Being diagnosed with ovarian cancer can be overwhelming, and it can help to know that you aren’t alone. Below, ovarian cancer survivors get real, sharing thoughts about navigating ovarian cancer, along with tips and resources that helped them during their most challenging moments, and how they’re using their newfound understanding of ovarian cancer to help others.
Read their valuable insights, and be sure to check out our list of helpful resources and programs at the end of the article.
If you’d like to share your ovarian cancer survivor story, or are currently in treatment, you can do so here.
“I felt so alone when it came to finding someone who actually got it. I have friends my age, but they weren’t going through what I was going through.”
Jamie Davey lives in Trumbull County, Ohio and was 26 years old when she was diagnosed. She’s also an open book, about everything from her ‘buns and guns’ class at the gym, to how you can best support friends and loved ones facing ovarian cancer and what it’s like being a 28-year-old in menopause.
“I had made sure so many women had the resources and support they needed, the follow up care. I was always so active in making sure things were in place for other people, I just never thought about me being diagnosed.”
Yvette Jives, a nurse and social worker in North Carolina, has spent a lifetime helping others. After her diagnosis, in order to address what she saw as a need for ovarian cancer awareness and support in her community, as well as the disproportionate impact of the disease on patients of color, she founded Health Education and Resources (HERS).
“Take things one step, one battle, one victory at a time. Just get through today; win today. When you take the good out of that day, then you won that one battle.”
After being diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer, Stacy Saravo found hope and inspiration through OCRA’s Woman to Woman program and Inspire online community. To help give rising medical professionals a patient perspective on the disease, Stacy volunteers with OCRA’s Survivors Teaching Students program.
“There was so much unknown. And sometimes the level of fear was almost paralyzing.”
Penny Free is a licensed clinical social worker, an art therapist, and a believer in mantras. When she was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the end of 2014, she found herself struggling about what course of action to take. Since then, four mantras have helped her balance life with the disease while living each day to its fullest.
“I never say, ‘I have cancer,’ because it’s not mine. I’m dealing with it.”
A lover of art and travel and people, one-time social worker and cruise line cook, and now celebrity chef, Elle Simone can also add social entrepreneur to her list of accomplishments. Elle is an ovarian cancer survivor and OCRA board member who is determined to use her platform to raise awareness about the disease.
“Knowing I had a core group that assisted with the daily activities and not being afraid to ask for help was key to my recovery.”
Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013, Sandy Sullivan credits the support of her friends and family with helping her navigate the challenges of diagnosis and treatment. She’s now using her professional skills, honed through a lifetime of sales, to participate in OCRA’s Advocate Leader program, letting legislators know about the need for federal ovarian cancer research funding and awareness programs.
“I’m not saying this is a diagnosis anyone would want to get, but it makes you sort of laser focus on what is important in life. It makes you reassess and say, ‘Where do I want to be? Who do I want to be with? What do I want to be doing?’”
Janice Murphy, diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 62, is committed to raising awareness not just about the disease itself, but about what she believes to be an extra risk of ovarian cancer within the gay community.
“I just really tried to visualize being healthy and I would imagine a little Pac-man eating up my cancer cells.”
More than a decade after her diagnosis, Amy Hollub is helping others learn about the importance of family history and genetic testing, and raising vital funds for research, by hosting an annual Rock ‘n Run event in Miami.
“I consider myself extremely fortunate, but you can’t rely on luck. I’m alive because of the grace of God and biomedical research. That research is critical.”
US Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is the Chair and founder of the Congressional Ovarian Cancer Caucus, and an ovarian cancer survivor herself. She’s committed to using her legislative platform to make a difference for the ovarian cancer community.
“I want access to information. I want women to see enough information about treatment options in a language they can understand.”
In addition to the shock of a rare ovarian cancer diagnosis, Kimberly Richardson also navigated friction and lack of support from key members of her medical team — and she soon learned she wasn’t alone. She’s determined to empower others to speak up for themselves and to see the hope that comes from research, by connecting the patients to the science, and making information more accessible to those who need it.
“I really didn’t care if people looked at me like I was a weirdo, or if they thought I might be sick. And that’s how it all started.”
Noel Rademacher, a 44-year-old mother of two and ovarian cancer survivor, started creating masks with teal ribbons on them to raise ovarian cancer awareness early on in the COVID-19 pandemic. Before she knew it, she was raising funds for research by selling her masks on Etsy with proceeds benefitting OCRA.
“Some friends would say ‘You’re going to be fine! You’ll get through it.’ Sometimes that’s what I needed … and sometimes it really wasn’t.”
Diagnosed at age 30 while she was looking into freezing her eggs, Morgan Gaynor is open about the challenges of navigating ovarian cancer as a young survivor. On a whim, she started what was ultimately a massively successful Facebook fundraiser for OCRA, rallying her family and friends to support research that will one day help others facing the disease.
“I have a lot of black humor at this point. You have to with this disease or you get depressed.”
A 20-year breast cancer survivor, Jane Rubin was diagnosed with primary peritoneal cancer ten years ago — despite having had her ovaries removed when she had a mastectomy. A writer, she penned a book of essays about her experience — and then, drawn to the family lore of her grandmother dying of “a woman’s disease,” she set out to tell her grandmother’s story as well.
“Once you’ve heard the word ‘cancer’ tied to your name, you don’t want to settle for anything less than a cure, less than the best treatment. You don’t want to settle for less than the best support system or for those who aren’t going to be there for you when you’re waking up at 2am crying.”
Roxanne Bright is a 9-year ovarian cancer survivor from West Virginia who is on a mission to use her voice for good. Propelled in part by survivor’s guilt at having “had it easier” than many others with the disease, and aware of how much she can help others by sharing her experience, she’s advocating for all survivors, patients and their loved ones as part of OCRA’s Advocate Leader program.
OCRA offers many programs for ovarian cancer survivors, as well as for patients at initial diagnosis, in treatment, and beyond.
- OCRA’s Woman to Woman program pairs gynecologic cancer patients with trained Volunteer Mentors who provide one-on-one emotional support and mentoring. Support is available virtually and in-person (subject to COVID-19 restrictions) at program sites across the country.
- OCRA’s Staying Connected online support groups are virtual support discussions for gynecologic cancer patients and survivors, and are facilitated by our licensed oncology social worker. Advanced registration is required.
- OCRA’s ovarian cancer online support community through Inspire.com offers a safe and private place to share encouraging feedback, compassionate support, and honest personal experiences.
- OCRA’s Survivors Teaching Students brings volunteer ovarian cancer survivors and patients into the classrooms of rising medical professionals, to put a face to the disease and help the next generation of healthcare professionals be more aware of ovarian cancer.
- OCRA’s Advocate Leaders work with OCRA’s policy office to engage with legislators at a local, state and federal level, to ensure ovarian cancer remains a governmental priority.
- Need to talk? We’re here for you! OCRA’s licensed oncology social worker is available to take your calls Monday – Friday, at 212-268-1002. If she is not available when you call, she will call you back within 24 hours (Mon. – Fri.). Supported by grants from AstraZeneca, the Gail Baird Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline.
- For links to more ovarian cancer resources, including financial assistance, health insurance navigation, clinical trial information, and more, visit the Resources section of our website.