Survivors, Families & Friends Reunite for 2021 Ovarian Cancer Walk
The 19th Annual Gail Parkins Memorial Ovarian Cancer Walk & 5K Run — both in-person and virtual — raised funds, awareness & the community's spirits.
The 19th Annual Gail Parkins Memorial Ovarian Cancer Walk & 5K Run — a hybrid of in-person and virtual activities this year — raised more than $200,000 to support the development of new treatments, as well as research into the causes and prevention of ovarian cancer at Duke.
Since the first event was held in 2003, more than $5 million has been raised through this event.
Organizer Melanie Bacheler, who founded the event in memory of her mother, presented, with her family, a symbolic check in the amount of $222,434.63 to Andrew Berchuck, MD, who directs the Duke Division of Gynecologic Oncology and the Duke Cancer Institute Gynecologic Cancer Disease Group. At Bacheler's side were her dedicated husband, brother, father and niece.
“This event was born out of grief related to my mom’s death in 2002. In those early years my energy and focus allowed me to move beyond my sadness,” said Bacheler. “Today, while the many months of planning can be taxing, I am rewarded ten times over when an ovarian cancer patient hears about what we are doing and reaches out and tells me her story. I’m often brought to tears when a family member of a survivor calls with a substantial donation because of the work that Dr. Berchuk and the Duke team provided and the hope they have for recovery and a new lease on life. What makes this event so special, I would have to say, are the people.”
About 650 people on 67 teams registered for the 2021 event.
- Around 350 people participated in the in-person Gail Parkins Memorial Ovarian Cancer Walk & 5K Run, which was held September 18 on the grounds of Sanderson High School in Raleigh.
- Nearly 200 individuals chose the virtual option of fundraising in conjunction with tracking and uploading their miles walked or run between Sept. 4 and Sept. 18.
- And most of the rest stayed home and supported teams or individuals with straight donations.
Berchuck, who’s supported the event since day one, doesn’t believe it’s a stretch to say “a record amount was raised” this year.
“While more money has been raised in past years (pre-pandemic), to do almost as well with many fewer people registered was amazing,” he said.
Bacheler knows the story behind just about every team that participates. She’s also gotten to know the doctors, nurses and other providers from Duke who regularly attend with their families.
The top five fundraising teams this year had all participated for five-plus years and three of those teams had participated for close to 10 years. Two teams that were new to the event each raised nearly $4,000. “They had a great time and said they would see us next year!” said Bacheler.
M&M's Memories raised $36,330 in memory of Duke patients Mildred Pennington and Mary Ann Cobb — beloved mothers and mothers-in-law who both passed away from ovarian cancer. The team participated “virtually” by walking and raising funds in South Carolina where they live.
Team Jean, with 29 participants registered, raised $13,880 in memory of Jean Veronica Wharton, a Montessori school teacher who passed away six weeks after celebrating her 39th birthday in 2015. The team fielded participants for both the walk and the run on site in Raleigh.
"We have participated in this event for seven years. We did it virtually last year," said Bob Wharton, captain of Team Jean, and father of the late Jean Veronica Wharton. "We have been one of the top three fund raisers each of those years. By our rough calculations we believe we've raised nearly $100,000 total. We do this to keep Jean’s memory alive."
Fighting in Faith, captained by stage 4 ovarian cancer survivor Kathy Jennings raised $11,600.
“Kathy is just a passionate, vocal survivor, trying to spread awareness daily,” said Bacheler, describing Jennings’ abiding devotion to the fight. [Follow Jennings’ cancer journey on the DCI blog: UnTEAL There’s A Cure, Have Faith in the Fight and Putting the Spotlight on a Stealthy Disease]
Ovarian cancer — which includes cancers of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the primary peritoneum (the tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers the abdominal organs) — often goes undetected until it's reached an advanced stage. Because it often goes untreated until it's advanced, the survival rate is low. The five-year survival rate of just under 50%.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women in the U.S. That said, it's rare. According to data from the National Cancer Institute, about 1.3 percent of women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime. By the end of this year, an estimated 21,410 women in the U.S. will have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 13,770 are expected to have died from it.
That's 13,770 too many.
A Family Reunion
Bacheler has long described the community that participates in the annual event as a family and the gathering as “a big family reunion.”
When last year’s in-person event was cancelled due to the pandemic, event participants instead met via ZOOM at an educational symposium led by Andrew Berchuck, MD, and colleague Angeles Alvarez Secord, MD, MHSc, gynecologic oncologist and associate director of clinical research, DCI Gynecologic Cancer Disease Group.
This year, Berchuck greeted walkers and runners as they crossed the finish line and then led a LIVE in-person Q & A on ovarian cancer.
“There was great joy among survivors, their families and friends and our ovarian cancer health care team in being back together again outdoors to share camaraderie and a commitment to the cause,” said Berchuck.
The LIVE event — which was also attended by representatives from several pharmaceutical companies working to improve ovarian cancer treatment — concluded with the traditional closing ceremony during which ovarian cancer survivors have the opportunity to share their stories.
“Survivors get to see and meet other survivors and know that they are not alone on this journey. Seeing 10,15 and 20+ year survivors gives such hope to those currently in treatment or those newly diagnosed,” said Bacheler.
Bacheler and Berchuck acknowledged that while it “felt good to be back,” many survivors and their loved ones unfortunately could not attend the event this year due to health issues or concerns about potential COVID-19 exposure. They were deeply missed.
Bacheler and Berchuck thanked the Triangle community, the participating teams and individual supporters and the event’s corporate sponsors for continuing to make possible an impressive annual investment in ovarian cancer research initiatives at Duke.
Bacheler's promise — “to continue to organize the ovarian walk for as long as I can!”
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors
- Presence of inherited gene mutations that drive the development of ovarian and breast cancer (a family cancer syndrome)
- Family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and/or colorectal cancer
- A personal history of breast cancer and
- Getting older (most ovarian cancers develop after menopause)
- Being overweight or obese
- Having one's first child after age 35 or never having carried a pregnancy to term
- Taking hormone therapy after menopause
- Pelvic and/or abdominal pain
- Feeling full quickly
- Upset stomach or trouble eating
- Having to urinate frequently
- Extreme tiredness
- Difficulty having bowel movements
- Abdominal swelling
*Because ovarian cancers frequently cause these non-specific symptoms, oncologists advise that women should seek prompt medical attention if these symptoms last more than a few weeks.
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