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From symptoms and diagnosis to treatment and support systems, here are helpful tips and resources to educate yourself and your loved ones on ovarian cancer.
A loved one, a dear friend—we all know someone who has been touched by cancer. One of the most devastating diagnoses for women is ovarian cancer, a disease that afflicts the female reproductive organs. The disease can strike at any age, but is most commonly identified in women aged 50 or older.
The statistics are worrisome: This year, over 2,600 Canadian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the fifth most fatal cancer among females. And each year, 1,750 women will die from the disease.
But where there is fear, there is hope. When detected early and treated promptly, ovarian cancer has a 90 per cent survival rate. Living with cancer and undergoing treatment can be a frightening experience, but there are resources and support services that can help patients and their loved ones cope during this difficult journey.
The importance of communication
According to Elisabeth Ross, the CEO of Ovarian Cancer Canada, information resources and support services are extremely important to women battling ovarian cancer. "Ovarian cancer has a deadlier outcome [than other cancers], but there are many stories of hope. There’s always an exception to statistics. To know that, to be in touch with other women who have gone through it—that kind of support is really important," she says.
Resources and support services are available across Canada. Websites, online-chat communities, telephone hotlines and books are all tools that can benefit women with ovarian cancer, as well as their families and friends.
Online resources and support
Ovarian Cancer Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society both have comprehensive websites that offer information on research, coping strategies and support programs. You will also find links to online forums and communities where women who have ovarian cancer and their families can connect and chat with others who are dealing with similar circumstances.
Ovarian Cancer Canada recommends three in particular: Caring Voices, their online collaboration with Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital; ACOR.org, an American-based online discussion list serve; and CancerConnection.ca, an online community created by the Canadian Cancer Society that features active discussions, blogs and groups.
Canadians affected by the disease can also turn to Ovarian Cancer Canada’s Telephone Education Series on YouTube. Featuring oncologists, nurses and counsellors, these free information sessions cover topics such as alternative therapies, intimacy and stress management.
Support for women who have ovarian cancer is just a phone call away. Ovarian Cancer Canada has a national toll-free information line—1-877-413-7970—as well as five regional offices accessible by telephone. Callers can speak to someone about support services and groups in their area.
"We will connect you with someone in your community who has information about local support or who is also living with the disease," says Ross.
Cancer patients, their families and caregivers are invited to call the Canadian Cancer Society's toll-free Cancer Information Service—1-888-939-3333—for information and support.
"We help you make sense of the information that you have," says Donna Czukar, the Canadian Cancer Society's senior director for support programs. "You'll speak to an information specialist and they'll help you with your needs, or they can suggest peer support."
The Canadian Cancer Society's peer support program is a one-to-one service that links volunteers who have had cancer to people who are currently fighting the disease. "The volunteers aren't providing medical information, but they can have a conversation based on a true understanding of what it's like to go through the [cancer] experience," says Czukar.
Ovarian Cancer Canada has produced a free guidebook and DVD called "You Are Not Alone," which can be ordered through their website. Ross says that women who have ovarian cancer often feel isolated; this package was created to help them feel less so. The DVD features six women discussing their experiences with the disease. For women who are unable to attend a support group in person, this DVD is the next best thing.
"[The women discuss] losing their hair, coping with side effects, talking with their family and maintaining hope," says Ross.
The Canadian Cancer Society's website offers a free, downloadable booklet titled "Living With Cancer."
"It talks about what to expect when you're going through a new diagnosis and entering a system of treatment," says Jan MacVinnie, the Canadian Cancer Society's manager of Cancer Information Service.
Family, friends and caregivers might find it beneficial as well. "Sometimes just having an awareness of what the journey is like and what some of the issues are along the way can help people," says MacVinnie.
Family and friends
Sometimes the person dealing with cancer feels more comfortable relying on loved ones for support, but is afraid to ask. Similarly, family members and friends might be unsure of what to say or how to help. Ross says that family can solve this dilemma by offering specific assistance: Can I do your vacuuming this weekend? Or pick up your kids from school on Friday?
"A global offer [to help] is so kind, but there are so many things that need to be done. It's hard [for the patient] to figure out what to ask for. But if you are specific it sets up a more effective, supportive care network and practical things get gone, which is helpful for the patient," says Ross.
Ovarian Cancer Canada's website includes a section devoted to caregivers and family that has many additional tips. The Canadian Cancer Society's website also features many informative articles and free downloadable booklets that can help friends and family, including "When Someone You Know Has Cancer—How You Can Help."
Not every woman who has ovarian cancer will seek support, but as Czukar says, "support should be accessible to anyone who would like it." Thanks to Ovarian Cancer Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society, help is available when and where it is most needed.
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