In Her Shoes

Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer

Ovarian Cancer Survivors: The Fried Eggs—Sunny-Side Up




“We should start a social group for ovarian cancer survivors,” the leader of our STS (Survivors Teaching Students) course said. “Not a support group, but a fun group.”


We had just presented our ovarian cancer stories to a class of medical students in the STS program.


Our first meeting convened in a private room at a restaurant aptly called The Egg and I. We introduced ourselves, sharing snippets of our cancer journeys. Some of us have had recurrence, some are in treatment and some are cancer-free.


“I can make a contact list,” one member said. “I can also put together a binder with our photos and bios. With chemobrain it’s hard to remember names.”


We settled on meeting the fourth Tuesday of the month, each member taking a turn choosing the restaurant. Due to the nature of our conversations, we request a private room. We welcome new members, catch up, share info about new treatments, activities and fundraisers. Occasionally we plan to meet during the evening or on a Saturday in order to include those not available during the week.





“Don’t forget to sign up for the Whisper Walk,” our leader reminds us. The Whisper Walk is named for the symptoms of ovarian cancer that whisper. The walk is a fundraiser for cancer research sponsored by WOCA (The Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance).


“We still have seating open for Sparkle of Hope.” This special evening celebrates the lives of women touched by gynecological cancers. The event raises funds for ongoing research at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center.





“I’m a docent at the museum. I can arrange a tour.”


“We have a place up north with a pontoon boat.”


“Our research doctor is offering a tour of his ovarian cancer lab.”


“Registration is open for ovarian cancer camp at Camp Mak-A-Dream in Missoula, Montana. It’s free of charge for ovarian cancer survivors. WOCA is offering scholarships to help cover airfare.”





“My CT scan is negative. The new study drug is working!” one member shared. Her Huskie had sniffed out her cancer and two recurrences before the doctors or scans could discover it.


“I just finished chemo!”


“I leave for Boston tomorrow,” one woman says. It is one of many trips she makes to Dana Farber every three weeks to participate in a drug trial. Her cancer is stable.


We are teal sisters, members of a club we never chose to join, fighting a battle we never wanted to fight. We are ovarian cancer survivors.


We are The Fried Eggs—Sunny-Side up.





7 Steps to Celebrate Life in the New Year for Those Grieving






The ball drops in Times Square, announcing the arrival of a new year. For many, promises of new beginnings and dreams dance in their heads. But with the coming of the new, we must say goodbye to the old. For some, the goodbye is bittersweet. The year has been marked by sadness, sorrow and heartache.


For me, the past year has been filled with painful losses and goodbyes, culminating in celebrations of life. Lives of those who passed fighting health battles and the passing of lives well lived. We want to greet the coming year with hope and expectation, but sometimes we get stuck in grief. How can we move forward when the time spent with our loved ones is locked in the past?


January is Celebration of Life Month. We honor the lives of those who passed, but we also want to celebrate our lives in the present.


How do we move forward and celebrate life?


1.  Hold on to what is good. Remember the good times. Cherish the memories.


2.  Let go of the negative. Forgive offenses. Release bitterness, regrets and guilt that trap us in the past.


3.  Forgive those who hurt us. Forgive those who left us.


4.  Be thankful. Thank God for His faithfulness, for bringing us through this hard season into a new year. Thank Him for the wonderful things He has in store for us.


5.  Enjoy the relationships God has brought into our lives. Appreciate those who have stood with us in our joys and in our sorrows.


6.  Set goals. So often we set goals that are not realistic or goals we maintain for a few weeks by our own willpower. But what are God’s goals for us? What are His goals for work? Relationships? Personal life? Character development? Ask him. Study His Word. How does He want us to accomplish these goals?


7.  Cultivate hope. Hope releases us from the prison of depression and despair.


We don’t know what the next year will bring, but as we move into the New Year, let us remember that each day is a gift from God.



“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11)








8 Ways to Cope with Grief During the Holidays



Turkey, tinsel and Christmas lights cannot fill the emptiness in our hearts after the loss of a loved one. A season to be jolly morphs into a dread of the upcoming holidays. Our hearts are broken. Our holidays will never be the same.


How do we cope, let alone celebrate when the vacant chair at our table is a constant reminder of our loss?


1.    Recognize that the holidays are going to be painful, especially the firsts. It’s all right to grieve, to  acknowledge our loss and brokenness.


2.   Have a plan. Lack of a plan exacerbates the loneliness and isolation. Accept a new invitation.     Find activities you enjoy.


3.   Keep the traditions meaningful to you. Let go of traditions or activities that drain your strength.


4.   Start a new tradition in memory of your loved one. Create a special ornament or floral arrangement in their memory. Donate to their favorite charity. Light a candle.


