In early September, the skies over Arkansas will fill with butterflies and balloons to mark the start of National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. “It’s a way to kick off the month for survivors and supporters,” says Arkansas Ovarian Cancer Coalition (AROVCC) co-founder and board member Amy Lasseigne. “We hope people in Little Rock will see the balloons as they drive home from work, and turn on the news to see what it was all about.”
AROVCC began in 2006 as a taskforce of the Arkansas Cancer Coalition—a group founded in the early 1990s to address cancer issues in the state. A man who had lost his wife to ovarian cancer organized several rallies at the state capitol; the founding board members of AROVCC met at one of those rallies. All of the founders had been touched by ovarian cancer personally or professionally. They started meeting monthly and outlined a plan to educate medical professionals, women and the community as a whole. “We realized that we needed to be more than a taskforce,” recalls Amy. “We needed to raise money so we could do even more.”
After weighing their options, the founders decided to create an independent organization dedicated to ovarian cancer education; they established AROVCC in 2009. Their first event was an art auction fundraiser called Artists for Ovaries. September 21 will mark the fourth annual Artists for Ovaries, which has grown from 75 attendees to more than 300. Many art pieces are donated by ovarian cancer survivors and their loved ones.
With funds raised by the first Artists for Ovaries event, AROVCC was able to produce an educational brochure and bookmarks that detail the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, as well as information about diagnostic tests and risks. Volunteers from the group educate health professionals and the public by attending medical and health fairs. Amy sees the need for education through the people she meets at these events: “I’ve met at least three physicians who thought ‘If you have ovarian cancer, there’s nothing we can do.’ But that’s when I get excited, because I can educate them about the symptoms and tests.”
Governor Mike Beebe has been supportive of the group, as his mother died many years ago from ovarian cancer. In past years, he has spoken at AROVCC survivors’ luncheons that were held at the governor’s mansion. They hope Gov. Beebe will attend the “Rally at the River” and balloon launch in Little Rock on September 7.
AROVCC recently began distributing survivor bags to women in Arkansas who are newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The bags are given away at two medical centers in Little Rock where many women go for treatment, and include support materials, a diary and information about a number of women’s cancer groups.
Another big step for AROVCC was the creation of a new sub-chapter in the River Valley area. “We are a volunteer-only group and can’t effectively reach the entire state,” notes Amy. The new sub-chapter will serve women in eastern Oklahoma and the River Valley area in northwest Arkansas.
AROVCC became a Partner Member of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance in 2010. “Because we’re volunteer-only, our time is limited,” explains Amy. “The Alliance assists with putting different legislative issues in our view point so we can disburse that information to our contacts. Being a Partner Member also gives validity to our organization by connecting our group to others around the nation.”