By Nicole Cundiff
Life is made up of tiny moments. In 2007, a shocking moment changed my life and the life of my three sisters when our mother, Colleen, received a late-stage ovarian cancer diagnosis. The diagnosis would send us into an unfamiliar world of invasive procedures, harsh treatments and uncertainty.
My mom was a young, vibrant 52-year-old woman who was traveling the world one summer when the classic signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer presented themselves. She was proactive and visited three different doctors, but each of them failed to recognize her symptoms as ovarian cancer. When she was finally ordered a CT scan, she had a football sized tumor and thousands of smaller tumors occupying her abdomen.
We felt helpless but wanted to do something. My three sisters and I started blogging about our mom’s journey with the intention of keeping family and friends informed about her health and treatment progress. Before long, her amazing spirit and infectious personality poured through the blog, and people all over the world were listening.
During our mom’s five-year battle with ovarian cancer, we learned a lot about the disease and felt an increasing duty to use our platform and connections to make a difference. We began hosting fundraisers and donated the proceeds to ovarian cancer research. In 2011, my husband, Billy, a 12-year veteran kicker for the NFL, had an amazing opportunity with the Baltimore Ravens, his team at the time, to start a 501(c)(3). Our path became clear and Colleen’s Dream Foundation was established. By November 2012, the foundation received nonprofit status. My mom, who proudly served on the first board of directors, knew the foundation would be her legacy but was heartbroken to know her death would become a pivotal part of the story.
We promised my mom that her death would not be in vain. We vowed to protect her legacy and fight for a better world where women and families would not have to suffer the same fate. She passed away in February 2013, but her legacy lives on. Colleen’s Dream has been operational for three years and has grown beyond our wildest dreams.
Colleen’s Dream is dedicated to funding investigational scientific research with the primary goal of developing and establishing an accurate and accessible early detection test for ovarian cancer. To date, the foundation has awarded more than $450,000 in research grants and has become the largest privately funded, ovarian cancer specific nonprofit in the state of Arizona.
The community can support Colleen’s Dream through several fundraising efforts. The Kicking for the Dream campaign allows high school football kickers to collect pledges on each successful field goal during the football season. The program is a great way to teach teens how to fundraise and the value of giving back. Then in February, supporters can join Colleen’s Dream for their annual golf tournament and Evening of Dreams Gala on February 24 and 25, respectively.
The absence of an early-detection test and vague symptoms are what make ovarian cancer the deadliest gynecological cancer and the fifth leading cause of death among women in the United States. Of all women diagnosed, 25 percent will die in the first year. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 22,000 cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed this year and more than 14,000 women will die from the disease.
There is hope, however. If detected early, 94 percent of women survive beyond five years. Research shows that women with the disease experience symptoms, but without increased education, many women and their doctors will misdiagnose the disease. That’s why it’s imperative to know the signs.
Women with ovarian cancer reported having these reoccurring symptoms:
- Swollen or bloated abdomen.
- Abdominal or back pain.
- Feeling full quickly.
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency).
Women experiencing these symptoms persistently for more than two weeks should visit their doctor for an ultrasound and a CA-125 blood test.
Though my mom has passed, Colleen’s Dream and the moments we shared with her keep her spirit alive. To learn more about Colleen’s Dream Foundation, the Kicking for the Dream campaign, or to purchase tickets for the golf tournament and Evening of Dreams Gala, visit www.colleensdream.org.