Beverly Van Houten’s sister died from ovarian cancer in 2005, just six months after her diagnosis at stage IV. Capitol Ovarian Cancer Organization (COCO) was founded in August of 2007. As Beverly recalls, “My friends and I got together and decided that we wanted to form an organization especially for the awareness part. We just felt like there were a lot of women that really didn’t realize the risks and the symptoms.” The organization’s mission is to raise awareness of ovarian cancer in Kentucky’s capitol city, Frankfort.
COCO became a Partner Member right away. “We made some calls to the National Alliance; their advice about how to get started and form an organization was so helpful. They also referred us to a couple of other smaller groups we could talk with about how they went about it.” Those conversations helped COCO get established and decide where to focus its efforts.
Given the group’s emphasis on awareness, volunteers from COCO attend many expos and health fairs to talk about ovarian cancer. Last March, they participated in the She Expo, an event for women that was sponsored by the local chamber of commerce.
COCO holds an awareness event in late August or September, in conjunction with a summer concert series; the group give away balloons and pamphlets about ovarian cancer at one of the concerts. In September the COCO blankets Frankfort with teal balloons, hangs banners along Capitol Avenue and rents three billboards with a message about ovarian cancer awareness. Last year the dome of the state capitol was lit teal for the entire month.
The Frankfort community has been very supportive. At one local hospital, all the employees wore teal in September and took a photo that appeared in the newspaper. Two high schools’ football teams wore teal armbands and passed out teal shakers on a designated ovarian cancer night. “It was fun,” recalls Beverly. Local soccer teams also helped raise awareness in September.
In addition to awareness efforts, COCO raises money to help fund local research and education. Last September, COCO gave $10,000 to the University of Kentucky, which runs a special ovarian cancer program.
One of COCO’s annual events is a golf tournament called Tee It Up with COCO. The fundraiser is usually held in May, but will move to September this year. Despite a rainy day last year, more than 100 golfers attended and helped raise money for ovarian cancer research and education programs.
From just a few women whose lives had been touched by ovarian cancer, COCO has grown to 106 members. Together, these volunteers help ensure that all women in Frankfort learn about ovarian cancer.