Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month

SGO Launches Gift of Hope Campaign during Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month

Cervical cancer survivor Linda Ryan and her charitable organization ME STRONG made the inaugural contribution to the Gift of Hope campaign in the amount of $15,000.

Cervical cancer survivor Linda Ryan and her charitable organization ME STRONG made the inaugural contribution to the Gift of Hope campaign in the amount of $15,000.

September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, and in the 15 years since GCAM was established in 1999, cancer research has provided hope to the nearly 83,000 women who are diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer in the United States each year. With funding from the Foundation for Gynecologic Oncology’s new Gift of Hope campaign, the Society of Gynecologic Oncology will provide doctors who specialize in gynecologic cancer opportunities to conduct research initiatives involving new cures and treatments.

The Gift of Hope depends on the generosity of patients and patient advocates who support SGO’s mission “to promote the highest quality of comprehensive clinical care through education and research in the prevention and treatment of gynecologic cancers.”

Three-time cancer survivor Linda Ryan of Deland, FL, was inspired to fund research after participating in clinical trial at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, for patients with recurrent cervical cancer. Linda’s charitable organization, ME STRONG, has made an inaugural contribution to the Gift of Hope campaign in the amount of $15,000.

Linda’s Story

Initially treated for thyroid cancer in 2002, Linda was diagnosed with Stage 0 cervical cancer adenoma carcinoma in situ two years later. “I did the whole cone biopsy, colposcopy and the hysterectomy, and again, I thought I was done,” she said. Busy raising her two young sons throughout both cancer treatments, Linda took up running to maintain her health and eventually trained for the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in June 2011.

Four weeks later, Linda discovered an enlarged supraclavicular lymph node on her right side. Thinking that her thyroid cancer had recurred, Linda initially thought she might be facing a radical neck dissection. Linda had already decided to have her treatment at MD Anderson when she discovered yet another enlarged lymph node in her groin.

“The doctors compared the slides and biopsies from the previous thyroidectomy and hysterectomy and determined that my cervical cancer was back in my lymph nodes throughout my body,” she said. “And they immediately transferred my file over to a gynecologic oncologist at MD Anderson—Dr. Shannon Westin.”

Linda agreed to participate in a clinical trial at MD Anderson, but it meant flying from Orlando to Houston every three weeks for a total of eight rounds of chemotherapy. Since Linda was always accompanied by a family member or friend during these trips, other friends stepped in to watch her boys while she was out of town.

“I decided to participate in a clinical trial because I was told that for recurrent cervical cancer, traditional [methods] had a success rate of 15 percent. And this clinical trial had a success rate closer to 30 percent,” said Linda. “I felt that increasing my odds even by 15 percent was certainly worth it.”

After eight rounds of chemotherapy Linda was found to have no evidence of disease, and she asked Dr. Westin how ME STRONG—which raises money for cancer patients by organizing 5K runs—could help other patients by supporting cancer research. “ME STRONG wanted to give to research where we will be able to measure the impact, or at least see the impact,” Linda explained.

Linda’s conversation with Dr. Westin led to a meeting with Robert Coleman, MD, chair of the Foundation’s Development Committee, who suggested a grant to SGO’s Foundation. ME STRONG’S donation will fund a new research prize. Additional research prizes will be created with funds raised through Gift of Hope.

Looking back on her treatment for cervical cancer, Linda recalls that it was “never a choice” to maintain a positive attitude.

“It was important for me to laugh with my friends. It was important for me to live and have as much control over living as I could do at the time” she said. “I remember talking to a friend who said, ‘You don’t sound upset or angry—you sound OK,’ and I said, ‘If I have anger, that will give the cancer life, and that’s not my goal.’ It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fun, but I didn’t have a choice. I knew that’s what I had to do if I wanted to hopefully see my children’s lives in the future.

“I’m thrilled that Dr. Coleman suggested funding this grant through the SGO because it is something that is meaningful to me and ME STRONG, and it’s really exciting to see that the money raised through Gift of Hope will be used to make a difference. I hope other SGO members will take the opportunity to discuss Gift of Hope when talking with patients.”