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Mother's Day Calls to Mind Memories of Loved Ones Lost to Ovarian Cancer


May 1, 2013 - DENVER, CO

Mother's Day is a time for honoring and celebrating special women -- the ones who gave birth to us, who raised us, who taught us about life and who inspired us. For 16 Denver area daughters who recently gathered for a special photo as part of the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance (COCA) Memories of Mom project, the holiday is filled with reminiscences of mothers lost to an often-overlooked disease. These women are united in their commitment to supporting COCA in its mission of raising awareness about this disease, sharing valuable lessons from their experiences and in letting families know of COCA programs that help Colorado women and their families.

A common message shared by the daughters as they remember their mothers is the importance of a woman being in tune with her body. After experiencing discomfort from indigestion and bloating, numerous moms received inaccurate diagnoses for such ailments as acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome before the Ovarian Cancer was discovered.

"If you know something is wrong, don't wait, go to the doctor," says Katlin Herbert. "Be an advocate for your own health and make sure your doctor really listens to your symptoms. If you are fighting cancer, see a specialist (a gynecologic oncologist); someone who is fellowship trained who knows your type of cancer inside and out. This is especially important for Ovarian Cancer patients."

"My mom had symptoms for a few months before being diagnosed," Stacey Sepp recalls about her mother Evan Andrews. "Her doctors did a battery of tests and found nothing. She kept going back week after week only to have them guess as to what was causing the symptoms and sending us down several wrong paths. All the while, the cancer was spreading and we had no idea it was even there. Had we known the symptoms, had her doctors been more familiar with them, perhaps she'd still be here for many years to come."

"Not every case of indigestion and bloating is cancer but prolonged symptoms should never be put aside," says Rebecca Westover, daughter of Rita Baker. "Be proactive, as you know your body better than anyone. Speak up until someone listens."

Liz Lehmann, daughter of Barbara Lehmann, agrees, adding, "I've learned to be a persistent patient!"

"My mother taught me so much," Audrey Krebs recalls about Stefanie Marks, "but the one thing she really did for herself was live life to the fullest. She went hang gliding three months before she passed away. She went up in a hot air balloon and travelled throughout Europe -- she did not let the cancer stop her!" But her mother also passed on valuable advice to her friends and to Audrey: if you know that something is wrong do not let a doctor tell you that it is nothing. "Three weeks after my mother passed away two of her best friends were diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. She saved their lives. They are both alive today."

"As an educator, teaching was at the heart of everything she did," says Renee Robinson, also a daughter of Evan Andrews. "The big lessons I learned from my mom's battle with Ovarian Cancer were to never take anything or anyone for granted and to cherish every moment we get to spend with our loved ones."

Like many of the daughters who shared their stories, Dianna Hemphill, daughter of Deb Hemphill, agrees that time is precious and should be cherished. "I also learned that it's okay to ask questions and helpful to talk to others going through the same type of situation."

Carrie Chavez Hansen says her mother, Ophelia Chavez, taught her the value of being truly appreciative of what you have despite your circumstances. "Through the very end of her life, she held tight to her unwavering faith in God, and along with that her gratitude for each day." Looking back over her mother's battle with Ovarian Cancer, she adds, "Take time for yourself and your loved ones. You are stronger than you believe you are, so don't give up. Sometimes the best you can do is simply to remember to breathe... and that can be enough."

Rita Sokolowski, daughter of Rosie Gomez, finds that "Having goals can push you through when things get hard -- wanting to see a wedding, a baby born, etc."

"I learned that this disease is very powerful and although you should NEVER give up hope, you should also prepare yourself if things don't go your way," says Kristina Campos, daughter of Mary Lou Martinez. "Don't take for granted the time you have with your mother or loved ones. Go on vacation, spend that extra hour at their home, SLOW down and enjoy being together. What I wouldn't give to have one more hour with my mom." Kristina also suggests that families video tape special moments. "Those are the most precious things I have left now -- my videos and my memories."

Laura Ayotte and Susan DiNopoli Guyton will always remember words of wisdom from their mother, Sue DiNopoli: Life is about transition and change; you will experience many changes in your lifetime. If you learn to expect change instead of fearing it, you will embrace your new beginnings. Without change, the caterpillar never becomes a butterfly. "There will be good days and there will be bad days," Laura admits. "Try to get through the bad days with friends and family and chocolate ice cream, and on the good days don't think about the bad days."

Stacey Sepp says, "After seeing my mom so bravely endure everything she did during her fight, I know that my life now has another purpose -- to be part of the fight against Ovarian Cancer and to help prevent more women and families from going through what we did. Too many amazing women are lost to this horrible disease."

For several of the daughters, this year's mid-May observance will be the first since their mother's passing. "The one thing about her that I will remember was her grace and strength in the face of her final days," says Maureen Mchugh of her mom Mary Anita Mchugh. "On the day she signed herself into hospice and greeted the hospice doctor who came in to meet her, my mom said, 'I have been very fortunate.'"

Describing her mother Rita Baker's battle with Ovarian Cancer, which ended in July 2012, as "the most difficult time of my life," Cindy King adds, "I hope that someday the public will be more informed about ovarian cancer and more events will be made public to assure people out there that they are not alone in this disease."

Such an event is set for Saturday, June 1 in Denver's City Park when the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance will host its major fundraiser of the year -- the Fourth Annual Jodi's Race for Awareness. All money collected that day will remain in Colorado and fund COCA's numerous programs, including Nicki's Circle support groups, COCA-Cares financial assistance program, comfort kits for the newly diagnosed, and the Survivors Teaching Students program where medical students learn from ovarian cancer survivors. To learn more about Jodi's Race visit http://www.jodisrace.com/.

Meghan Brammeier lost her mother to Ovarian Cancer before starting second grade, so she didn't get the opportunity to collect many memories. Her mom, Jodi, was the driving force behind Denver's first race to promote ovarian cancer awareness and her legacy continues when hundreds come out annually for Jodi's Race for Awareness. From her mother Meghan learned to take pride in who she is and what she would do in her daily life, and to appreciate what she had, which often led that little girl to say, "You get what you get, and you don't throw a fit."

"Our family was lost in sadness, not knowing anything about the disease or how to help our mom," recalls Pep Torres about her mother Connie Vallejo Torres. "I'm so glad COCA provides amazing services for women and their families. They are filling a huge need. It's a tough journey with different outcomes -- but together there is comfort in knowing we are not alone."

"To be honest, a piece of me will always feel incomplete without her," says Sandy Beal of her mother Darleen Tiede. "Like the feeling you have when you run out the door, thinking you've forgotten something but you're not sure just what. I know that I am fortunate to have had such an astounding person in my life for the time I had with her."

All the women remember their mothers fondly and are giving back by raising awareness!

About Ovarian Cancer

  • Every 40 hours one woman in Colorado dies from Ovarian Cancer.
  • Ovarian Cancer is the fifth most common cancer in females in the U.S. but it is the deadliest gynecologic cancer.
  • There is no screening test for Ovarian Cancer so knowing the symptoms is critical.
  • The Pap test does not screen for Ovarian Cancer.
  • Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer include suddenly-occurring and persistent bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary urgency or frequency.
  • If found in an early stage, up to 90 percent of the women diagnosed will survive for more than five years; unfortunately, 70 percent of diagnosed cases present in stage III/IV, when the disease has already spread beyond the ovaries.

About the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance (COCA)

The mission of Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance is to provide support and to promote awareness and early detection of ovarian cancer through advocacy and education. www.colo-ovariancancer.org.

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