5.   Reminisce. Talk about the person. Tell stories. Laugh together.


6.   Travel. Spend the holidays with relatives or friends. Take a vacation. Go on a cruise. Travel breaks the monotony of grief and provides an opportunity to make new memories.


7.   Help others. Helping others takes our eyes off of our pain and ourselves. Serve a holiday meal at a shelter. Get involved with Christmas toy or food drives. Make a phone call, send a card or pray for someone else who is hurting.


8.   Give thanks. During seasons of grief and loss, we often don’t feel thankful. When we give thanks, we shift our focus off our pain and onto God. We keep the memory of our loved one alive by giving thanks for the beautiful memories we shared.




How do you cope with the grief during the holidays?




A Sparkle of Hope for Gynecologic Cancers




Electricity filled the air, sparking excitement and anticipation as I approached the registration table at the Monona Terrace. The time had finally arrived to get our sparkle on for Sparkle of Hope, a special evening celebrating women touched by gynecologic cancers.


I received my nametag and registered my credit card to place bids for the silent auction. Several large jars of coins had been plunked on the table, coins collected for the year to Make a Change for Sparkle of Hope research and gynecologic projects at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center.


Cocktails and Diamonds


Live music performed by the Mad City Trio beckoned me to the windows overlooking Lake Monona. I mingled with guests in cocktail attire, including other ovarian cancer survivors. Our eyes lingered over the items donated for the silent auction. Easels boasted poster size photos of a diamond necklace as well as a square cut emerald. The silent auction held other attractions: jewelry, knitted baby gifts, food baskets and wine. The auction would not be complete without Wisconsin Badger memorabilia: game tickets, Badger chairs and autographed footballs.


I stopped at a painting featuring the iconic table and chair sets dispersed across the Memorial Union Terrace overlooking Lake Mendota. The vibrant greens, reds and yellows provided a lovely contrast to the deep blue lake dotted with sailboats.


“What a beautiful painting!” I said to the stranger who seemed to be admiring the painting as well.


“I painted it,” she replied.


I didn’t know what to say, or maybe I had already said it.


I strolled over to a table with rows of gold gift bags—the Diamond Dig. Tissue paper peeked over the top of the bags, hiding their treasures, but only one of these bags contained the coveted diamond necklace. I purchased my chance. Would I be the winner this year?


As I passed the Diamond Dig, I spotted a sign, “Punch Out Cancer.” Buy a chance, make a fist, punch a hole and retrieve your gift. Prizes varied from a free scoop of ice cream to $100 gift cards. My last punch yielded a McDonalds coupon.


I wanted to raise awareness for Sparkle of Hope, so along with Stephanie Herfel, I shot a Facebook live video. Stephanie is an ovarian cancer survivor, a member of the Sparkle of Hope committee and one of our featured speakers. Stephanie sparkled in her teal evening gown as she shared how her huskie, Sierra, sniffed out her cancer before the doctors diagnosed it.


The lights flickered, summoning us to the banquet room. I joined other ovarian cancer survivors as guests at a table sponsored by the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance which included the organization’s directors. A pumpkin overflowing with peach colored roses, yellow tea roses and fall leaves graced the center of our table. We slipped our secret bids into a gold envelope which would determine the fate of the centerpieces at the end of the evening.


Journey of Hope


Eric Franke, our emcee from channel 3000, opened the program. Defying social etiquette, he endorsed the use of cell phones during dinner. Throughout the evening, we grabbed our phones and continued to bid on the silent auction items.


After dinner, the program began with a video highlighting the faculty and staff of dedicated researchers. As grateful patients shared their stories, they encouraged the doctors, reminding them of how important their research is in prolonging the lives of women with gynecologic cancers. The University of Wisconsin ranks thirteenth in the nation for gynecology. Sparkle of Hope dollars allow junior researchers to start projects that may lead to national grants.




Dr. Lisa Barroilhet shared how the last three years have yielded exciting strides in the field of ovarian cancer research with the introduction of PARP inhibitors, a type of targeted therapy. PARP inhibitors attack the cancer cells without harming normal cells. Even though they are still classified as chemotherapy, they are taken orally, allowing women to live fairly normal lives at home. For some women, these drugs have stabilized their ovarian cancer. For others, the tumors have shrunk to the point that there is no evidence of disease.


Diamond Revealed


The time had come to reveal the results of the Diamond Dig. We held up our tickets while volunteers clutching the gold bags weaved in and out among the tables, exchanging our tickets for a bag. Once all the bags were distributed, we simultaneously yanked out the tissue paper. Where is the diamond necklace? From the other side of the room, a cry rings out—the diamond! The rest of us console ourselves with the gourmet chocolates tucked in our bags.


