Content warning: This article contains mention of death and cancer.
Residents from Southern Village in Chapel Hill decorated trees lining Market Street with teal ribbons on Sept. 11 in support of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Southern Village resident Meghan Maynard led the event in honor of her late mother Patricia Maynard and her late best friend Elizabeth Hazelton.
Her mother died in 2017 after her over seven-year-long battle with ovarian cancer, and her best friend died on Aug. 2, 2022, after her year-long battle with the disease.
“It’s about giving back, helping save lives and helping bring comfort to families that are affected by it,” Maynard said.
Turn the Towns Teal is a national campaign focused on increasing public awareness of ovarian cancer, including its symptoms and risk factors. Every September during National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, volunteers decorate participating communities with teal ribbons, the color for ovarian cancer awareness.
President of Turn the Towns Teal Jane MacNeil said she knows the campaign saves lives.
The organization was founded in 2007 by the late Gail MacNeil, a member of Jane MacNeil's family. She was inspired by her own experience battling ovarian cancer and wanted to make sure no one else would have to endure what she and her family did, according to Jane MacNeil.
On three separate occasions, Gail MacNeil went to her gynecologist—a top gynecologist in New Jersey—to complain about her symptoms, Jane MacNeil said. However, the doctor dismissed her concerns each time.
“Women have to be their own advocates for this if their doctors are not being proactive,” Jane MacNeil said.
In late 1997, Gail MacNeil was diagnosed with Stage 3C ovarian cancer, which meant the cancer had spread outside the pelvis to other parts of the abdomen or lymph nodes.
On June 21, 2008, after a 10-year-long battle, Gail MacNeil died because of the disease.
The MacNeil Family now runs the campaign. Twenty towns in New Jersey participated in the first campaign in 2007. By 2015, Turn the Towns Teal had volunteers registered in all 50 states.
Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecologic cancer, but it is the leading cause of death for women diagnosed with those types of cancer. There are no conclusive early detection tests for ovarian cancer.
This is why knowing the symptoms can save a woman’s life, Jane MacNeil said.
“The earlier the diagnosis – the better the prognosis,” she said.
Dr. Wendy Brewster, director of the Center for Women’s Health Research at UNC, said 70 percent of ovarian cancer diagnoses are made at an advanced stage – either Stage 3 or Stage 4. Because of this, the disease usually goes untreated until it has advanced, which greatly lowers the survival rate of patients.
Potential symptoms of ovarian cancer include pelvic or abdominal pain, menstrual changes, bloating, urinary or bowel habit changes, back pain and fatigue.
These symptoms are not specific to ovarian cancer and can be mistakenly attributed to other conditions, Brewster said.
If symptoms persist for 10 to 14 days, individuals should consult their doctor for a referral to a gynecological oncologist, according to Jane MacNeil.
Ovarian cancer can impact anyone who has female pelvic organs. The American Cancer Society predicts 19,880 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer and 12,810 women will die from ovarian cancer in the United States this year.
North Carolina resident Lisa Moberly said ovarian cancer "hits too close to home" for her. In December 2001, her mother started complaining of abdominal pain. She went to the doctor, but her complaints were ignored.
On Dec. 7, 2001, Moberly's mother started having trouble breathing, so her husband rushed her to the emergency room, according to Moberly. That night, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died the following Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2001.
“I know she had a lot of health issues in her life, but no cancers before this happened," Moberly said. "No cancers in the family, so it was totally out of the blue."
After seeing what her mother went through, Moberly said she took fate into her own hands. Moberly and her two sisters had total hysterectomies as soon as they could, which is the removal of the uterus, cervix, ovaries and fallopian tubes.
More research must be done to design preventative testing and save women’s lives, Lisa Moberly said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.