian cancer. And I think it is in part because it can’t be commercialized as easy as breast cancer can be. And it can’t be made sexy with slogans like “A feel a day keeps the doctor away” or “I like boobies.” Set aside for a moment how trivializing those are to people dying of stage 4 breast cancer, which is a different post for a different day and let’s please talk about ovarian cancer.

I titled this post the silent killer because that’s what ovarian cancer is sometimes called. There’s not an easy way to detect it until it’s often too late – the majority of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer at at the stage with the lowest survival rate. Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest cancers there is and it lacks the funding, support, and research that other cancers get. How many people even know the color of the ovarian cancer ribbon?* In some ways I’m glad that it hasn’t been commercialized in the way that breast cancer has been, but in other ways I’m angry that finding the cause and cure of this cancer is largely ignored. Less than half of the women who get ovarian cancer make it to five years from their diagnosis and a woman’s risk of dying from ovarian cancer is 1 in 95. Compare that to breast cancer, which is 90 percent.**

One of the biggest problems with ovarian cancer, as I mentioned before, is that it is uncommon for ovarian cancer to be detected in early stages. Most of the time, it is detected late in the game, once it’s spread to other parts of your body and treating it is extremely hard at that point. They tried a new method back in 2011, but it didn’t have any positive results on detecting it earlier.

And lastly, I realize ovarian cancer is a smaller threat and relatively rare, but it is still a threat nevertheless, and for the women who do die of ovarian cancer, and their families, it is a tragedy.  And even though it is rare, more women are dying, per year, of ovarian cancer than some more common cancers. According to this table right here, more women die of ovarian cancer per year – despite the fact that less are diagnosed with it – than melanoma, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, thyroid cancer, and endometrial cancer. More people are diagnosed with those cancers, but less people overall are dying of those cancers than are dying of ovarian cancer. And a greater percentage of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are dying than the percent of those dying from other cancers, even if the sheer number of dying is greater (which is kind of a no-brainer – the survival rate is higher for breast cancer, but more women die of breast cancer than ovarian cancer, simply because more women get breast cancer, but more of those women will also survive on the flip side of that than those who survive with ovarian cancer).

So let’s talk about the cancers that women get besides just breast cancer. Let’s talk about the other threats to our health and the other areas that deserve funding. You won’t get to “feel your tatas” but you will get to begin to understanding the other kinds of cancer threats that are out there. I want to talk about this today most of all, because unlike other cancers, I don’t think people are as aware of this one. And unlike some other cancers, this one is much deadlier (percentage wise). And unlike some other cancers, there is no easy and routine way to screen for it.

If you want to help, I suggest donating to an organization that is going to put your money towards research about ovarian cancer, rather than just awareness raising and “feel good” cancer marketing. If you search donate to ovarian cancer research, you’ll find a few organizations doing research and it’s up to you to decide which of those organizations you feel most comfortable with your money going to. Always, always, always do your charity donation due diligence. Don’t just donate to the first one that asks for your money.

Statistics and facts from:

Ovarian Cancer National Alliance

National Cancer Institute – Ovarian Cancer

*Hint: It’s teal.

**Even though perhaps some of those women didn’t even need to be treated.

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