Margaret Thoma, of Tullahoma, lived only 33 months after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006.
Her daughter, Dr. Beth Thoma, witnessed the struggle with the disease and realized not much was known about ovarian cancer.
Now Thoma wants to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, with the hope of helping researchers develop a screening test for the cancer and to find a cure.
To raise funds in support of the research efforts, Thoma launched the Cans for a Cure campaign shortly after her mother was diagnosed.
Thoma encourages locals to get involved and take aluminum cans to Trinity Lutheran Church in Tullahoma. All proceeds generated by the sale of the recyclable material will go to support the Ovarian Cancer Institute of Atlanta (OCI), one of the organizations focusing on finding a screening test.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and the color for the initiative is teal. Thoma encourages Tullahomans to wear teal and get informed about the disease and its impact.
“There is just not a lot of information out there, which is really a shame,” Thoma said. “That’s why I came up with Cans for a Cure.
“I just wanted to find a way to get people aware of it. We collect aluminum cans and then recycle the cans and give the money to the ovarian cancer research fund.”
According to the American Cancer Society, of the 22,240 women in the United States expected to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, 14,707 will die from the disease. Ovarian cancer is kills more women than any other cancer affecting the reproductive system, and is the fifth most common cancer diagnosis for women. Ovarian cancer is most often diagnosed in older women, with roughly half of new diagnoses made in women who are age 63 or older.
“When my mother was diagnosed, there was another lady in Tullahoma that was receiving chemo for ovarian cancer,” Thoma said. “It turned out there were a few people whose lives had been touched in a negative way by ovarian cancer.”
This cancer starts in the ovaries and treatment is most effective when the cancer is found in the early stages.
However, one of the biggest challenges in the fight against the disease is the lack of a test for early detection.
“There is no test at this point to detect it,” Thoma said.
Additionally, the symptoms are often subtle, so diagnosis often comes at a later stages of the disease and as a surprise, said Thoma.
“Typically, when a woman is diagnosed, she is in stage 3 – with four stages, stage 3 is very advanced,” Thoma said.
With the cancer taking victims every day, supporting research is essential and will save lives, said Thoma.
“The five-year survival rate of patients with ovarian cancer is less than 48 percent, quite low,” she said.
Watch for symptoms
Though the signs of ovarian cancer are very subtle, noticing some of the symptoms should be an indication a woman needs to consult with a doctor, said Thoma.
For patients with early diagnosis, the survival rate is more than 90 percent, according to OCI.
The signs are vague and often mimic the symptoms of conditions, like stomach disorders.
Ovarian cancer symptoms include bloating, fatigue, loss of appetite and urinary and bowel discomfort.
While the highest occurrence of ovarian cancer is in women over 50 years of age, even women in their teens have been diagnosed with the cancer, according to OCI.
More about ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer represents more than 1 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States annually.
With the threat for some women being stronger, knowing the risk factors is important.
Women with a family history of ovarian cancer and those who have never been pregnant may be at higher risk. Smoking is also a risk factor for the cancer.
The good news is medical professionals and researchers are working hard to find a screening test and a cure.
Thanks to funding and research, ovarian cancer treatments are improving.
Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Through surgery, medical professionals remove cancerous tissue in an operation. Chemotherapy involves using medications to shrink or kill the cancer.
Still, no reliable screening test exists for women with no symptoms. Diagnostic tests are used for women with symptoms.
“A lot of women are under the misconception that if you get a pap smear it would pick ovarian cancer up,” Thoma said. “That’s why it is so imperative that an actual test [is developed].”
The Pap test does not check for ovarian cancer. The Pap test screens only for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix.
To support Cans for a Cure, take aluminum cans to Trinity Lutheran Church. The church is located at 705 Wilson Ave. in Tullahoma.
Elena Cawley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.