Way back when I was an undergraduate, my women’s literature professor assigned the mammoth Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, edited by Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert. I still have it in my bookshelf, and I’ve read almost all of it. Gilbert and Gubar taught me to read differently, to ask new questions, to reconsider everything I’d been taught about what made great literature great.
Flash forward fifteen years: I’m a writer and editor and passionate reader. And Gubar has ovarian cancer.
I hate ovarian cancer. I really hate it. It sneaks up on people. The life expectancy after diagnosis is very short. There’s no screening test. The symptoms are vague and so common that even reading them sends me into a panic. Do I “feel full quickly when eating”? I have back pain. Is that a sign?
It’s not that I have an irrational fear of all cancer. I spent five years researching breast cancer activism as part of my doctorate in Women’s Studies. I interviewed many women living with the disease, I attended activist conferences, spent hours reading memoirs, and even trained as a patient advocate at the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s week long science-immersion course Project LEAD. Two of the women in my Project LEAD class — Martina Correa-Davis and Jayne Collie— lovely amazing energetic incredible women, died.
But still, I’m not terrified of breast cancer. Afraid, yes, but not terrified. And I realize that this has to do with the fact I know so much about it. I know the symptoms, I’m familiar with the treatment, and I’ve met lots of people who have had it.
I’m not alone: people talk about breast cancer. The NBCC is even trying to set a deadline for the end of the disease. Because of all this awareness, there have been great gains in detection and treatment.
On the other hand, I know hardly anything about ovarian cancer. According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition: most cases are diagnosed in their later stages when the prognosis is poor. However, if diagnosed and treated early, when the cancer is confined to the ovary, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent.
I just found out that September is ovarian cancer awareness month.
In honor of Susan Gubar, I’m going to raise my awareness of this disease that kills 15,000 US women every year but which is barely talked about in polite company, in the women’s health literature, or even in the doctor’s office.
What do you think?
- Are you studying public health and have some insight on how to develop a great public awareness campaign about ovarian cancer?
- How could scientists generate more funding for ovarian cancer research?
- Wouldn’t it be interesting to try to build partnerships between breast cancer and ovarian cancer organizations?
Let me know, I want to hear from you!