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New challenge to take on Australia's deadliest female cancer

29 October 2022

~ 4 minutes

Every day in Australia, 5 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Fortunately, every one of us can help. 

This November, Ovarian Cancer Australia (OCA) are encouraging people to sign up for the Workout 4 Women challenge and commit to moving every day. The challenge asks Australians to walk, run or move for 4km each day to increase awareness of the disease and raise money to help fund the critical work of Ovarian Cancer Australia. 

Ovarian cancer is Australia’s deadliest female cancer, with a 5-year survival rate of just 48%. In comparison breast cancer has a five-year survival rate of 92%. 

Tracey, who was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in 2017, is participating in the Workout 4 Women challenge for the third year in a row.

When Tracey first received her diagnosis, she was a healthy 38-year-old at her fittest, competing in body building competitions and working as a personal trainer. It was during a session with a client when Tracey began to experience excruciating pain in her abdomen.  

“I vomited a few times and was unable to continue the session. I was left with my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter and the pain just kept getting worse to the point where I ended up in a ball on the ground, unable to move. My daughter was able to get my phone and ring my husband who was still at work, who then called his dad. My father-in-law arrived to help and after seeing how much pain I was in, called an ambulance. 

“I was taken to the Emergency Department, where they initially treated me for gall stones. No pain medication gave me offered any relief,” Tracey said. 

After further investigation and an ultrasound, the surgeons found a large mass on Tracey’s left ovary. Following this discovery, Tracey requested to be sent to her regular obstetrician/gynaecologist at North West Private Hospital, where, after an ultrasound, they discovered a 16cm cyst on her left ovary had ruptured. 

“That same day, I had my first operation to remove the cyst and my left ovary. It wasn't ideal, but I was told I could still have more kids with one ovary, so I left hospital to recover in a pretty positive mindset,” said Tracey.  

However, nearly a week after leaving hospital, Tracey’s doctor rang her with the news that they had found cancer in the cyst. Following a visit to an oncologist where Tracey underwent more scans, biopsies and ultrasounds, her worst-case scenario was confirmed — the cancer had spread to her right ovary, her endometrium and her uterus. 

“I needed to have a full hysterectomy, which included the removal of my ovaries, uterus and cervix. My doctor also removed my appendix, some lymph nodes and the fatty layer over my stomach to minimise the likelihood of the cancer travelling.

“My choice of having another baby was taken away from me, so surviving my diagnosis and watching my daughter grow up became my sole focus,” said Tracey.

A month later, Tracey commenced 6 rounds of chemotherapy. Her diagnosis had impacted her heavily, both physically and mentally, so she chose to spread the sessions out to every three weeks to ensure she could feel well enough for a week to be able to do “normal” things with her family.

Having now reached 5 years since her diagnosis, Tracey has chosen to make the Workout 4 Women challenge her own and has committed to moving a total of 500km throughout the month through a combination of running, walking, swimming and cycling.

“When I was diagnosed in 2017, a huge gap in my cancer treatment was the lack of psychosocial support available. My diagnosis was traumatic, and while the physical side of my illness was addressed, I really struggled mentally after it happened. The incredible support network that is now offered by OCA just wasn’t available at the time,” said Tracey. 

OCA is the leading support and advocacy organisation for Australians impacted by ovarian cancer. They offer a range of free services including access to specialist ovarian cancer nurses, partner support groups and tailored psychosocial support. OCA also works closely with government, advisory bodies and other changemakers in the ovarian cancer space to update laws, improve policies, and redirect funding to create better outcomes for people with ovarian cancer. 

“There is so much misinformation about ovarian cancer. The Workout 4 Women challenge is such an important opportunity to spread awareness and raise funds for an essential cause. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to participate after being diagnosed myself."

“I was at my healthiest when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which goes to show how no one is immune from its impacts. I encourage all Australians, regardless of if they have been affected directly by ovarian cancer or not, to participate in this challenge. Whether that be through joining a team, donating or setting your own challenge, every action is important,” said Tracey. 

Acknowledgement flags

Ovarian Cancer Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land where our office is located, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation and we pay our respects to Elders past and present.