Having lost her mum, Maureen, to ovarian cancer in 2020, Avalon Cole is launching the social media movement #OvariesForLife to raise awareness and funds for ovarian cancer research. She shares her story here.
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“My mum, Maureen, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the end of 2018. At the time, it was hard to believe that a healthy and fit 60 year old, who did soft sand runs most mornings on Bondi Beach and only ate organic food could get cancer.
After having a scare a few years prior with pre-cancerous cells on her cervix, Mum was already going for yearly check ups for cervical cancer. But between appointments, she began to show physical symptoms of ovarian cancer from bloating and weight loss and was suddenly diagnosed with stage 2b clear cell ovarian cancer.
Shocked, we found out that clear cell ovarian cancer is a rare subtype of ovarian cancer which accounts for 5-10% of patients with ovarian cancer in the western world and 25% in East Asian countries. It also carries a poor prognosis because of its resistance to standard cancer treatment and metastatic spread to vital organs.
Mum had an operation to remove the tumour, which was unsuccessful. She then received what felt like a ‘one size fits all’ treatment plan using the same chemotherapy drugs from 30 years ago alongside radiation therapy, already aware that clear cell ovarian cancer tumors are resistant to conventional chemotherapy.
I already knew she was a strong person, but I watched her continue to work full time in the cosmetic industry during her whole treatment, without ever telling her clients she was sick. If a client commented on her new hairstyle, she would respond that she just decided to chop it off!
During a year of remission, she truly lived life to the fullest, took advantage of every opportunity and had the darkest sense of humour about it all. But in early 2020, she found out it had recurred and had spread to other organs.
With little research on how to treat clear cell ovarian cancer and out of options, she took part in a new immunotherapy trial, using a drug combination which hadn’t been tested alone or in combination with immunotherapy. She was told that they did not know what the side effects would be. Ultimately, the cancer continued to spread and she was removed from the trial.
It was hard to watch such a strong woman lose her battle after fighting so hard. During my mum's journey, it made me feel like there were many situations which may have had a different outcome with more research and funding. When my mum passed away at the end of 2020, it compelled me to use my skills from working in social media to create the #OvariesForLife social media campaign and help raise awareness and fund research for an early detection test.