Turning Salisbury teal to teach women about cancer
SALISBURY — The teal ribbons on downtown trees aren’t just for show.
They’re meant to save lives.
Turn the Towns Teal is a nationwide effort to educate people on the effects of ovarian cancer, which is deadly if untreated.
Unlike other forms of cancer, there’s no early detection test for ovarian cancer.
And its symptoms are often overlooked as unimportant, or possibly as regular signs of middle age.
Some 20 volunteers of all ages, both male and female, met at the Square just after 10:30 a.m. Saturday, bearing spools of teal ribbon and stacks of literature.
In particular, Turn the Towns Teal focuses on handing out symptom cards.
They encourage women to tell their doctors about symptoms that could be early warning signs of ovarian cancer: ongoing fatigue, bloating, feelings of fullness and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Lauren Brown, of Salisbury, her father Wayne and fiancé Gilbert Bontugan were among the volunteers.
Lauren’s mother, the late Lybby Brown, was friends with Diane Peoples, organizer of the local Turn the Towns Teal effort.
“She wanted to see this happen, she was one of the ones who tried to get this started,” Lauren said.
In May 2009, Brown said, her mother had gone to the doctor with digestive problems.
Within a week’s time, Lauren said, her mother had been diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer and was sent to the hospital for surgery.
She fought with chemotherapy, and the cancer went into remission, Brown said, only to resurface some months later.
The purpose of Turn the Towns Teal, Lauren Brown said, is awareness, not fundraising.
“Maybe we can help someone not go to the same fate,” Brown said.
Linda Jones, of Salisbury, walked through downtown wearing a teal shirt with “Courage to Fight” emblazoned on the front.
She said she might not have learned she had ovarian cancer until it was too late.
“I was having the symptoms, but didn’t know,” Jones said. “Bloating, weight gain, back pain, digestion problems.”
But Jones only learned she had cancer after a fall at work. A CT scan of the injury also showed the tumors.
“People need to pay attention to those (symptoms),” Jones said. “If its something you have and it does not go away, then I definitely would check with my gynecologist.”
Getting word out
Diane Peoples, organizer of the local Turn the Towns Teal event, said tying visible teal ribbons onto trees is only part of the event’s goal.
The ribbons are meant to make people ask questions, she said, but the next step is to get people information right away.
That’s where local businesses come in, Peoples said.
Small clusters of volunteers went door to door Saturday morning, asking businesses if they would be willing to distribute symptom cards and information on ovarian cancer treatment.
At Literary Bookpost on South Main Street, Gwen Matthews said she would be glad to distribute the information.
“You can’t argue with the cause,” Matthews said, “and anytime you can increase awareness, there’s no question, that’s good.”
But it can be difficult for some women to overcome hesitancy to visit the doctor for what seem like routine symptoms.
Mary Willis Page said that, when she was diagnosed with cancer in March 2012, “I felt my body had betrayed me. I was healthy, I eat right, nothing was wrong,”
But, Page said, “My mother died while fighting gynecological cancer. She made me swear I’d get checked.”
Deciding to be proactive, despite a lack of any symptoms, Page went to her doctor.
There’s no in-office test for ovarian cancer, so she requested more extensive testing including a biopsy.
“And it came back positive,” Page said. “I mean, we were shocked.”
The tests showed cancer in Page’s ovaries and uterus. She underwent a full hysterectomy and treatment.
Today, Page said she has a good prognosis, but only because she was diagnosed and treated early.
For people like herself, who have a family history of ovarian, uterine or colorectal cancers, there are genetic tests that can identify mutations that would make one more likely to develop the disease.
Peoples said that the symptom cards have been responsible for helping get several local people to the doctor for treatment.
And, as the men and women she called her “Teal Angels” fanned out around six blocks downtown, Peoples said that much more needs to be done to increase awareness.
“While other cancers have improved their survival rate over the last 40 years, ovarian cancer remains the deadliest,” Peoples said.
Early screening can make a difference, she said, and hopes that the volunteers’ efforts will help get more women to ask the questions that could save their lives.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.