The College of Charleston is turning teal during September in recognition of National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. During the month of September, teal ribbons, fliers and other information about this devastating disease will be on display throughout campus.
Turn The Towns Teal is a national campaign to promote awareness of ovarian cancer (OC) and its silent symptoms. There currently is no early-detection test for OC, which makes the awareness campaign so critical to fighting the disease.
According to The American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. The organization estimates that in 2014 nearly 22,000 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer and that more than 14,000 women will die from ovarian cancer.
RELATED: Know the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Turn The Towns Teal was founded by Gail MacNeil of Chatham, NJ. On three separate occasions, MacNeil’s gynecologist dismissed classic symptoms of ovarian cancer as merely the onset of middle age. On December 23, 1997, MacNeil was diagnosed with Stage IIIC OC. During her 10 -year battle with ovarian cancer, MacNeil realized that not enough was being done to publicize the symptoms of the disease. MacNeil started the campaign in New Jersey in 2007. She passed away the following year.
Ovarian cancer also has touched the College of Charleston family. Sue Sommer-Kresse, who served as a senior administrator at the College for over 30 years, is a two-time survivor of ovarian cancer. She learned of her stage III OC diagnosis as a result of what she thought was a routine hernia operation. After major surgery and intensive chemotherapy, she was cancer free for over two years before experiencing a relapse in 2012.
“I thought that my annual exam was a screening for OC, but there is no test for this disease,” says Sommer-Kresse. “The symptoms are similar to many common ailments women tend to dismiss. Women must be knowledgeable.”
While she was going through chemotherapy, Sommer-Kresse got to know Kimberlee Shonk, a 20-year-old College of Charleston student who was also battling ovarian cancer and undergoing chemotherapy.
Shonk, a biology major with a 3.7 GPA, had planned to attend medical school. She passed away in January 2011.
“Before she passed away, Kimberly wanted to encourage young women, especially her fellow CofC students, to know the signs and take charge of their health,” says Sommer-Kresse. “If we can prevent one College of Charleston woman from obtaining a late diagnosis, this campaign is worthwhile.”
The local awareness campaign is sponsored by the Lowcountry Women with Wings program at the Center for Women in Charleston.