By the numbers
22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year
51-60 years old is the average age of diagnosis
Less than 25 percent survive a stage 3 diagnosis after 5 years
90 percent survive a stage 1 disagnosis after 5 years
To contribute to Partnership for Gynecological Cancer Support, call 770-406-3406 or visit www.supportgc.org.
Nine years ago, Sue Sigmon-Nosach heard devastating news on her answering machine.
“‘Sue this is Dr. W. I’ve got bad news for you,’” she said, recounting the message. “‘You’ve got ovarian cancer. You’re going to be dead by the end of the year. I suggest you get your affairs in order.’ And that’s how I was told I had ovarian cancer.”
Nevertheless, Sigmon-Nosach beat the odds and more serious health struggles stemming from a surgery along the way.
“Truthfully for me, I tell everyone that cancer was a walk in the park,” she said in an interview recently. “I’m a survivor of sepsis and a heart attack.”
As a survivor, Sigmon-Nosach felt compelled to raise awareness about ovarian cancer and help women dealing with the disease, which even has its own month — September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month.
Her most recent project is a Partnership for Gynecological Cancer Support, a nonprofit organization geared to help women undergoing treatment of the disease. Its mission is to assist with living expenses not covered by insurance.
Sigmon-Nosach explained the organization uses oncology nurses and nurse navigators — medical professionals who help guide women diagnosed with cancer work their way through the treatment process — to identify women needing financial assistance. The organization uses its money to provide an anonymous one-time gift in the form of a gift card to use for groceries, gas and utilities.
“We don’t meet our clients,” Sigmon-Nosach said. “It’s an anonymous thing.”
Money for the organization is raised through donations as well as from the sale of artwork created by Sigmon-Nosach and her friend Debbie Torbett, also an ovarian cancer survivor. Both women, known for their fine-art glass mosaic company 2 Broken Broads, contribute a portion of the proceeds to the nonprofit.
Sigmon-Nosach and Torbett developed 2 Broken Broads as a way to raise awareness for ovarian cancer. A teal ribbon is in each piece to signify the ovarian cancer,
“And our metaphor and tagline is ‘broken is beautiful,” she said, noting many women feel broken following their diagnosis.
Sigmon-Nosach admitted her “oh, crap” moment came in February 2004 when she was diagnosed with stage 1 non-clear cell ovarian cancer.
“My husband and I felt totally alone,” she said. “Cervial cancer took his brother’s wife. Ovarian cancer took his mother. And my husband was now told his wife had cancer. So he had been hit from every angle and it was an oh-crap moment for us.”
But Sigmon-Nosach was one of the lucky ones. Her husband stayed by her side as she fought against the disease. Sigmon-Nosach noted divorce rates are four times higher for women with a gynecological cancer, which is why her nonprofit focuses on directly helping a woman dealing with ovarian cancer.
“We don’t know if she has been left or is a widow,” Sigmon-Nosach said, adding some women may not have enough finances to make a co-pay for a doctor’s visit. “And she’s fallen through the cracks.”
Gynecological oncologist Dr. Andrew Green said the Partnership for Gynecological Cancer Support serves a useful purpose.
“I have seen what happens to women who are underinsured and uninsured and don’t have access to the proper care,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.
The doctor added ovarian cancer is also underrepresented when it comes to public support, because only 18,000 cases are diagnosed each year. Breast cancer has 10 times that amount, he said.
“So (Sue) is specifically helping women who have very limited resources and providing them access to care that can help them achieve long-term survival,” Green said, pointing out only half of women with ovarian cancer see a gynecological oncologist. “She’s helping women get here to see us and to take care of them at a higher level. A lot of women are coming from a long way away where they don’t have access.”
Green, who volunteered to be on the nonprofit’s board of directors, said about 20 percent of his patients are cured of ovarian cancer.
“If a woman is treated (by) people with proper training, her life expectancy would be 50 percent at five years if not cured,” he said.
Beating those odds after she was diagnosed in February 2004, left Sigmon-Nosach wondering why she was still on earth. Finally, the Murrayville woman had an epiphany.
“I came to the realization that I’d been left for a reason,” she said. “And it took me a long time to do that.”
In response, Sigmon-Nosach and Torbett were driven to raise awareness about ovarian cancer. One night, the well-known artist had an inspiration. She explained she could take broken glass and other broken materials and create art with a theme from music of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Sigmon-Nosach picked that time period of music because most women diagnosed are older than 50 years old.
The art-based business turned into 2 Broken Broads, allowing the women to raise awareness with their pieces at shows across the country, including the upcoming Art on the Square in downtown Gainesville in September.
“As we developed our art and raised awareness of ovarian cancer through the sale of our art as 2 Broken Broads, we noticed that no money was actually reaching the street as far as helping women who were here that needed to be impacted,” she said.
The women then did some “soul searching” and decided to start the Partnership for Gynecological Cancer Support.
Since its inception, the all-volunteer group is on track to use 91 cents of every $1 raised to go directly to women undergoing treatment.
“We have probably helped 20 women and are on track to help 200 this year,” Sigmon-Nosach said.
Green said for a nonprofit startup in this economy to produce such a return is phenomenal.
“They have had a lot of exposure early on and it’s all by word of mouth,” he said.
But the most inspirational point: The group is spearheaded by Sigmon-Nosach and Torbett, two ovarian cancer survivors.
“This is an incredible amount effort for someone who has personally experienced this disease and has a close friends fighting this disease and has the ability to help complete strangers,” Green said.