MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As part of WCCO-TV’s Trees of Hope campaign this December, WCCO is teaming up with an organization that helps thousands of women fight ovarian cancer.

Eleven years ago, an Andover family knew almost nothing about ovarian cancer. Now, the three generations — five grandchildren, three sisters, a mom and a dad — are now some of the strongest advocates for it.

It’s fun that trademarked their family but a little over a decade ago, things got serious.’

“I was having this really weird pain and as a girl, as a woman, you’re like it’s no big deal, it’s nothing,” eldest sister Erica Dahlin said.

At only 29, Dahlin thought the pain was because of a blessing, but the news from the doctor felt more like a curse.

“I came back for the results and he said, ‘You’re not pregnant, but we have this mass here,'” she said.

The mass was malignant ovarian cancer. The average age it strikes women is 63.

“I had a really hard time processing it, because this can’t be, can’t be,” she said.

She had a hysterectomy and 11 years later she’s a survivor, marching with the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance, championing the cause with the help of her parents and sisters.

As the years passed and the family grew, ovarian cancer became a memory.

“For us, it was really more of a scare than how bad it can really take a hold of somebody,” youngest sister Amy Novak said. “We’ve gotten pretty lucky with medical stuff with our family so I just assumed we were going to continue to get that lucky.”

But Novak recalled what happened next to their mother.

“She was really bloated, she kept gaining weight,” Novak said. “I think it was 30 pounds she gained in a matter of months.”

After Carol Novak couldn’t fit into her pants, she went to the doctor. The disease that had left their family a decade before had arrived again. This time it was Stage 4.

“I thought it was just going to be like Erica’s, after they went in and did the surgery I was even more optimistic,” Amy Novak said.

“Right away we were asking ‘Is it the same kind? We want to know if it’s the same kind.’ Turned out it was not, it was a different kind than mine,” Dahlin said.

The sickness that had once been a threat became a thief. On July 8, surrounded by family, Carol Novak breathed her last breath.

“I have a 2-year-old, so she didn’t get to be there for a lot of that, she won’t get to be there for a lot of that,” Amy Novak said. “That’s hard for me, going through this, being a first-time mom without my mom is really tough.”

“I know you’re not supposed to ask God why things happen,” Dahlin said, “but why are you doing this?”

During this time when the words of others can seem awkward, their family found their way back to a group of women who used the right words.

“For me it’s just nice to have people to be able to understand, to be honest,” Amy Novak said. “You don’t get the ‘How are you? I’m sorry.’ They understand.”

They’ve committed to support the group that is lifting them up to raise money for research.

“There’s eight girls and that’s frightening to me knowing I had it and my mom had it,” Dahlin said. “What are the odds that somebody else is going to get it?”

The family hopes that one day the diagnosis they’ve heard twice other families will hear not once.

Right now there are no detection tests for the disease, but MOCA just provided a recording-breaking $527,000 to five Minnesota ovarian cancer researchers. If you can help, click here to donate.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield


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