Last month I was asked to join the Relay for Life committee to write monthly articles to shed light on cancer awareness. I was excited about the request—tapping into my writing hobby to do some good. With September designated as Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, I knew the first person I wanted to interview. And after sitting down with a sweet, young pregnant woman named Jenna Hucka who lost her mother to cancer, I misjudged one thing about myself. My emotional capacity to withhold tears. Impossible.
|Jenna and Nadine|
The following post is a version of the article that will run in the Harlan Tribune next week.
Jenna, along with her father (Steve), brother (Tony), husband (Todd), and toddler daughter (Priya Nadine) continue a tireless journey to raise awareness and funding for Colleen’s Dream Foundation in which 100% of the proceeds go toward ovarian cancer research—there are no paid employees. This year, the Annual Breaking the Silence Tournament, started by Nadine in four years ago raised over $18,000 for the cause. Myrtue Hospital sponsored a bake sale and raised $1,500. Next Tuesday night's HS volleyball game will sponsor a Teal-Out to raise even more money. Without this level of community support, there would be no research going on.
Ovarian cancer is not only the fifth leading cause of death, but the leading cause of gynecologic cancer deaths among women according to the American Cancer Society. September has been designated as Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, so break out your teal and listen up.
When detected early, 93% of women survive five years. However, fewer than 15% of cases are diagnosed early because currently there is no effective screening or early detection test. For women who discover the cancer in its later stages, less than 50% survive past five years. Awareness is critical.
Nadine Kenkel died of ovarian cancer at the age of 56. Her story is a blend of tragedy, inspiration, and a dose of humor– for anyone who knows Nadine, that's no surprise.
|Nadine and Steve|
In 2010 the vibrant nurse began having some seemingly mild symptoms: bloating, weight gain, feeling full quickly. Eventually a fever convinced her to seek help. Her practitioner, Jill Ferry, discovered an infection and prescribed medication. Unable to knock the fever, Nadine returned a few days later. Ferry found fluid around her abdomen and sent it for a biopsy. By the time Nadine arrived home from the clinic, she received a disturbing call. Less than a week later, Nadine was in surgery, having a football-sized tumor removed.
Nadine endured three full rounds of chemotherapy, 18 weeks each, over 4 year time frame. She experienced fatigue, loss of hair, and nausea. But that didn’t stop Nadine from pursuing a cause. It also didn’t stop her sense of humor. Always trying to get her stoical oncologist to crack, on one particular visit, she boasted of her new "tattoo" on her leg. He cracked.
Speaking to over 1,000 women after her diagnosis, Nadine elevated the “Break the Silence” campaign, urging women to be vigilant and watch for signs including:
- Pelvic and Abdominal Pain
- Feeling Full Quickly
- Urinary Symptoms (Urgency or Frequency)
Common symptoms, no doubt. Differentiating these from normal monthly symptoms can be tricky. “Don’t be afraid to see a specialist,” said Jenna. “These doctors understand the disease and know what to look for.” Without a screening tool available at this time, being aware is the best method for early detection.
Ovarian cancer risk factors have been identified. Women should consider:
Family History and Genetics: Having a mother, sister of daughter with the disease increases risk. Genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2 have also been linked to increased risk. A test can identify these mutations.
Age: The average age of diagnosis is 63 years.
Pregnancies: Women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk.
Menstruation: Increased risk occurs for women who experienced early menses or frequent cycles.
Hormone Replacement Therapy: Women who have used HRT to alleviate menopause symptoms have an increased risk.
Nadine worked diligently the last few years of her life to spread vital information. The medical clinic always knew when Nadine had spoken because appointments would fill up with women experiencing ovarian cancer symptoms. Certainly, her message had impact.
On August 25th, 2014, Nadine lost her battle–four years after her diagnosis. After her death, her oncologist admitted to her family that after he had removed Nadine’s difficult tumor, he didn’t think she’d live a year. But her sense of purpose, good humor, and sheer determination proved him wrong. Not only did she survive longer than expected, but she survived to make a difference. Now her family carries on her legacy.
|Nadine and her Princess: Priya Nadine|