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‘Silent Killer’ - one woman’s life every 48 hours


‘Silent Killer’ claims one woman’s life approximately every 48 hours in New Zealand

On the weekend of her 5th Wedding Anniversary, Shaline received her ovarian cancer diagnosis - stage 4 Ovarian Cancer and a few years left to live. “I would assume that a cancer diagnosis will always come as a shock, but I could not understand how this had happened? I had made sure that I had regular smear tests that had come back normal and I didn’t seem to have any particular symptoms that I could remember leading up to my diagnosis.” she said. Shaline had a lot to learn about this cruel aggressive disease. “Many women think Ovarian Cancer will be detected by regular pap smears when in fact this test was designed to screen for cervical cancer. Ovarian cancer patients report being very upset by other women who question them on their diagnosis, assuming they have not taken the time to have regular smears” says Rachel (co-founder of the Silver Ribbon foundation). There are 4 main types of gynaecological cancer- cervical, uterine, vulva and ovarian and New Zealand loses one woman per day to these cancers.

The average age for Shaline’s cancer is a woman in her fifties; Shaline is a woman in her thirties planning on having her 2nd child at the time of diagnosis. “Looking back now I can recognize symptoms that had presented themselves and some I had visited the doctor for on more than one occasion. However, as is commonly reported with ovarian cancer, in isolation these symptoms did not indicate anything of great concern to me or my doctor.” says Shaline. Ovarian cancer is often termed the silent cancer, as it grows quietly and is often only detected at the final stages resulting in many women being lost to this disease. The need for an early detection test is paramount! This is reflected in the survival rates, with ovarian cancer being the 4th biggest killer of all cancers for New Zealand women. Early detection of Ovarian Cancer is vital yet no early detection test is available.

International research groups are working hard to find a reliable screening test but funding and resources are limited.

Shaline says “The pain I felt when I heard my prognosis was indescribable and the days and weeks that followed were filled with despair. I have always been an optimist but I gave up and thought that I had to face reality. A cancer diagnosis is liked being drafted to a war that you didn’t enlist for - you are not prepared and all of a sudden you have to find the strength in your body and your mind to fight while at the same time your soul has been damaged and the emotional pain is worse than you could have ever imagined possible. Your life as you know it stops and a new one begins based on medical appointments, ct scans, blood tests, operations, chemo cycles, good & bad days physically, high and low days emotionally, losing your hair, financial struggles and the ever present fear.

However it is possible to do this and come through feeling better than you ever have - I am living proof of this. I finished chemo in September 2007 and six months later I am still in remission. Apparently this makes me an outlier in the statistics for my type of cancer. I do not know how I got there but I believe that it’s a combination of the amazing surgeons, medical treatment, the way I chose to fight and the unknown forces. I chose to believe I can win this battle, I can not remember exactly when my mind set changed, however I know that because my husband and the people supporting me would not let me give up and showed me they believed I could win against the odds - I began to believe it myself and today I feel positive and wonderful. The more energy I use to be positive, the more energy I seem to have to remain positive."

This does not mean that there are not times when she gets down or feel scared. She has cried her fair share of tears and still needs to at times. Occasionally she gets sad and angry that she has to work so hard just to keep herself positive when previously this came so naturally to her, and she sometimes fear that the doctors are right.

She speaks of waking in the middle of the night scared and still coming to terms with the fact that she is a cancer patient.

“When I start to think of all that I have lost to the cancer, the sibling my son will never have, my lost career - I stop myself and focus on being grateful for being here today. On those nights when I lie awake while it feels like everyone else is sleeping I re-read the survivors stories, I say my positive affirmations, I visualize my healthy body and focus on believing in my ability to beat the odds. These things help me remember that today I am here living and I love my life in spite of the cancer and every time I fall from that positive space it gets easier and easier to climb back in and feel wonderful again.” Although the medical prognosis is that Shalines cancer will definitely come back to take her away in a couple of years, she refuses to believe that. “When I was first diagnosed I did not think I would ever have anything to smile about again and laughing seemed unimaginable. But I learned something very important, as cancer patients we are always wishing for more time instead of enjoying the time that we have now.” Shaline plans to write a book to assist other women to feel positive while dealing with cancer.

Shaline’s husband and sister organized a group trip to Thailand celebrate the end of her chemo. While there they participated in a 5km fun run to raise money for children’s cancer. As a direct result of Shalines cancer diagnosis her life focus has changed, she has gone from a career driven Global Marketing Manager to doing Volunteer work for The Silver Ribbon Foundation. “During my treatment I had promised myself that for the rest of my life, there will be a focus on raising money for cancer” says Shaline.

“When I found Silver Ribbon I had to be part of it, I remember writing a letter to Rachel and Jackie at midnight basically begging them to let me help”.

The Silver Ribbon Foundation was founded by two amazing women Jackie Whiting and Rachel Coates whose mother Leonie Coates died from ovarian cancer in May 2006. It was Leonie’s wish that a charitable trust was established to assist women like herself that are affected by Ovarian Cancer, increase awareness of the disease and raise funds for further research. The foundation was originally formed in 2007 to represent Ovarian Cancer but has since widened its scope to cover all gynaecological cancers due to the public demand. The Silver Ribbon foundations mission is to be the respected authority of gynaecological cancers and every New Zealanders gateway to knowledge, support and vital research, which enriches the community as a whole and ultimately saves lives.

“Dear Mum, I am so sorry you are sick. I have said many times I wish with all my heart I could do something to save you, and I feel useless that I cannot. It is very cruel for us to have to endure such a thing, and especially for you to be the one who is suffering. I do not want you to leave us; I will miss you so much.”

Extract from a Letter from Rachel to Leonie for Mothers Day, May 06

Shaline believes that meeting Rachel and Jackie is one of the gifts that the cancer has given her. Not only have they provided a tremendous support for her personal journey - they have the courage and more importantly the commitment to establish and manage a foundation in their mothers memory that is desperately needed for ovarian cancer sufferers and their family and friends in New Zealand.


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