Downtown's teal ribbons spread ovarian cancer awareness

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comSeptember 3, 2014 

  • Screening and support

    Screening information: The University of Kentucky offers a screening program. Go to OvarianScreening.info. All women older than 50 are eligible. Women older than 25 with a family history of ovarian cancer also are eligible. For more information or to schedule at appointment, call 1-800-766-8279 or (859) 323-4687.

    Support Group: The Bluegrass Ovarian Cancer Support Group meets at 6 p.m. Sept. 17 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. Email: OvarianAwareness@gmail.com or go to BGOVCA.Org.

    More ovarian cancer information: Ovarian Cancer National Alliance is at OvarianCancer.org

    To learn more about Kentucky CancerLink, go to KyCancerLink.org

Kathy Tabb and a small group of volunteers spent a soggy Labor Day weekend putting up 110 teal ribbons throughout downtown Lexington.

Tabb's crew, which decorated parts of Main and Vine streets and the Markey Cancer Center, helped make Lexington the only Kentucky city to take part in the national nonprofit campaign Turn the Towns Teal to raise awareness for ovarian cancer.

For Tabb, spreading the word about the disease is personal. Her mother died of the disease, known as a silent killer, and she herself is a 21-year survivor.

Many women, she said, don't survive. About 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, she said, and about 15,000 die.

It's only the second year that the ribbons have gone up. Last year, the ribbons were hung only at the Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky.

"That was a piece of cake," said Tabb, who asked the city for permission to put up the ribbons downtown. Each ribbon is made by a cancer survivor, and if you look closely enough, you'll see that each includes information about the campaign and where to get more information.

It is a decorative touch with a potentially life-saving message. As with many types of cancer, the key to survival is early detection, and a lot of women don't understand the disease or how it is detected, Tabb said.

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Each year, Tabb's dash of teal soon becomes engulfed in a sea of pink in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Tabb and others are trying to spread the word about ovarian cancer and fight a misconception that Susan G. Komen, the largest and most well-known breast cancer advocacy group, is involved in ovarian cancer outreach.

"Not all cancers are pink," Tabb said.

The advocacy for breast cancer is a worthy, life-saving effort, but it has overshadowed attention on ovarian cancer and other cancers, said Vicki Blevins, executive director of the nonprofit Kentucky CancerLink.

That's one reason that last spring, Blevins' organization, previously called Kentucky Pink Connection, expanded its mission from helping to fill in the treatment gaps for breast cancer patients to helping all cancer patients.

Blevins has known Tabb for years, and she said she isn't surprised by Tabb's determination.

"She's always been fantastic. You give her something, and she goes 110 percent," Blevins said.

In addition to the ribbons, Tabb is spreading two core messages about ovarian cancer. First, a Pap smear test is not a tool for detecting ovarian cancer. It will help identify cervical cancer, she said. Tabb says she can't count how many times a woman has told her that she assumed she was free of ovarian cancer because she had a clean Pap test.

Women should be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and aggressively follow up with a physician, Tabb said. The University of Kentucky has a free screening program for all women older than 50 and for women older than 25 with family histories of ovarian cancer. According to UK, 43,000 women have been screened, and 85 malignancies were found and treated.

"The reason we are specifically trying to make a big deal about it is that there are symptoms, but they are so vague they say it whispers to your body. You really have to listen to your body," Tabb said.

BEAT is the acronym used to describe the most common symptoms, she said. It stands for bloating, eating difficulties, abdominal or pelvic pain, and trouble with urination.

A Lexington ovarian cancer support group meets once a month. Tabb and other survivors regularly meet with UK medical students, physician assistant students and pharmacy students to help them better understand the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Most women, Tabb said, go to three doctors before being diagnosed. That can take six to 18 months, and that lag time can diminish the effectiveness of treatment.

Tabb said she'll keep talking to anyone who will listen, be it in the grocery aisle, in a college classroom or on the street, under a teal ribbon.

The teal ribbons, by the way, will be back next year.

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.

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