Last week I participated in my first ever cancer fundraising event, the 2013 Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope. On September 8 thousands of Canadians came together in over 45 communities. We all had one common goal—to overcome ovarian cancer. Together we raised $2.4 million to bolster awareness, research and programs designed to offer assistance to those with the disease. My mom and brother Ray were both eager to sign up with me for the event, so the three of us walked resolutely with several hundred others through North Glenmore Park in Calgary. Given my athletic abilities and physical condition, I opted for the shorter 2.5 km route rather than the full 5 km course. The weather cooperated with us. There had been cool winds and torrential rain the day prior to the walk, but the morning of September 8 was flawless and sunny with only the faintest hint of breeze.
One highlight of the event was a speech from Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi. As he addressed the crowd from an outdoor stage, he reminded us of the future generations of ovarian cancer patients that will benefit from our efforts, women who have yet to be diagnosed. I am a case in point, ten years ago when the Calgary version of the walk fundraiser was founded I was still blissfully ignorant. I never dreamt in those days that I would become a member of a rather exclusive and unfortunate fellowship of ovarian cancer survivors. Friends and family members of those who have lost their battle with the disease were present in large numbers. Countless people are motivated to participate in the Walk of Hope each year in memory of someone they cherished. But Nenshi also drew attention to the fact that complete strangers will ultimately benefit from our collective endeavours and that there is power in working toward a goal together.
For women, such as myself, engaged in a personal battle with ovarian cancer the reasons for participating in major fundraising events are often deeper. We know that we have what is considered to be the most dangerous of the gynecological cancers—we face high recurrence rates and an overall five-year survival rate of less than 30 per cent. Walking through Glenmore Park, I look around at other women who are actively fighting this disease and I appreciate that we are the brave few who are in remission or who have managed to beat the odds of recurrence. For me walking is a way of feeling more in control and less helpless against a disease that has ruthlessly invaded my body and that kills approximately 1750 Canadian women each year. It’s also a way for me to celebrate all that I do have in my life, and to remind myself that I have more than just cancer.
American journalist, Karin Diamond, expresses these sentiments eloquently in a current online article entitled Cancer Is Not All I Have. Although Diamond isn’t one of the thousands of women with gynecological cancer, she is engaged in a battle with recurrent, chemo-resistant Hodgkin Lymphoma. It persists despite slews of drug combinations, radiation, two stem-cell transplants, immunotherapy, and clinical trials. The 30-year-old acknowledges that there are very few medical treatment options left for her to try. Still the tone of Diamond’s Huffington Post feature isn’t despairing. Throughout it she juxtaposes images of her cancer-ravaged body and other stark cancer related descriptions with the magnificence that remains in her life. Essentially her blog post is a tribute to all that she is fortunate enough to enjoy, including her husband, her family and her career. “I have a good, no a great, no an utterly balls-out fabulous life and more importantly, the capacity to understand its impermanence,” Diamond writes. “Sure, I have some things that I don’t need, ahem, cancer, but I have everything I do need. Right here. Right now. I revel in that comfort and wonder how I got it so good.”
As I proudly cross the finish line in the 2013 Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope suddenly my life doesn’t seem so bad either.