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ROCHESTER, Minn — It is a disease that ends the lives of about 15,000 women each year in the U.S. and it does so relatively quietly.
That is because the symptoms are very vague and there is no screening test you can get each time you visit the doctor to see if you have it.
That is exactly why some area women are taking to the streets for ovarian cancer.
It all started for Renee Hacker when she fell on the ice.
“I didn’t have the symptoms or wasn’t aware of the symptoms or anything, so when I fell on the ice I went to the doctor, I had a protruding bump that came out to the side and then that was when they discovered it was ovarian cancer,” Hacker said.
She considers herself lucky.
I was diagnosed, very fortunately, to be diagnosed with stage one, self-contained, so it hadn’t gone to anything at all, so I was very lucky,” Hacker said.
So six weeks after her surgery to remove the tumor, she began chemotherapy.
For eighteen weeks she kept a weekly routine of that, which wrapped up just over a month ago.
But Hacker is not alone. 22,500 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the calendar year and about 15,000 of them will die because of it. That makes it the 5th leading cause of cancer deaths for women in the U.S.
“It is called the silent cancer and that’s because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are so vague and can be so easily attributed to something else going on as we normally age,” said Karin Goodman, a Mayo Clinic ovarian cancer nurse practitioner.
She said those symptoms can include abdominal pain, bloating and feeling like you are full quicker than you should be.
She said if those symptoms last more than two weeks, it is time to get it checked out.
“Because it is so uncommon, we really need the awareness out there, not only for the women, but for the providers as well to know that we need to be looking for something that will cause these very, very vague symptoms,” Goodman said.
Raising awareness is exactly what Jean Wagner and others with the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MOCA) are trying to do.
They have put up teal ribbons all over Rochester that will be up through the month of September. It is all part of the effort to “Turn the Towns Teal.”
“People stop, they see the teal, it’s not a color that they’re accustomed to seeing and if they stop and read the banner on the blue ribbon, they’ll see that it is ovarian cancer,” Wagner said.
That means a lot to Wagner, because like Hacker and many other women, she is also a survivor.
”Just to get the recognition for ovarian cancer as a ten year survivor, the recognition has grown each year I think. Now it’s clearly more evident than it was ten years ago,” Wagner said.
This year marks the seventh annual campaign nationally, but the third time in Rochester.
Wagner said that two years ago when this effort started in Rochester, one woman put the banners up around town.
Last year, her and the Southeast Chapter of MOCA joined in and have helped bring the ribbons to more businesses around town.