As we acknowledge National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month throughout September, we are sharing stories of advocates who are using their passion and skills in unique ways to raise awareness of ovarian cancer. NOCC sat down with Ryan Walton, the son of an ovarian cancer survivor, who uses his skills in public speaking to share his unique perspective and connection to the cause.
National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC): Why did you get involved with ovarian cancer advocacy?
Ryan Mitstifer Walton (RMW): I got involved with ovarian cancer advocacy because I know how lucky I am to have a mom to come home to every day. Ever since birth, I’ve been involved in ovarian cancer awareness but come the age of 13, I wanted to take a bigger role. Since birth, I was by my mom’s side as she shared her story, and I eventually thought I should share our story from a son’s point of view. I saw the electricity in people’s eyes that I could create talking about ovaries as a teenage boy, and wanted to help bring awareness to this silent disease. More awareness equals more lives saved. I want every teen to grow up with a mom, just like I have. As I made ovarian cancer awareness a personal platform and traveled all over the US sharing our story, I found myself drawn to focusing on ovarian cancer in an academic way. I applied and was selected for an amazing internship opportunity at the University of Arizona the summer before my high school senior year. I was afforded the opportunity to work in Dr. Jennifer Barton’s research laboratories at The University of Arizona’s Bio5 Institute. That summer solidified my passion for biomedical engineering. As a freshman at the University of Arizona, I knew I wanted to work with her team again. As I begin my sophomore year, and over the past 2 years, I have seen and been working hands-on with technological advancements that will hopefully bring easier, faster, and more reliable diagnosis to this disease.
NOCC: How did your unique brand of advocacy come about?
RMW: I would have to say my unique brand of advocacy came about even before I could breathe. My mom was 30 years old and experienced infertility for years. During an infertility procedure, a mass was found and required removal. My mom waited a month, but surgery was required and during her pre-operative procedures, found out she was naturally pregnant….with me. My journey continued after my mom’s healing in a stroller. From run walks to any small event where my mom could share her own journey, I started learning about advocacy. After the stroller, I was able to volunteer myself and enjoyed helping behind the scenes at these events. The connections I made and stories I heard are what shape me today. Once I realized I could make a bigger impact by using my own voice, I did just that as the opening speaker at the national ovarian cancer coalition national conference in New York City at the age of 14. Talk about a big debut. From then on, I have been coast to coast sharing our story and bringing awareness to anyone I meet.
NOCC: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in spreading awareness in their community but may not know where to start?
RMW: I would tell them – raise your voice because we NEED YOU! It only takes 1 voice to break the silence, and the ripple effect can save more lives. It doesn’t take a stage or a microphone. It simply takes making one new friend a day and or educating one more person than yesterday. Awareness comes in many shapes, sizes, and forms. We need everyone’s voice. It’s our only tool right now – and future OVARIES are depending on us.
Ryan Mitstifer Walton
As a long-time member of NOCC, Ryan has been advocating for ovarian cancer since birth. Ryan’s mother, Meredith, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer while pregnant with Ryan. Their incredible story of strength inspired Ryan to be a passionate advocate for the ovarian cancer community at a young age. Now, as a young adult, Ryan is studying at the University of Arizona to work in the field of biomedical engineering, where he hopes to make an impact in ovarian cancer screening and prevention using health technology.