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Her Unwavering Strength

By May 14, 2021June 14th, 2021No Comments

One hot July day in 2014, my mother Debi and I were out for a walk. I still remember the look on her face as she winced in pain and stopped dead in her tracks. “What’s wrong?” I said. “Just got a quick sharp pain in my lower right side, but it’s gone now, weird. Must be gas,” she replied. Little did we know, it wasn’t gas pains.

My mother always carried a lot of weight in her belly. Her weight fluctuated all the time, which is why we hadn’t really noticed the bloating. It wasn’t until September 2014 that the bloating and pain were severe enough that she went to her doctor. She was told she probably pulled a muscle during one of her exercise classes. Feeling uneasy, she went home and Googled her symptoms. The next day she told me she was sure she had ovarian cancer. I told her to stop overreacting and to never Google symptoms because the result is always cancer. I will always regret those words. One week after she saw her doctor, she ended up in the ER, where they drained almost 1 gallon of fluid from her abdomen.

CT scans and a CA125 test revealed that she did, in fact, have ovarian cancer. We knew right then that we had to get her to a hospital in Boston for a second opinion. Her new doctor staged her at 3C. I had never been more afraid in my entire life. My brother and I Googled the stats (another thing I don’t advise doing). It didn’t look good, but we remained hopeful and tried not to show our fear. I couldn’t help but think that my mom might not see me turn 30. I had never imagined losing a parent at a young age, and I had no idea how to process this information.

She was put on a grueling chemo regimen before her major debulking surgery. Large tumors were scattered throughout her omentum. Chemo helped shrink them enough so she could have the surgery, and it was scheduled for the week of Christmas. After a 9-hour procedure, the surgeon came out and took us into a tiny conference room. “We couldn’t get it all,” he said. Our hearts sunk, and all the air left my lungs.

Over the next 5 ½ years, she endured countless rounds of chemo, immunotherapy, and multiple clinical trials. Each new treatment came with a host of hellish side effects. Hair loss, nausea, vomiting, neuropathy, mouth sores- she had it all. Throughout the duration, she was exhausted and beaten down. Somehow, she never gave up. Each time a new chemo regimen stopped working, she was quick to ask, “so what’s next?” Her doctors were in awe of her resilience. She always had them laughing, and nurses routinely requested to have her in their care.

Unfortunately for us, and despite how hard she fought, my mother lost her battle on April 8th, 2020. She was 62. The cancer had spread into her intestines, and there was nothing more that could be done. I often imagined how it would end, and a global pandemic was never part of what I’d pictured. Thankfully, we were able to get her home, and she passed peacefully with us by her side. She was a warrior and an inspiration. Her unwavering strength showed me that, in life, you aren’t always dealt a good hand, but how you react can mean the difference between life and death. Yes, my mother ultimately died, but in those 5 ½ years, she made sure she lived to the fullest. Of course, she had dark days. We all did. But for much of her illness, her personality never faltered. Her spirit was big and bright, much like her smile.

This hole in my heart may never be filled, but I am so proud of my mother for how long and hard she fought. She taught me to always listen to my body, especially when it whispers. She taught me that in the face of death, when it feels like you can’t go on, you can always muster the courage and strength to continue. I will live now, for her. In my dark days, I will remember how she pushed through. She is my angel.

This journey through my mother’s diagnosis has taught me to be my own advocate. Sometimes doctors aren’t right. Only you truly know your body, and you have to be persistent. You must have hope. The poem
“Hope” by Emily Dickinson is painted on a wall on the bridge between Dana Farber and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. I sat on that bridge for hours during my mom’s surgery and thought of it often over the years. My hope is that my words can help the teal community.

Carolyn Petrishen

Carolyn Petrishen, 31, lives in Lowell, MA. This September, she will participate in her 4th NOCC Walk/Run to raise awareness for ovarian cancer. She will continue sharing her mother’s story in hopes it can help others in their time of need. In August 2018, her mom was asked to sing the national anthem at Fenway Park in Boston, MA for the annual Jimmy Fund telethon event. It was amazing!

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Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Before ovarian cancer - healthy ovaries

Stage 1 - Cancer is confined to one or both ovaries

Stage 2 - Cancer spreads within the pelvic region

Stage 3 - Average stage of diagnoses is stage 3C; cancer spreads to other body parts within the abdomen

Stage 4 - Cancer spreads beyond the abdomen to other body parts


National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

Stages of Ovarian Cancer

Stage 1

The cancer is confined to the ovary or fallopian tube

1A - The cancer is confined to one ovary only

1B - The cancer is found on both ovaries

1C - One or both ovaries are found with cancer cells spilling out from the ovaries

1C1 - Accidental rupture of the capsule by the surgeon during surgery

1C2 - Rupture of the capsule occurred before surgery

1C3 - Cancer cells are found in the fluid of the pelvis/abdomen

Stage 2

Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries with pelvic extension

2A - Extension of cancer to fallopian tubes or uterus

2B - Extension of cancer to other pelvic organs

Stage 3

Growth of the cancer involves one or both ovaries, and the cancer has spread beyond the pelvis

3A - Microscopic cancer cells found in upper abdomen or lymph nodes

3B - Visible tumor found in upper abdomen less than 2cm in size

3C - Visible tumor found in upper abdomen greater than 2cm in size, including disease on the surface of liver or spleen

Stage 4

The cancer growth is widely spread throughout the body

4A - Cancer is found in the fluid around lung

4B - Cancer is found inside the lungs, liver or spleen

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

30 Years of Courage


NOCC begins as a grassroots organization founded by advocates and survivors in Boca Raton, Florida


NOCC incorporates as the country’s first national organization providing awareness and education about ovarian cancer.


The first national ovarian cancer information hotline is established (1-888-OVARIAN), now averaging 10,000 calls each year.


NOCC proclaims a week in September “National Ovarian Cancer Week,” with a declaration from President Clinton. “Walk for a Whisper” 5K Walk/Run is initiated.


NOCC and the ovarian community proclaim September as “National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.”


The organization produces television PSA about early detection and distributes to 30 states.

2003 received the Award from OncoLink, the first online cancer resource founded by University of Pennsylvania cancer specialists.

NOCC receives the National Points of Light award in celebration of the success and impact volunteers have made in their communities.


NOCC launches “Body Image/Body Essence” art exhibit by sculptor John Magnan as a tribute to his wife’s journey with ovarian cancer.


NOCC launches the “Break the Silence” national education campaign.


The “Break the Silence” campaign reaches 100M impressions.

NOCC helps launch the first consensus on ovarian cancer symptoms.


NOCC moves its principal place of operation and state of incorporation/registration from Boca Raton, Florida to Dallas, Texas.

NOCC advocates help to double Department of Defense funding for ovarian cancer research to $20M per year.


“Newly Diagnosed Patient Kit” is launched. DVD resource is made available in Spanish and Mandarin; 450,000+ pieces of literature are distributed nationwide.


The Faces of Hope® program and term “Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer” are initiated. 

Annual fundraising events are branded “Run/Walk to Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer®.”


NOCC partners with The Dr. Oz Show to create his Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer® campaign.

Over 1200 newly diagnosed women receive NOCC’s TEAL PACKET®

The “Ann Schreiber Ovarian Cancer Research Training Program of Excellence: A study by Dr. Ruth Perets” is supported by NOCC with a $50,000 contribution.


NOCC supports quality of life research with the GOG 0225, LIvES Study, which is ongoing and conducted by the University of Arizona Cancer Center.


More than 4,000 Faces of Hope TEAL totes are distributed.


More than 575,000 pieces of education and awareness literature are distributed nationally.

NOCC affirms its commitment to research with the newest  initiative, collaborating with Stand Up to Cancer, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund to support the “Ovarian Cancer Dream Team.”

NOCC is featured in the highly coveted showcase window at 10 Rockefeller Plaza in midtown Manhattan.


NOCC reaches its milestone 25th anniversary.

NOCC becomes an official charity partner for the New York Marathon and launches its first platform for endurance enthusiasts across the U.S - Team Teal®.


Rejuvenate, the first event of its kind, is introduced by NOCC for survivors as a retreat experience centered around the mind, body and spirit; it later expands to a national series.

Not Knowing is Killing Us is launched as a hard-hitting national awareness campaign. 


NOCC's signature Run/Walk Series is rebranded and Together in Teal® Ending Ovarian Cancer is brought to life in communities across the nation.  


Team Teal®, NOCC's endurance platform, expands internationally with participants in Greece and Canada.  

Together in Teal® Ending Ovarian Cancer is hosted at New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, a national historic landmark.


In response to the pandemic, NOCC introduces programming offering relief to women and their caregivers including home meal delivery, Comfort for the Soul, and online professional counseling through Comfort the Mind.  

Teal Hearts Network, a series of regional survivor support groups, commences in a virtual setting.

Together in Teal(R) hosts its first virtual experience, No Boundaries, and unites participants in 50 states and 9 countries.  

Signs and Symptoms

Ovarian cancer signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Back pain
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation or menstrual changes
  • Pain during sex