Lively Auction


Spotters scattered throughout the ballroom in preparation for the live auction. Let the bidding begin: a Madison adventure package featuring a premier suite and a private flight over Madison, a diamond earring and bracelet set, custom diamond drop earrings, a Camp Randall VIP package including football tickets and a guest conductor spot with the UW marching band, or Cheering for Charity—a private party with the UW basketball coach and his wife at their home during a Badger football away game.


Fervent Finale


Stephanie closed the evening sharing the photos and stories of other ovarian cancer survivors as well as the latest chapter of her story. Last year, Stephanie had a recurrence and started the PARP targeted therapy. Today she has no evidence of disease. This past summer, Stephanie also got married. At the suggestion of a friend, instead of clinking glasses, the wedding guests dropped money in a kissing jar, raising $700 for Sparkle of Hope.


The call for last minute donations initiated a flurry of cell phone activity. Names of donors along with dollar amounts flashed across the screens to reach the goal of $150,000.


Thank you to our generous sponsors and donors who made Sparkle of Hope possible. Total dollars raised? $168,000!


Happy 10th anniversary, Sparkle of Hope!





Not All Female Cancers Are Pink






Pink lights illuminate bridges, state capitols and city landmarks. Runners, walkers and strollers race for the cure. Pink ribbons embellish bags, jewelry, hats and t-shirts. Teas, brunches and banquets raise funds for breast cancer research. Even NFL players sport pink in October.


Think pink! Wear pink! Celebrate pink! October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We celebrate breast cancer survivors.


Breast cancer is the second most common cancer that affects women. The female cancer with the lowest survival rate, though, is ovarian cancer.


Are you aware that there is a connection between breast cancer and ovarian cancer?


I am an ovarian cancer survivor. We had no family history of ovarian cancer. My aunt had breast cancer after the age of 50. My personal risks for ovarian cancer included endometriosis, no children and obesity. In 2006, I rolled over in bed and felt a firm grapefruit-size mass in my abdomen. My ovarian cancer journey began.


As a breast cancer survivor, could you also be at risk for ovarian cancer?



Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer


BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations can cause cancer. Of all women with breast cancer, 5-10% carry these gene mutations. According to the Foundation of Women’s Health, a BRCA1 mutation carries a 39-46% increased risk of ovarian cancer. A BRCA2 mutation carries a 10-27% increased risk of ovarian cancer.


A personal diagnosis of breast cancer before the age of 45.


A close blood relative diagnosed with ovarian cancer at any age.


A personal diagnosis of breast cancer before age 50 and a blood relative with breast cancer before age 50.


Two or more close relatives on the same side of the family with breast cancer before the age of 50.


Ashkenazi Jewish descent. 1 in 40 carry BRCA mutations.



Why Ovarian Cancer Has a Low Survival Rate



There are no screening tests for ovarian cancer. Early diagnosis greatly improves a woman’s chances of survival. But the vague symptoms often mimic gastrointestinal disorders that can be easily ignored or misdiagnosed. Many women are diagnosed in the latter stages and therefore experience a poorer prognosis.


What Can We Do?


Being aware of changes in your own body is your best defense for early detection of ovarian cancer. If the following symptoms persist for several weeks, please consult a gynecologist.


The Most Common Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer


  • Persistent bloating with an increase in the size of the abdomen
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Feeling full quickly after eating
  • Urinary urgency or frequency



As we celebrate breast cancer survivors, let us remember that not all female cancers are pink. Do you know your risk for ovarian cancer? Listen for the symptoms that whisper.






Cancer: A Word that Strikes Terror




Are there certain words that trigger pressure in your chest or tightness in your throat?



For me, that word is cancer.



I am an ovarian cancer survivor.



My Story



During the summer of 2006, Every time I had another bout of nausea, I brushed thoughts of ovarian cancer from my mind. Surely these spells were too infrequent to be cancer.



But in September, I rolled over in bed and felt a grapefruit-size mass in my abdomen. I closed my eyes and dismissed the whispers of ovarian cancer.



Several weeks later, I almost shot off the table when my physical therapist palpated my spine to isolate the location of my back pain. It’s not in my back, it’s jabbing through my abdomen!



My gynecologist suspected a uterine fibroid and ordered an ultrasound. Even in the dark room, I saw the ultrasound tech lock her eyes on mine. Something is seriously wrong.



Gripping the ultrasound report in her hand, my doctor said, “You have ovarian cancer, the size of a cantaloupe.” She rattled off all that needed done—scheduling tests and surgery. I barely heard her words. Was she talking to me?



