The Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance (GOCA) formed back in 1998, when a group of thirteen ovarian cancer survivors from Atlanta met one another while undergoing chemotherapy. Through their conversations, many of them came to realize that prior to their own diagnosis they had never heard of the disease, or had even met an ovarian cancer survivor. They recognized that there was an immediate need to educate Georgia’s women, their families and their healthcare providers about the risks, symptoms and treatments of ovarian cancer, all while spreading awareness of the disease.
The founders’ original emphasis on education and awareness is still the focal point around GOCA’s programs today. GOCA works throughout the year to raise awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms and risk factors by sending trained volunteers out to health fairs and lunch and learns across the state armed with literature on ovarian cancer. They also look to spread awareness “outside of preaching to the choir,” Executive Director Doug Barron explains, generally to groups that are commonly overlooked when educating the public about the disease, like men’s groups. GOCA has partnered with a Pro Bass fisherman and a Dirt Track Racecar driver to bring awareness of the disease to men, as every man has a woman they love and care about whether it be a wife, daughter, or mother, and need to be educated on ovarian cancer and its symptoms.
The Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance also works to educate not just the general community about ovarian cancer, but the medical community as well. GOCA volunteers participate in the Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives® program, facilitated through the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance. GOCA has been a long time Partner Member of the Alliance and works closely with the Alliance through the STS program. The program brings the faces and voices of ovarian cancer survivors into the classrooms of health professional students to teach them about women’s experiences with the disease.
Another way that GOCA raises awareness about ovarian cancer is through their two signature events that they host each year. GOCA’s Teal Trot is their largest event, held in September during National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, which recognizes, remembers, and honors women who have been touched by ovarian cancer. This annual outreach event will take place this year in downtown Atlanta on September 10th. This event draws over 1,000 attendees and recognizes survivors with a special teal sash. This past month, GOCA hosted their annual Shaken, Not Stirred Gala at the Delta Flight Museum, which offered nearly 700 guests a fabulous evening of music, dancing, and dinner, all while joining in the fight against ovarian cancer. The dinner is very special, as it is a five course meal created by Georgia women chefs, supporting Georgian women. Doug explains that these events also allow for a way to connect with folks outside the ovarian cancer community and provides them with knowledge about the disease that they otherwise wouldn’t have known. Proceeds from both events benefit the GOCA’s education and awareness and community outreach programs.
In addition to education and awareness programs, GOCA works to support women with ovarian cancer in Georgia through their Bags of Hope program. This program works to support women who are newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer by providing bags filled with different items, like a blanket, water bottle and journal, to help them through their treatment and beyond and to let them know that they are not alone on their journey. Also included in the kits is a “Cancer 101” booklet, which is especially helpful for those newly diagnosed patients as they face different treatment options and chemotherapy side effects. Since the program began in 2008, GOCA has distributed more than 2,000 bags to women in Georgia, with a goal to distribute 400 bags in 2016!
Looking towards the future, we can only expect that the Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance will continue to build on its foundation of education and awareness all while providing support to women and families affected by ovarian cancer.