A Sisterhood of Survivors
A close connection with warriors is still possible through a screen. The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition left no stone unturned during its virtual weekend Wellness Retreat this past spring that led participants in finding support, spreading awareness and taking action.

The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition((NOCC) welcomed more than 350 attendees from 35 states and three countries to its virtual Wellness Retreat on May 7 and 8. The theme of “Hope, Inspiration, and Support” rang true throughout the two days of educational sessions, interactive panels and intimate roundtable discussions.

Sue Straatman, a stage IV ovarian cancer thriver in Munster, Indiana, was one of the many participants in the weekend’s activities. Her connection with NOCC dates back to 2009 when she was first diagnosed and found the organization while searching online for information and resources.

Facing her diagnosis, Straatman decided to set goals and take things one day at a time, she says. Her experience motivated her to spread the word and educate members of her community about ovarian cancer. Over the years, she has become increasingly involved in raising awareness for ovarian cancer and attending NOCC events. “By now, I’m all in!” she says.

On Friday, NOCC CEO Melissa Aucoin provided an overview of NOCC’s programs and services and updates on how the organization has adapted to reach even more thrivers and caregivers over the past year. Virtual programming has proven extremely successful and has helped NOCC reach communities in areas not previously served. With this in mind, Aucoin explained, NOCC will continue virtual offerings well into the future to maintain this important line of support for the widespread ovarian cancer community. “We know that ovarian cancer doesn’t care what zip code you live in,” she says.

Throughout the weekend, the retreat featured testimonials from a variety of thrivers—also known as “teal sisters,” in reference to the ovarian cancer ribbon color—who told their personal stories of diagnosis, treatment and how they approach life. These truly inspiring speakers shared their experiences of advocating for the community, overcoming adversity and growing personally. During the “Extraordinary Women Living Exceptional Lives” session, visual recorder Lisa Edwards created an illustration featuring highlights from these women’s stories.

Breakout sessions allowed attendees to choose between educational topics covering ovarian cancer basics, dealing with recurrence, life post-treatment, clinical trials, genetic and tumor testing, treatment for less common subtypes of ovarian cancer, sexuality and intimacy, palliative care, nutrition myth-busting and beauty and skincare tips. With so many fascinating options available, Straatman says she is particularly thankful for session recordings so she can catch up on the topics she wasn’t able to attend live.

Saturday’s sessions kicked off with a celebration of May 8 as World Ovarian Cancer Day. With no reliable screening or diagnostic test available for ovarian cancer, it is essential to know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and to speak up to a doctor if these symptoms persist for longer than two weeks. Ovarian cancer symptoms may include bloating, upset stomach and urinary frequency. NOCC provided an infographic of ovarian cancer signs and symptoms—available in English, Spanish, Italian and Hindi—and encouraged attendees to share it on their social media accounts to raise awareness. Straatman emphasized the importance of this education and advocacy, especially when some symptoms appear similar to digestive issues or menstrual cycle symptoms. It’s important to recognize patterns and changes in your own body. 

The retreat wrapped up with a few final inspirational stories from thrivers and details on how their caregivers and NOCC’s teal sisterhood has supported them along the way. Attendees were reminded that NOCC is there for the entire ovarian cancer community throughout the year to provide support and resources.

Despite the physical distance, Straatman shared that she felt connected to the close-knit NOCC community throughout the retreat. “We have a very strong sisterhood among survivors. We still made connections, made our voices heard, and felt loved and honored,” she says.

To learn more about NOCC and upcoming events, visit ovarian.org.


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