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Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Ovarian cancer affects approximately 2,800 Canadians per year, and while all people with ovaries have some risk of developing ovarian cancer, there are several factors that can increase your risk. In honour of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Nanny Angel Network looks at some common risk factors, as well as what signs and symptoms you should look out for.

Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common form of the three types of ovarian cancer, representing upwards of 90% of all cases of ovarian cancer. Epithelial ovarian cancer begins in the cells that cover the lining of the fallopian tube and the ovary, and it can be further divided into several, distinct sub-types: serious tumours (70% of cases), clear cell carcinoma (10-13% of cases), endometroid tumours, mucinous tumours (4% of cases), undifferentiated, and borderline ovarian tumours.

Germ cell ovarian cancer, which accounts for 5-10% of ovarian cancer cases, start from the cells from which eggs are formed (germ cells) and more often affects people in their 20s. Finally, sex cord stromal cell cancer represents less than 5% of all ovarian cancer diagnoses, and begins in the cells that hold the ovaries together, and is more likely to occur in people younger than 50. While the risk factors listed below are commonly known to increase the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer, the risk factors for the other types of ovarian cancer are less well known.

Risk for ovarian cancer increases if you have never given birth or have had difficulty conceiving, while it decreases if you have had gynecological surgery removing your fallopian tubes and/or ovaries. People with a history of endometriosis are also at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Endometriosis is a painful disorder in which the endometrium – tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus – grows outside of the uterus. People who have used estrogen hormone replacement therapy, particular those who have used it in the long-term and/or in large doses, are also at a higher risk. People who have used oral contraceptives, however, have a lowered risk.

The risk of developing cancer increases with age, with ovarian cancer being more common in people with ovaries aged 50-79. The age at which a person began, and stopped, menstruation is also a factor, with ovarian cancer occurring more often in people who began menstruating before age 12 or underwent menopause after age 52. It is also more common in Jewish people of Ashkenazi descent, as well as French Canadians of certain ancestries. As with all cancers, risk also increases with a family history of cancer, in particular a history of ovarian, breast, endometrial, or colorectal cancer. It also increases if you are a smoker.

Genetic mutations, such as the BRCA gene mutation, can also increase risk factor – the BRCA gene mutation is also associated with an increased risk factor of developing breast cancer. BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations are involved in most forms of hereditary ovarian and breast cancer. In addition to Ashkenazi Jewish people and French Canadians of certain ancestry, Icelandic and Dutch populations are also at an increased risk for having either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.

Ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect, as there is no reliable screening test for this type of cancer. People experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer should visit their doctor, who will perform a complete pelvic exam, a transvaginal or pelvic ultrasound, and a CA-125 blood test. Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include: increased abdominal size/persistent bloating, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, pain in the pelvic or abdominal areas, and a change both/either the urgency or frequency of urination. Other, less common symptoms, include changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, and extreme fatigue. All of the symptoms of ovarian cancer are, unfortunately, often vague, and can be mistakenly attributed to other causes. However, if the symptoms are new, having started within the last year, persist more than three weeks, and occur frequently, it is important to see your doctor about them.

Once diagnosed, treatment for ovarian cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. For more information on ovarian cancer, including living with ovarian cancer, visit ovariancanada.org.

Sources: ovariancanada.org, mayoclinic.org, cancer.ca

Nanny Angel Michelle Donais

Meet Nanny Angel Michelle

Like the children she cares for, Michelle Donais has parents with cancer. She has witnessed firsthand just how painfully difficult it can be to deal with the illness and its treatments, along with day-to-day life, let alone caring for young children on top of it all.

Michelle has spent her life dedicating her free time to organizations benefiting children with cancer. She’s volunteered at summer camps for children with cancer, participated in fundraising events, and even plans to cycle Canada from coast to coast in order to raise awareness and funds for children with the disease. After learning about the Nanny Angel Network, Michelle submitted an application and was welcomed into the organization.

Michelle volunteers with a family that’s close to NAN’s heart. She looks after two young girls who recently lost their mother, Sherri. The parallels between their grief and Michelle’s own struggles as she cared for her own sick parents have brought her and the girls together.

“As Sherri’s cancer was progressing, I was also dealing with my own Mom’s cancer progression,” Michelle says. “I ended up moving back to my parent’s home for several months and wasn’t able to physically be with the girls because of the geography, so I arranged with their father to Skype with the girls as often as I could.”

“Their mother and my Mom shared many of the same symptoms and effects of the cancer and treatments, experiences in and out of the hospital, and their desire to be at home as their diseases advanced.” The similarities between their situations weren’t lost on the girls, either. They’d often ask Michelle questions about her own mother’s illness, which led to a dialogue about their feelings and concerns.

“They did ask me questions about my Mom and her illness, that I knew related to what Sherri was going through,” Michelle says. These questions included ‘Can your Mommy eat anything?’ (she had an NG tube, similar to their mother, and was able to eat very little), and ‘Where does she sleep?’ (in a hospital bed in the living room, also similar to their mother). “The training we were given from NAN helped me to answer them and also connect with them through our shared experiences,” Michelle says.

NAN used every resource possible to support Michelle and the family she cared for through the mother’s illness, treatment, and death. “The support from the NAN team has been tremendous. As Sherri’s disease progressed, the NAN team was incredible with providing us with various tools and resources to support the family,” Michelle says.

“Many years ago, I heard a quote that had a big impact on me: ‘No one can do anything about the quantity of life, but we all can do something about the quality.’ Being able to support Sherri during her illness, and provide her with much needed time for respite, while at the same time creating a fun environment for her kids, was meaningful and important to Sherri and her family. This has been a life changing experience for me, and I know that volunteering as a Nanny Angel has created a meaningful difference, not only for this family but also for myself. I’ve created a special bond with this family that I hope will last a lifetime.”

Volunteer Michelle with one of her NAN children, Hanora

Michelle with one of her NAN children, Hanora

2016 Nanny Angel of the Year Award

Every year, we recognize the outstanding commitment, dedication and enthusiasm of one of our Nanny Angel volunteers.

Meet our 2016 Nanny Angel of the Year, Verna Ross.

Verna has been a dedicated Nanny Angel since April 2014. In her time with NAN, she has logged over 350 hours and provided support to 10 families. Verna has touched many lives. Below is just one example of the difference she makes for the families she supports.

“A very big thank you to Verna for her absolute devotion and dedication. She is truly an angel. She has shown so much love, care and kindness to me and my son.  My son eagerly looks forward to their outings together and I can tell when he gets home from each outing that he’s had so much fun.” – Felicia, NAN Mom

When asked why she chooses to volunteer her time with the Nanny Angel Network, Verna expressed how much she appreciates having the opportunity to share her expertise in childcare. Verna was beyond gracious when we presented her with the award, saying, “it is a privilege to be a Nanny Angel and an honour to have mothers entrust their children to me during their struggle with cancer. Your organization has enabled me to reach out to mothers who both need and appreciate help. My volunteering experience with NAN has been very rewarding and special.”

Congratulations to Verna on being awarded our 2016 Nanny Angel of the Year!

Our work at the Nanny Angel Network would not be possible without amazing volunteers like Verna. We appreciate all our Nanny Angels for volunteering their time, opening up their heart and providing support to NAN families when they need it most.