Jane Schwanke, an independent corporate event planner and medical writer, was diagnosed with Stage IIIA ovarian cancer in 1988. She compares her cancer diagnosis to a gift wrapped in black wrapping paper, "You don't want to open it, but when you do,
you realize over time that it has unexpected gifts and blessings. Since then, I value my family and my life to a much greater degree. I learned the importance of my Christian faith, and that many things in our day-to-day lives are just not important.
There is a clarity that comes with facing cancer, and we get a new perspective about our lives. We can see more clearly what things we can let go of, and make more room for those people and things that are truly important."
Jane also learned the value of time and that there is only so much of it. After her recovery, she decided to do what she had always wanted to do—leave the corporate world and start her own public relations business. Fifteen years later, she is happier than she has ever been and runs a successful business. Outside of work, she enjoys hiking, aerobics, performing in an English handbell choir, and spending time with her family. Jane reflects, "That's the good news, but unfortunately, it is a rare story of survival for Stage III ovarian cancer. The bad news is that I have lost so many friends to this disease over the 21 years of my survivorship. I continue my advocacy work in their memory, for the thousands of women who are facing or will face this disease in the future, and for my granddaughter, Mira. Mira could be at risk as she has breast cancer on her mother's side and ovarian cancer on her father's. She is 6 years old, and my hope is that she will never have to face either of these diseases because of the important research that is being funded today and will be carried out with such a sense of urgency tomorrow."
Jane reviews and critiques research proposals for MOCA (the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance) submitted by Minnesota researchers. Funding is provided by donors through the MOCA organization. The importance of this work for her is to have a survivor's voice and perspective in decisions that are made about the direction of ovarian research that will be conducted by Minnesota researchers. She has also played an active role in the American Cancer Society through involvement and leadership in survivor programs such as Look Good…Feel Better, Relay for Life and Patient Partners. She has spoken to community and survivor groups and their families on various topics including journal writing and cancer prevention.
MOCA nominated Jane as a consumer reviewer for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), and she served on Ovarian Cancer Research Program (OCRP) panels in 2001, 2002, and 2010. She considers serving as a consumer reviewer to be one of the most important volunteer roles she has played as a survivor. Eradicating ovarian cancer is the foremost goal of the OCRP, and finding better diagnoses and treatments is crucial to the lives of women who might someday face this disease. The circle of commitment begins with passionate scientists who not only understand what needs to be done to eliminate ovarian cancer, but also understand the urgency with which it is needed. The well-balanced scientific review panel members look at the applications with objectivity and fairness, and assess which proposals would feasibly offer the best solutions. The consumer reviewers round out the circle by providing a unique viewpoint that links the science in the lab to the patient in the clinic.
Jane encourages ovarian cancer survivors to submit their applications to serve as a consumer reviewer for the OCRP. "It is a wonderfully rewarding experience in so many ways. For instance, you know that your voice is making a difference in the future of ovarian cancer research; you have the opportunity to meet and share stories with other survivors from around the country; and you can be elbow-to-elbow with some of the country's leading physicians and scientists and share an equal voice with them in the review process."
"Because of the research that will be conducted thanks to funding through the CDMRP, I am extremely hopeful that ovarian cancer will be eradicated—or at least discovered in much earlier and treatable stages—in the very near future."