In the course of our work, we come across advocates who have fundamentally shifted how we (as a society) view diseases and their impact on Canadians. Their work shapes policies, drives research, and impacts government investments into how patients are treated and cared for across the country.
When we first embarked on our journey to better understand ovarian cancer, we didn’t realize we would be partnering with as strong and bold an advocate community as we have come to know. We are humbled by the experiences, the passion, and the fighting spirit of the men and women who have brought ovarian cancer to the forefront.
Ovarian cancer claims the lives of five Canadian women every day. But how do you stop a disease when people aren’t aware it exists? This is exactly the issue that Ovarian Cancer Canada has been working tirelessly to address over the past 20 years.
Elevating a cause with relatively low awareness takes passion, tenacity, and vision....and in this case, “lady balls.” While ovarian cancer is the most fatal women’s cancer, most women who are diagnosed aren’t expected to live longer than five years. With no reliable screening test, and symptoms that are often confused with those of other less serious conditions, ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to detect. It’s usually found in its late stages...when the cancer has spread, making awareness even more important.
“I joined the organization because it is truly a life and death issue. Women my age with children were dying from this disease,” says Elisabeth Baugh, Chief Executive Officer at Ovarian Cancer Canada. “When I first started in this position, I knew nothing about ovarian cancer.” And so her team set to work trying to change the face of this misunderstood and unrecognized disease.
As the first employee of the organization, Elisabeth was truly starting from scratch. Her first task was to build a community and bring people together around an unknown cause. In 1999, they held a national forum on the disease, bringing families and caregivers, multidisciplinary healthcare professionals, researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders together to discuss the landscape and build a roadmap. This approach - looking at the areas where they can have the greatest impact and engaging a diverse group of partners -- continues to drive Ovarian Cancer Canada today.
As Elisabeth commented, “we have a common goal - helping women with, or at risk for developing, ovarian cancer. Building partnerships to make our vision a reality is so important. Roche was our first industry partner and this support has really helped us move our agenda forward.”
Over time, the organization has taken its commitment to increasing awareness beyond our borders. In 2013, 29 organizations from 18 countries banded together to put ovarian cancer awareness in the international spotlight with the first World Ovarian Cancer Day (WOCD). Elisabeth chaired the international planning committee, and the staff played a role in building this international awareness day.
Recently, Ovarian Cancer Canada launched a bold awareness campaign - “Got Ladyballs” - to encourage Canadians to talk about ovaries and ovarian cancer. While awareness has come a long way, Elisabeth says there is still much work to be done: “My passion and strength of commitment has only increased as I’ve seen the women whose lives have been touched and I see how many opportunities there are to continue improving lives.” Looking to the future, Ovarian Cancer Canada is looking to increase funding for research to the same level as breast or prostate cancer, hoping that these additional resources will help women affected by ovarian cancer live longer.
May 8, 2017