When I walked into the hospital on surgery day, I exchanged my scrubs and nurse shoes for tieback gowns and skid-free slipper socks. The surgeon removed a volleyball-size tumor—ovarian cancer.



Today, I am cancer-free. During my treatment, I lost myself to ovarian cancer, but in losing myself, I found a new purpose and calling. Today I have an encouragement ministry to women undergoing chemotherapy. I advocate for and educate women and healthcare professionals regarding ovarian cancer. I write articles so that other women won’t put off getting checked out if they have any signs or symptoms, like I did.



September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Ovarian cancer is the most lethal of all female cancers. The symptoms women experience prior to diagnosis may be vague or similar to other diseases. This causes some doctors to rule out other causes before they discover ovarian cancer, which is why it is often not diagnosed until later stages.



Ovarian cancer used to be called the silent killer, but survival rates are high if discovered in the early stages. Learn from my story. Will you listen for the whispers of ovarian cancer?




Contact your doctor if the following symptoms of ovarian cancer persist:


·      Gastrointestinal symptoms:

Bloating, indigestion, nausea, feeling full or loss of appetite

·      Pelvic or low back pressure or pain

·      Urinating more frequently

·      Changes in bowel patterns

·      Tired or low energy

Pursuing Happiness? Upgrade to Joy



In the pursuit of happiness, I have filled my life with many things. Some I regret, some were wonderful gifts, but none filled the void deep within.


When I pursued happiness, I discovered that eventually the surge of pleasure dissipated. The negative emotions I attempted to suppress—hurt, grief, sadness, loneliness—once again surfaced, and I felt empty. I scrambled for the next available object or relationship to fill that void, desperately hoping to restore bliss. I often based my happiness on my circumstances.



Many of us strive for contentment. We may regret some of our choices. Shopping therapy may lift our moods—until we receive the credit card bill. Whether lonely, tired or depressed, we know chocolates boost our spirits— until we glare at the digits on the scale. Addictions drive us with unquenchable thirst that demands a fix, surpassing the previous high. We get involved in wrong relationships. These derail our destinies and hurtle us down destructive paths, leaving a wake of devastation.



We look for fulfillment not only in these temporary pleasures, but our blessings as well. Traveling to exotic places can be exhilarating, but once we arrive home, the sights and sounds are relegated to memory. We throw ourselves into our jobs, chasing the next promotion, a different boss or more money. We purchase larger houses with higher mortgages. We fill them with pets whose soulful eyes beg us to take them home.



Relationships are one of the greatest gifts God has given us to enjoy. From childhood, a girl dreams of her wedding day, gliding down the aisle clothed in a princess gown to meet her groom. Oops, the knight in shining armor has fallen off his horse AGAIN! Next comes the arrival of a darling bundle of joy. Ten tiny toes and fingers plunged into adorable outfits. But soon come sleepless nights, terrible twos and rebellious teens.



We often expect these blessings to fill the deep void inside of us. But when happiness eludes us because of unfulfilled expectations, barbs of emptiness stab at our hearts. It is during these seasons of disappointment, hurt and disillusionment that we become offended and bitterness takes root. Unfortunately, we sometimes trash relationships we once treasured.



Maybe we need to upgrade our pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of joy.



Joy is eternal. It transcends our circumstances. Joy comes easy during our mountaintop adventures. But we can also experience joy in seasons of deep sorrow. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit that comes from the presence of Jesus in our lives. He is the only one who can fill the empty places, heal our broken hearts and restore joy. When we pursue Jesus and His presence, we experience His joy.



Psalm 16:11 NKJV says, “In His presence is the fullness of joy.”



How can we upgrade happiness to joy?




We thank God for all He has given us, acknowledging that all we have comes from Him. Expressing words of gratitude leads us to contentment and joy.



Praise opens the door to the presence of God. In praise and worship, we take our eyes off ourselves and our concerns and turn our gazes toward God. We focus on who He is— His character, His majesty, His glory—and we are filled with His joy.



When we reflect on the truth of God’s Word, we discover His character—His compassion, His mercy and His love for us. His promises offer us comfort, peace, hope and joy.



Reading or listening to the real-life stories of how God rescued others in the midst of their suffering restores hope and stirs our joy.


Helping Others

Reaching out to others takes our eyes off ourselves. We focus on the needs of another person. In our giving, we please God, the giver of life, and He allows us to share in His joy.



Corrie ten Boom said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” Forgiveness generates joy.



In the presence of God I have been changed. I discovered that He has enabled me to do the seemingly impossible—believe, trust and forgive.



