2015 marks the 10th anniversary of the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance (COCA), an organization dedicated to promoting awareness and early detection of ovarian cancer through advocacy and education efforts, while also providing support to women affected by ovarian cancer. COCA got its start in 2005, when a local ovarian cancer support group decided to form a nonprofit organization in order to continue a valuable support group, and COCA has continued to grow from that point on.
Providing support to women with ovarian cancer was one of COCA’s founding goals, and it remains a critical part of the organization’s work. COCA now hosts four professionally facilitated support groups in the Metro Denver area, poignantly named Nicki’s Circle in memory of one of the founding support group’s members, as well as two tele-support groups for women who cannot attend an in-person meeting. The call-in support is helpful both to women who are too sick to leave home and to the many women who live far from the meeting sites. Patrice Hauptman, the Executive Director of COCA, says that these meetings allow women the opportunity to gain helpful information about ovarian cancer treatments and resources based on other women’s personal stories and experiences, which they can then use in their own life.
COCA recognizes that this traditional support group model may not be for everyone, so they’ve also developed a Peer Support Mentor Program that allows for one-on-one peer mentor program for women with ovarian cancer who would like to talk directly to a long-term survivor. Both the one-on-one peer support and support group programs are important as they “leverage power of a women’s cancer network to help other women,” Patrice explains. She notes that this woman-to-woman information network is also helpful in that it helps teach women to become strong advocates for themselves.
The organization also supports local women through their COCACares program, a financial assistance fund to help women in Colorado with ovarian cancer who, due to the hardship of their ovarian cancer diagnosis, may have found themselves in a difficult financial situation. The program, which provides $500 per month for up to 6 months, is available to Colorado women who are in active treatment and whose total income falls within 300% above the federal poverty level. Awarded grants go to expenses like rent, medical insurance premiums, groceries, childcare, transportation, utilities and medical bills, and transportation assistance to join a clinical research drug trial. COCA also works to support women who are newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer by providing Comfort Kits—bags filled with different items, like socks and a teal blanket, for newly diagnosed ovarian cancer patients, to help them through their treatment and beyond. Also included in the kits is COCA’s 50-page Ovarian Cancer Resource Guide, which is especially helpful for those newly diagnosed patients. Patrice says that these kits are a way to connect with newly diagnosed patients and show that “there is a group out there rooting for you.” These kits are given out by the gynecologic oncologists in the Denver area, with 150 kits going out each year!
In addition to support services, every 6 weeks COCA volunteers participate in the Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives® program, facilitated through the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, which COCA hopes to expand to include other medical programs in the Denver area. COCA has been a long time Partner Member of the Alliance and works closely with the Alliance as a strong advocate on both the state and federal level for ovarian cancer awareness and research funding.
As COCA has grown, the group has added more events and initiatives. At the urging of Jodi Brammeier, a local woman with ovarian cancer, COCA launched a 5K race to raise awareness of ovarian cancer.. That first year nearly 1,700 people attended. Now in its 7th year, Jodi’s Race has grown to an audience of over 3,000 and includes a special breakfast for survivors prior to the race and survivor recognition throughout the race itself. Next year the race will be held on June 11th, 2016 at City Park in Denver, so mark your calendars!
COCA also works throughout the year to raise awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms and risk factors by sending trained volunteers out to health fairs across the state armed with symptom cards and information. Their September Awareness program reaches out via local media interviews throughout the state to help educate the general public about risk factors and symptoms.
Looking towards the future, we can only expect that the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance will continue to build on its foundation of education and advocacy all while providing support to women and families affected by ovarian cancer. Here’s to another 10 great years!