"Take charge of your health. You are your own best advocate, and if you are facing ovarian cancer, there is every reason to be hopeful." Marianne Mills offers her story as a call to action, and a ray of hope, to those who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer as well as those who are at increased risk for this often difficult-to-diagnose disease. Mills is a nine-year ovarian cancer survivor, but her story begins with her mother's illness. Classic ovarian cancer symptoms and months of consultations with different specialists produced only a diagnosis of fibroids. A hysterectomy revealed the truth - advanced stage ovarian cancer - and, because doctors could offer so little help in 1972, Marianne's mother died 15 months later at age 53. Marianne became proactive in managing her own health, learning all she could about ovarian cancer, submitting to regular physical examinations and tests, asking questions and sharing her family history of cancer with her health care provider. When her sister received a diagnosis of breast cancer, Marianne and her doctor agreed that it was time to consider risk-reducing surgery, (hysterectomy with removal of the ovaries.) Two years later an exam and testing suggested the possibility of a problem and the surgery was performed. Marianne had asked that a gynecologic oncologist be on stand-by during the operation "in case something unexpected was found." Upon visual inspection, everything appeared normal except for the presence of a benign cyst, but cancer was detected in tissue sent to the lab while Marianne was still in the operating room. The gynecologic oncologist was called in, surgical staging was completed, and at age 45, Marianne was diagnosed with ovarian cancer - stage III. Marianne notes that the finding of advanced ovarian cancer speaks to the frustrating limitations of diagnostic tools currently available. Also key to her survival were her self-awareness and knowledge, aggressive monitoring of her health, and her husband's support during treatment and afterward, enabling her to move forward with her life.
Thirty years after her mother's death, Marianne met Jean, a woman whose ovarian cancer was, also, discovered too late. When Jean died, Marianne's sorrow fueled her motivation to reach out to other women and the medical community. In 2002, she and her oncology nurse founded Responsible Ovarian Awareness Required (R.O.A.R!), whose central focus is to advance knowledge about ovarian cancer through the education of patients and health care providers. R.O.A.R!'s affiliation with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance brought Marianne to the Department of Defense Ovarian Cancer Research Program (OCRP). Serving as a 2006 OCRP peer reviewer - which she describes as one of the most mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging experiences she has ever had, but also one of the most fulfilling and empowering - Marianne worked alongside researchers and other consumer advocates dedicated to fighting ovarian cancer. Refusing to "just take up space on this planet," and cherishing every moment of life -gardening, traveling, going to the theater - Marianne never forgets the promise she made to Jean: "to do whatever I could to make sure her story, like my mother's, would not continue to be repeated for another 30 years."