How can you upgrade from the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of joy?






Press into Liberty



July, the month we celebrate liberty. We wave our flags, shoot off fireworks, and host cookouts. We proudly blast our national anthem.



But sometimes we long for the freedom we sing about in “The Star Spangled Banner”. We may have endured a season of battle, targeted by the lies of the enemy in the pitch of night. We wonder if we will ever see the light of dawn. Like our frayed stars and stripes, we feel tattered and torn. We wave and scream through the smoke, “I’m still here!”



God says:


You are not forgotten (Isaiah 49:15)


You are not alone (John 14:18)


You are victorious (1 Corinthians15:57)



I experienced such a battle. I am an ovarian cancer survivor. Chemotherapy threatened my life. It induced baldness, brain fog, debilitating fatigue and crushing chest pain. Would I survive this assault on my body and the “what ifs” that pummeled my mind?



God says:


You are created for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10)


You are beautiful (Song of Songs 4:7)


You are courageous (Joshua 1:9)



Life’s events can rip us apart. We wonder if we will ever be whole again. Don’t give up! God has not given up on you. He gathers the tattered remnants of our lives and weaves them into an unfurled banner reflecting His glory.



God says:


You are chosen (Ephesians 1:11)


You are forgiven (1 John 1:9)


You are precious (Isaiah 43:4)



Do you feel as though doubts and lies have assailed you? In the midst of the battle, remember the truth of who you are and press into liberty.


God says:


You are loved (Jeremiah 31:3)


You are accepted (Ephesians 1:6)


You are free (Galatians 5:1)





Wave your flag of freedom!





Cruise Camp Mak-A-Dream



“Bon voyage!”



These shouts echo in the ears of passengers as their cruise ship shoves off from port, the familiar fading into the distance.



But at Camp Mak-A-Dream, we entered our own high seas adventure greeted by Love Boat’s Julie for our theme night—a cruise ship.



We are ovarian cancer survivors. Many of us donned sailor costumes, having navigated the uncharted waters of ovarian cancer and chemotherapy. Some wore white T-shirts emblazoned across the front: “I refuse to sink.”



Another camper sported a captain’s hat and grasped a life preserver ring. A reminder that on the choppy waters of ovarian cancer, we grab our life preservers and hold on.



Campers in formals, furs and glitz waltzed through our ship, embracing the glamour, and for one night forgetting the baggage we would rather leave behind. We admired costumed tables topped with hand-sewn delicacies while we nibbled on the chef’s specialties.



We frolicked with dolphins, cruised through shark-infested waters and encountered a life-size Captain Jack. His captain’s wheel beckoned us. How we longed to captain our own ship, grip the wheel, steer into a cancer-free harbor and drop anchor in the sea of hope.



At Camp Mak-A-Dream, nestled in the Rockies near Missoula Montana, ovarian cancer survivors find hope. We find hope in the testimonies and courage of other survivors who have navigated the waters of ovarian cancer, despite setbacks. New treatments are shared. And one day, we hope for a cure.



June is National Camping Month. So this is a good time to plan your trip to Camp Mak-A-Dream. Registration is now open for the fall ovarian cancer camp. If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, consider embarking on this adventure. The camp is free of charge to ovarian cancer survivors.



Bon voyage!






I Survived Ovarian Cancer!



Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day. I am an ovarian cancer survivor.


I had observed the ravages of cancer and chemotherapy inflicted upon my patients as an oncology nurse. But I joined their ranks when ovarian cancer flung me to the other side of the bed. Nursing scrubs and shoes gave way to tieback gowns and skid-free gripper socks. I was dragged through the theme park of cancer with its midway of fears that assailed me and chemotherapy that pummeled me. The tune, “What if?” revolved around my mind like a crazed carousel. How I yearned to grasp the switch that would halt this fearsome ride.


But I survived the malaise, pain and nausea that stormed my body. I survived the emotional roller coaster, spewing its negativity. Bleach-tipped hair burst forth from my bald scalp. Eyebrows and eyelashes reappeared. By the grace of God, I exchanged the fog of chemo brain for mental clarity.


Several months later, I donned my nursing scrubs and resumed my career.


Today, I have a comfortable lead in my race against ovarian cancer. I am a survivor.


There is no test for ovarian cancer. It is often diagnosed in the latter stages due to its vague symptoms easily ignored.


Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day. Let us raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer:


                        *  Abdominal bloating

                        *  Pelvic discomfort or pain

                        *  Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea

                        *  Feeling full or loss of appetite

                        *  Changes in bowel patterns

                        *  Urinary frequency

                        *  Abdominal or low back pain

Joanie with water bottle
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