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Diane Rader O'Connor

Photos and text used with permission of
Diane Rader O'Connor.

Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Oregon/SW Washington
www.ovariancancerosw.org

Having served as a high school counselor in the public education system for 32 years, I retired in 2000 with hopes of enjoying my retirement years. In early 2002, however, I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC ovarian cancer, which was certainly a life changing event. As I have always enjoyed swimming, running/walking, cycling, music, traveling, and yoga, fortunately that has not changed since my diagnosis. A seminal experience for me was in 2002 when I attended my first Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA) conference in Washington, DC, during which I met women like myself who hoped to learn more about the illness and advocate for a cure, while seeking support from each other. Soon after this, a fellow survivor and I founded the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Oregon and Southwest Washington. We also initiated a "Survivors Teaching Students" program at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, which has now grown to include 5 nursing programs as well as Pharmacy and Physician Assistant programs. In 2006, I became a member of the Board of Directors for the OCNA, and in July 2011, I was awarded the Cindy Melancon Spirit of Survivorship Award, which honors individuals for their commitment to the ovarian cancer community. The namesake of this esteemed award was one of the founders of the OCNA.

I first learned about the Ovarian Cancer Research Program (OCRP) while attending an OCNA conference, although I never really considered participating since I have very little scientific background. However, during a patient advocate seminar at the Pacific Ovarian Cancer Consortium in Seattle, I received a brochure with information on the role of the OCRP's consumer reviewers. It was at that time that I made my decision to "go for it," and I was accepted as a consumer peer reviewer. It was daunting at first, having received my box of many research proposals to review - I wondered if I would ever get through them all! However, my OCRP mentor was extremely helpful, and gradually I learned how to assess the proposals from a consumer perspective without having to understand all of the science. I will never forget arriving at my first peer review panel meeting in Virginia - walking into that room filled with high-level doctors and scientists was at first intimidating. However, as we each introduced ourselves, I found that these men and women were actually delighted to have survivors on the panel who were truly dedicated towards finding a cure. This made me feel very welcomed and valued! Similarly, I was completely impressed with the intense dedication and passion each of the researchers had for the field of ovarian cancer. In fact, even while relaxing over dinner and a glass of wine after the session, they could only talk about exciting new developments in cancer research. I felt both humbled and grateful. My service as an OCRP peer reviewer was a profound and thrilling experience for me, and it is one that I have shared with many others in the hopes they will apply.