A year after her diagnosis with ovarian cancer in May 2011, Dr. Jan Byrne began looking for ways to be more involved in ovarian cancer advocacy and education. She connected with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance and realized that there was a need for more services in Utah. “There wasn’t anything organized here for ovarian cancer survivors,” Jan recalls. The University of Utah hosts an annual run for ovarian cancer “but that was really the only activity that was for survivors or the community.”
Jan began working on local awareness activities, but she found herself thinking that a dedicated organization would be useful: “We could be additive rather than competitive.” About a year ago the Utah Ovarian Cancer Alliance was officially born. With volunteers from the University of Utah and the survivor community, the new organization is already busy hosting events and raising awareness of ovarian cancer.
To help raise awareness, the Utah Ovarian Cancer Alliance has worked with Turn the Towns Teal in Salt Lake City. The group also hosts an ovarian and gynecologic cancer awareness booth at the Salt Lake City farmers market each summer. “We dispense information and just talk to a lot of people,” says Jan. “It’s interesting how many misperceptions there are in the community—we’ve had more than one person come up and ask why we changed the color from pink!” For the last two years, the Utah Ovarian Cancer Alliance has also worked to get the governor to issue a proclamation declaring September Ovarian and Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month in Utah.
The organization’s first big event kicked off in 2014 in conjunction with World Ovarian Cancer Day (May 8). The Black and Teal Gala was the brainchild of the head of Jan’s maternal-fetal medicine division at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “He said ‘You’ve got to have a gala.’” recalls Jan, “So we got him involved in the planning. It was absolutely terrific and brought together a lot of survivors from the community.” The dinner and silent auction brought in 120 people, including survivors and community members, and helped raise funds to support ovarian cancer education, awareness and research at the University of Utah and Huntsman Cancer Institute. This year’s Black and Teal Gala will take place on May 9, 2015 and will once again be on the University of Utah campus.
In addition to the gala, members participate in several events to help fundraise for ovarian cancer, including a women-only bike ride through northern Utah that raises funds for breast and ovarian cancer research at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. One of Jan’s partners, Dr. Erin Clark, runs an ultra-marathon called the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run to raise funds for the cause, as well.
On the educational front, the Utah Ovarian Cancer Alliance helps run the national group’s Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives® program at the University of Utah. Stephanie Hess, a UOCA board member is the Utah facilitator. They have been presenting to medical students since September 2013 and will be expanding to the physician assistant program and one of the graduate nursing programs this year.
As an Advocate Leader with the Alliance, Jan was aware of the Partner Member program before she started her organization—and she quickly got the Utah Ovarian Cancer Alliance involved. “There really needed to be something in Utah, and I knew being a Partner Member would increase our visibility. If someone contacts the Alliance, they could be referred to us.” In just one year, the Utah Ovarian Cancer Alliance is already making a difference for survivors in the state.