The Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance got its start in 1998, when 13 survivors met. “They saw that there was a lot of work being done around research and testing,” says Doug Barron, Executive Director of the group. “But there was nothing for women about education and awareness of the risks and symptoms. Our founders wanted to prevent other women from experiencing the same uncertainty they had.”
In the early days of the organization, the Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives® program had yet to be created, so GOCA established a speakers bureau. “They went out and did ‘lunch and learn’ sessions for women’s groups, church groups—anyone who was interested,” says Doug. Today GOCA is part of the STS program, and is expanding it into nursing and physician assistant programs. “We love being involved with Survivors Teaching Students.”
Doug got involved with GOCA several years ago. His mother-in-law passed away in 2007, several years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Doug recalls: “I went through a stage of emotional adrenaline, thinking ‘I’ve got to do something, I’ve got to get involved.’” Doug and his wife soon joined the GOCA board of directors. Near the end of 2009, when the organization was looking for a new executive director, Doug took up the challenge of running GOCA.
One of GOCA’s most successful programs is a Bag of Hope, given free of charge to women who are recently diagnosed. It includes information about ovarian cancer and comfort items like a blanket and turban. The organization gives away about 300 bags each year.
A major source of fundraising and awareness is GOCA’s annual “Overcome Ovarian Cancer” walk, held during National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in September. This year, the group also introduced a more “grown-up” fundraising event: a black-tie Shaken Not Stirred Gala attended by 400 people. Doug hopes to make this an annual event, using a different James Bond movie each year as inspiration for the theme.
GOCA also raises awareness though an annual event with the Atlanta Braves. About 275 people buy tickets through the organization. They are all given a chance to parade around the field, led by any ovarian cancer survivors who attend. “People stand up and applaud them, and they’re shown on the big screen,” says Doug. “It’s a way to get the message out to 50,000 people I wouldn’t normally be able to reach.”
Being a Partner Member is critical to GOCA’s success. In addition to the STS program, Doug says the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance is a source for projects GOCA doesn’t have the resources to launch, like the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Diary App. Beyond the national staff, the network of Partner Members provides “a knowledge base we can tap into for other ideas.”
Only one of the 13 original GOCA members is alive today, but their legacy lives on in an organization that provides comfort to survivors, education to all residents of Georgia and awareness of the risks and symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Learn more at http://www.gaovariancancer.org/