I was recently walking in my neighborhood with my daughters and stumbled into an intimate fundraising party for an Ovarian Cancer non-profit foundation, T.E.A.L. As my daughters attacked the arts and crafts table, I listened to the friendly staff’s information on a disease that I knew very little about.
I quickly digested shocking statistics:
— Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the United States and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among US women.
— In the United States alone, there will be approximately 21,980 new cases of ovarian cancer each year, and about 14,270 women will die from the disease.
— There are 186,138 women currently living with Ovarian Cancer in the U.S.
— It is an insidious disease that can strike without warning or cause. There is currently no screening test that can detect ovarian cancer.
As females, we have been taught from puberty how to examine our chests for abnormal lumps as detection for breast cancer, but our ovaries are tucked far inside. For those of us with generally healthy reproductive systems, we might feel our ovaries if we are attuned to our menstrual cycle, but they are hidden and mysterious. After my girls wolfed down several sugary baked goods, I dutifully swiped my bank card to donate to the cause (and the cookies). As I walked out flanked by my girls (two more sets of ovaries), I thought how important it is for me to understand this disease.
Soon after, I met with Pamela Esposito-Amery, co-founder and CEO of the Brooklyn-based “Tell Every Amazing Lady About Ovarian Cancer Louisa M. McGregor Ovarian Cancer Foundation.” Esposito-Amery was warm and welcoming, and I could sense a drive in her that was simultaneously practical and emotionally generous.
In 2007, Esposito-Amery’s older sister, Louisa, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after several years of complications with ovarian health. Her illness became a struggle that Louisa and her entire family took on as a challenge to be faced with knowledge and community support. The sisters were disappointed to learn that there was very little public education on this disease and no fundraising walk/run to support ovarian cancer survivors and research. The lack became their goal to fill. They created the T.E.A.L walk, an annual event held in Prospect Park. It quickly grew into something larger than a yearly fundraiser. It became a foundation of support and a big community. What Esposito-Amery now calls the T.E.A.L. family which has survived and thrived long after she lost Louisa to the disease in 2011.
Esposito-Amery’s personal story of loss with ovarian cancer fuels her passion to educate women and host programs that assist the individuals and families affected by the disease. T.E.A.L. provides free workshops and services that are critical to women’s health, as the medical industry is lacking. “We help the underserved and empower women to listen to their body and understand their risks for ovarian cancer,” Esposito-Amery states, “T.E.A.L. is now in its 10th year and it’s taken a lot to get here. We’ve seen too many amazing ladies also die from this disease over the years. We ran the foundation out of my apartment until 2015 when we moved into our Community Center for Ovarian Cancer in Park Slope. It’s the only of its kind in New York.”
The foundation also helps fund research at some of the country’s most prestigious hospitals and institutions including Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts General and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The T.E.A.L. walk has sprouted up in other cities nationwide and the organization is coming upon its 10-year anniversary, celebrating its work at the Brooklyn Museum on April 21.
In researching the facts of ovarian cancer for this article, I want to share with my queer and trans community that while there were previous assertions that, due to the amount of testosterone ingested, transmen might have an increased risk of ovarian cancer—this is an unfounded claim. However, all bodies with ovaries are still at risk. So tell every amazing person with ovaries, as well!