MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Whether they are breaking a sweat at a fundraiser or all dressed up at a banquet — the color teal always marks an occasion for the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance. And so does a sense of pride.

Eleven-year survivor Erica Dahlin and her family help support the annual walk.

“We need to find a test that can help us know this is what it is – early,” Dahlin said.

Thirteen-year survivor Pam MacDonald started her own spin-off — a spin class.

“I have another granddaughter that’s coming in early February and more than ever I’m going for the cure and early detection,” MacDonald said.

The group came together in 1999. Kathleen Gavin, a public health advocate, was the first full-time staff member.

“I can’t walk away, we’ve lost so many fabulous women and I feel I owe it to them,” Gavin said.

But building a support base with people passionate about ovarian cancer was tricky.

“If 85 percent of them die, then we lose our advocates,” Gavin said. “They’re not there to fight with us any longer. And that’s why we really need the whole community to be involved.”

Unlike breast cancer, there isn’t a way to screen ovarian cancer early. And there aren’t as many survivors to build a large-scale support network.

Although MOCA’s worked with women as young as seven, the average age is 63. And the symptoms of ovarian cancer are quite subtle.

“A lot of women are initially misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome, peri-menopause, stress, midlife weight gain,” Gavin said. “These are all things that mimic ovarian cancer.”

By the time they are properly diagnosed, it’s often stage three or four.

“They’re thrown into this world of confusing cancer treatment. All of a sudden, you know, it’s surgery and really tough chemo, so that’s why MOCA is there,” she said.

The other reason is research. There’s the hope that perhaps a pap smear could one day detect it, or a vaccine could be developed. That’s where they put the vast majority of their budget.

“That is what’s really gonna make a difference in the future, that’s how we’re gonna get an early detection test, that’s how we’re gonna get better treatments and maybe a cure,” Gavin said.

They are a small but mighty group who knows that survival sometimes involves a good fight.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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