Thinking Teal For Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Spreading awareness for ovarian cancer.
WCCO’s Kim Johnson and her mother Peggy.

You might have noticed something different about the 35W and Lowry Avenue bridges in Minneapolis this month. They are alight in teal, which is the official color for ovarian cancer.

Long-time Maple Grove resident Peggy Johnson is an ovarian cancer survivor who has been cancer-free for nine years. In early July of 2007, Johnson started experiencing difficulties with her urine flow. She reported the symptoms at her annual routine exam and her internist referred her to a urologist who ruled out any bladder issues. Johnson then was referred to a neurologist, who administered more tests and found no neurological issues.

The next step in Johnson’s journey was to have an MRI. By this time, it was October, a long three months since her symptoms first occurred. The day before the MRI was scheduled, Johnson saw and felt a lump on the right side of her lower abdomen. She had discovered the tumor in her body, which was later confirmed by the MRI.

Johnson remembers seeing the big dark mass of the tumor on the screen at a CT scan. “I looked at this thing and thought, I’m kind of toast,” Johnson says. She had a cancerous tumor the size of a cantaloupe on her ovary. Johnson underwent surgery to remove it in November. After surgery, doctors biopsied the tumor and found her cancer was only stage 1, level A, the lowest level of severity possible.

In addition to having a complete hysterectomy, Johnson underwent 6 rounds of chemotherapy. She also had genetic testing done to determine if her cancer was genetic; it was not. If it were genetic, Johnson would have had a double mastectomy immediately and her two daughters would have considered complete hysterectomies and mastectomies by age 40.

“There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer,” says Kathleen Gavin, executive director of the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MOCA). MOCA provides, among many things, support and information services to women dealing with ovarian cancer. “Most women are diagnosed when the disease is difficult to cure,” Gavin says, adding that the majority of cases are diagnosed when the cancer is in stage 3 or 4, when the five-year survival rate is only 20 percent.

Because there is no early detection test, knowing the symptoms is essential. Symptoms that may indicate ovarian cancer are often common and vague. They include bloating, pelvic and abdominal pain, difficulty eating, feeling full quickly and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency). If you experience at least one of these symptoms almost daily for more than three weeks, MOCA recommends seeking medical attention.  

“What’s really amazing is that she had symptoms for three months or so and that it only grew to be stage 1,” says Peggy’s daughter Kim Johnson, a WCCO This Morning anchor. Kim Johnson is a strong supporter of MOCA and on September 10th, she will emcee the organization’s annual 2K/5K walk and run: HOM Teal Strides For Ovarian Cancer. Both mother and daughter are passionate about raising awareness about the disease.

“I guess the moral of my whole story is, if you know there’s something wrong with your body, there’s something wrong,” Peggy Johnson says. She had experienced symptoms for months, had seen multiple doctors and specialists, but still, the elusive cancer went undetected. “We have to be our own warriors,” she says.