BLOG: Ovarian Cancer Survivors Share Knowledge and Hope with Medical Students

BLOG: Ovarian Cancer Survivors Share Knowledge and Hope with Medical Students



6.13.12 MOCA Board Member Sarah Noonan was diagnosed with Stage 1C ovarian cancer at age 31 in 2003. As a survivor, she volunteers her time to MOCA’s Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives® program. In this Teal Together blog post, Sarah recounts a recent experience at Mayo Medical School.

It was a great honor and privilege to have had the opportunity to share my ovarian cancer story with 3rd year medical students as they were beginning to prepare for their transition from the classroom to the clinic.

In late May I traveled to Mayo Clinic Medical School, along with survivor Ellen Kleinbaum, survivor and MOCA board member Linda Linder and MOCA Medical Education Program Manager Kathy McGovern to share MOCA’s message of knowledge and hope, including education about ovarian cancer symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and our personal stories of survivorship.

We were welcomed with enthusiasm by the roughly 75 Mayo Clinic faculty and students. Each of us had the opportunity to share our symptoms, how we were diagnosed and what is was like to hear those words – “You have cancer.” We also discussed the treatment we went through, along with side effects.  Each of our stories had many similarities as well as many differences, which I think is one of the most important and powerful messages we can convey – that not all women with ovarian cancer present the same, and depending on the age at which we are diagnosed, our personal lives are impacted in very different and very profound ways:

I shared what it was like to find out that I could no longer have biological children as the result of my cancer.

Linda shared what it was like to be diagnosed and treated at the same place where she was working at the time.

Ellen carries the BRCA2 gene mutation and she shared how this has impacted her family and her survivorship.

I think that the medical students were able to see just how far and wide the effects of ovarian cancer can be.  One of the main reasons why my participation in this program is so important to me is because it helps me to make sense of a terrible circumstance over which I had no control, and that maybe, just maybe, what I share may save a life someday.   And now, nine years after my diagnosis, the experiences, relationships, and opportunities I have gained far outweigh those things which I have lost.

The feedback we get from students after presenting our stories proves to me that we are making a difference.  I read comments such as “I admire your bravery and activism… it was inspirational to hear your stories,” “It helped me put a face with the disease,” “I thought ovarian cancer only happened in older women,” and “Your testimonial will help improve patient care … for future generations”.  The awareness that these students are gaining through this program can change the future so that hopefully women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed sooner and treated more effectively.

I cannot change what happened to me, but I am so grateful to MOCA for the opportunities I have had to heal, help others, and make a difference.

Thank you to the Mayo medical students – especially Lindsay Morgenstern, a young survivor of ovarian cancer who participated in the question and answer session. Thanks, also, to Drs. Jani Jensen and Brigitte Barrette for this opportunity!