MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This week we’re spotlighting MOCA, the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance as part of our Trees of Hope campaign.

Ovarian cancer occurs in 1 in 71 women. Fifty-six percent of women die within five years.

The average age for a woman to be diagnosed is 63. But doctors told Kristen Miles she had the disease when she was just 17.

Now 34, Kristen’s life is flourishing, thanks in part to a special group at MOCA.

She met her husband, Kevin, with the help of a matchmaker.

“A real-life matchmaker, not online (laughs),” Kristen said.

And that was the beginning of would become her fairy tale. Her nightmare is now 17 years in the past, and it all started with a swollen belly.

“I had an ultrasound that showed a mass, and four days later I was rushed into surgery and that’s where I was diagnosed,” she said.

Miles was the unlucky statistic, being diagnosed with a disease that usually affects women four-times older than she was at the time.

After surgery to remove an ovary and aggressive chemo, she fell into another narrow statistic: women who survive ovarian cancer. But her battle would continue in other ways.

“When dating, I always had in the back of my mind, I have to find someone, if I can’t have kids someday, they have to be OK with that,” Kristen said.

Thankfully, Kevin was.

“Ovarian cancer, I had not heard of before,” Kevin said.

Nor have most people. And that’s what Kristen had come to expect until she heard about the teal-trademarked group MOCA.

“When I moved to the Twin Cities and heard there was an organization just for ovarian cancer, I was so excited, it was people you can relate to,” she said.

And then she found out about the Young Survivor’s Group: women in their teens, twenties and thirties sharing fun events like belly dancing class, speaking at events and representing the cause at health fairs.

“Unique friendships that we otherwise may not have never met, and we’re just good support for each other,” Kristen said.

Together, they share the highs and the lows.

“We are a unique group. We face certain challenges like fertility,” she said. “A lot of survivors go into basically medically-induced menopause.”

It’s a challenge she, and her now-husband, no longer face.

“Because of the intensity of my chemo I had, it was still going to be in question, so we’re pretty excited it worked,” Kristen said.

She’s due in March. While they wait, they’ll continue to volunteer.

“MOCA does some really important stuff that I wasn’t even aware of,” Kevin said.

They don’t yet know the gender, whether it’s blue or pink. But there’s a good chance their baby will wear teal.

“I might make our child volunteer (laughs),” Kristen said.

Here are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer:

• Bloating
• Pelvic or abdominal pain
• Difficulty eating
• Feeling full quickly
• Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

Click here for information on ovarian cancer.

Click here for information about donating to MOCA.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield