Local women bring awareness to ovarian cancer

| 20 Sep 2012 | 01:53

— There’s a new teal colored ribbon adorning trees and sign posts around West Milford this month. The “Paint the Towns Teal” ribbons are there to promote awareness and foster education about ovarian cancer and the importance of early detection.
Two West Milford women, Cookie Gomm and Jennifer Bishop, know first-hand the sadness of losing a family member to ovarian cancer. For Gomm, it’s her first year working on this organized public awareness effort and she’s doing it in memory of her sister.
“My sister, Nancy Ragazzo Okulicz, passed away at age 38 from this devastating disease. She battled long and hard for one year,” she said, but Nancy succumbed.
Gomm, a 22-year breast cancer survivor, spoke of her sister’s passing and the young children she left behind; four-year old Claudia and 19-month old Christian.
“So it is for her and her children that I got involved with this cause. So much more research is needed for this dreadful disease. It is our hope that other moms and other children will not have to face what we faced 19 years ago,” Gomm said.
Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it is in its advanced stages, which accounts somewhat for its high mortality rate. A current finding confirmed by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force indicates that a routine screening, because of its risks, is not recommended. Research continues to devise better screening methods for the general population but for now testing is usually reserved for women with symptoms or those with high risk factors.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 22,280 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. Of those, approximately 15,500 women will die from the disease. About half of the women who are diagnosed will be over the age of 60. It is more common in white women than in African-American women.
Being a cancer survivor herself, Gomm hoped and prayed that her sister would also win the battle, but it was not to be. Honoring her sister’s memory by spreading the word about this furtive disease brings Gomm some solace and hope for the future.
“There is no early detection for ovarian cancer and it’s why the awareness campaign is so very critical in fighting the disease. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis,” Gomm said.
“Paint the Towns Teal” is a volunteer organization, promoting public awareness of ovarian cancer especially during September which is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. If you would like to help with their campaign you may make a donation on-line at www.turnthetownsteal.org, or send a check made out to Turn the Towns Teal to Cookie Gomm, PO Box 453, Hewitt, NJ 07421.
Gail MacNeil of Morris County started the Turn the Towns Teal campaign in 2007 following a 10-year battle with ovarian cancer. MacNeil died in 2008.
That first year, teal ribbons sprouted up in 40 towns in New Jersey. In 2010, participation grew to nearly 200 communities in 29 states.
For further information on ovarian cancer visit the American Cancer Society Web site, www.cancer.org or the Foundation for Women’s Cancer, wcn.org.

Sources:www.cancer.org; www.turnthetownsteal.org;
New York Daily News - “Ovarian cancer-Stealthy and Lethal, by Katie Charles