Monday, September 3, 2012

OVCA Walk 2012

Even though September is offically Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Chicago's branch of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) holds their annual Walk to End the Silence in May.

When I was first diagnosed, I naturally attempted using the internet to gather information. Unfortunately, most of what I read was absolutely terrifying for someone who had just been diagnosed. Especially since I didn't yet know what stage my cancer was (although I'd been led to believe it must be in the later stages) the information I came across was completely overwhelming.

Luckily, I happened to find the NOCC website and they have a "newly diagnosed" packet that they will send out to anyone. It was honestly the first time that I read anything that gave me hope. They have a booklet full of "survivor stories" that helped me breathe a little easier and believe that just maybe this wasn't a death sentence. I was so grateful.

Then I had my second surgery and recovered and went back to work. I tried to push cancer as far out of my life as possible. It wasn't until after they found the cyst that I went back to the NOCC website looking for some support. I found good information and also learned about the annual walk. I hesitated for a minute before sending in an email to volunteer.

I woke up bright and early to work at the registration tents. I did not really know what to expect but it ended up being a very profound experience for me. I was heartened to see so many people come and support bringing awareness to a disease that I really had barely known about 6 months prior. But I was also devestated and overwhelmed by some parts of the day.

I worked with two young women, no older than myself, who had lost their mom to ovarian cancer. I watched "teams" of people arrive with matching colorful shirts or signs that announced they were walking in honor or memory of a loved one. It was usually easy to tell if a group was an "honor" or "memory" team.

Teams walking in "honor" of someone often had themed shirts or posters that focused on the fight. They were sometimes humorous and always inspiring. There were some pretty awesome slogans made up for the team - I wish I had written some down!

The teams walking in "memory" broke my heart a thousand times over during the morning. Their shirts spoke about God needing more angels and usually featured pictures of the loved one. There were also stickers that participants could pick up and write their survivors names. I was shocked to watch time and again as people would stop and write the names of multiple loved ones they had lost.

There were a number of cool pieces of the event - including a survivor's picture and huge banners full of survivors' handprints from past walks. I didn't participate in most of them for a number of reasons that I'll blog about later, but mostly because I was busy volunteering. Once everyone left to begin the walk, I wandered through the booths and talked to a few people. Anytime I shared my experience, I was surprised by the thrilled look on people's faces when I told them I was Stage 1. Don't get me wrong, most people who hear my story are glad that it wasn't "too serious" but few really understand the significance. But the people at this event know exactly how miraculous it is to get diagnosed early. To not have to undergo chemo. To not have to have a hysterectomy. To have a good chance of long term survival. As hard as it was to witness everyone who hadn't been as "lucky" as me, it was amazing to be around people who "get it".

As I was about to leave the walk, I ran into someone I'd been hoping to meet...

I found Kathleen through a very old blog that she had started when she was first diagnosed. I was specifically looking for women like myself - young, diagnosed early, minimal treatment needed. Kathleen's blog not only struck a chord of familiarity, I learned she lived in the area. So, I tracked her down via email and then she stalked me back on Facebook. She has been an absolute lifesaver during the aftermath of surgeries, bloodtests, ultrasounds, and follow up appointments. Always willing to answer a million and two questions! I'm so grateful to have met her - both online and in real life!

1 comment:

  1. Aww Rachel! I am so glad we found each other - and I completely forgot how we "met" at first online, perhaps because it seems as though we'd already known each other for so long. :) Thank you for your incredibly kind words. I am so glad that I could be helpful to you and feel blessed that I could share my experiences with you - the good, the bad, and the ugly. ;) So glad we found each other! Hope you are doing well.

    - Kathleen :D


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