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Approximately 3,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in Canada. In January 2020, we were stunned that my Mom become one of those statistics when she was diagnosed with advanced metastatic high-grade serous ovarian cancer (Stage 3C). High-grade tumours are the most malignant, are faster-growing and spread earlier. As with most women who receive this grim news, my Mom had virtually no warning. Early stage ovarian cancer rarely causes any symptoms, while even at the advanced stage, the symptoms, if any, are vague and easy to dismiss. Nor is there a screening test available. As a result, 75% of women in Canada with ovarian cancer are diagnosed at stage 3 or 4, making this the most serious cancer for women. While ovarian cancer is typically very responsive to chemotherapy, it often recurs quickly. 7 in 10 women die from this disease within 5 years of diagnosis, and the long-term disease-free survival rate for advanced ovarian cancer is only 10%.
Fortunately, things are beginning to change. While no cure is available for advanced ovarian cancer, new treatment options have been making their way through clinical trials, notably drugs called PARP inhibitors, which keep cancers from growing by blocking their ability to repair DNA. Women with BRCA mutations often have the most benefit from these drugs. After completing first-line treatment - chemotherapy and surgery – my Mom was one of the first at BC Cancer Agency (BCCA) to be put on a PARP inhibitor, Zejula (niraparib), the protocol for women without a genetic mutation. However, at my Mom's urging, genetic testing of her tumour tissue later revealed that she had had a “sporadic” BRCA mutation, making her eligible for the PARP inhibitor, Lynparza (olaparib). This drug has shown some efficacy in delaying a recurrence of ovarian cancer and she was better able to tolerate it.
Unfortunately, however, this treatment either did not work for my Mom or failed to significantly delay a recurrence. In July of this year, my Mom was diagnosed with a recurrence and is currently back on chemotherapy. We are so grateful for the time that my Mom's treatment has afforded us as a family and in my Mom's words, "these three wonderful years, where I have been feeling myself again, enjoying my usual pursuits, such as time with my grandkids, doing pro-bono work, joining a book club and hiking in Europe, would not have been possible without the treatment I received through BCCA, informed by the latest research. I am hopeful that new advances might, if I’m lucky, give me three more wonderful years."
The Walk of Hope celebrates the hope for all women for a future without this disease. Every dollar we raise supports Ovarian Cancer Canada (OCC), the only national charity that champions the health and well-being of women with ovarian cancer and others at risk of this disease. Funds will be used to fund vital research, spur advocacy efforts, and provide support so that we can help women with, or at risk of, ovarian cancer live fuller, better, longer lives. My Mom and many women currently living with ovarian cancer in Canada are directly benefiting from the research efforts funded by OCC and to the wide range of resources, educational and support events offered by OCC.
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Ms. Maritia Gully
Moira, Bill, Katrina, Donnamarie and Joanne
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