Ovarian cancer awareness crusade turns downtown Millsboro teal

Turn the Towns Teal volunteers for the ovarian cancer awareness effort in Millsboro, from left: Cindy McElwee, Pat Moyle, Judy Duffy, Barbara Dewey, Henrietta Belcher-Stack, Sally Oberle, Bill Oberle, Jim Stack and Jim Kells.

MILLSBORO – For ovarian cancer survivor Henrietta Belcher-Stack, it all began seven years ago.

And it came as a complete and rather shocking surprise.

“I had a pain in my side. I did not have ovaries. I had a total hysterectomy 10 years before. Two percent of all women, it occurs, that you can get ovarian cancer without ovaries,” said the 64-year-old Millsboro resident. “I didn’t have cancer to begin with. That’s not why they did the hysterectomy. Then this just – surprise. And there is no cancer in the family.”

“I was stage 4. I mean I was pretty much riddled with it,” said Ms. Belcher-Stack. “All of my treatment was here at Tunnel (Tunnel Cancer Center). My surgery was at Beebe. Great doctors.”

Now, Ms. Belcher-Stack is living life as a survivor who is part of the effort to promote ovarian cancer awareness.

Thursday morning, Ms. Belcher-Stack, husband Jim Stack and a handful of other volunteers teamed to turn the town teal in the national Turn the Towns Teal campaign.

Utility poles and street signs in Millsboro’s downtown business district were placement targets for teal-colored ribbons.

Jim Kells, a Millsboro town councilman, ties a teal ribbon on a pole along State Street in the Turn The Towns Teal campaign in Millsboro.

The teal ribbons coincide with National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in September.

“If we can save a life,” said Sally Oberle, volunteer and vice president of the Delaware Ovarian Cancer Foundation. “The whole mission is to increase awareness, to help women with ovarian cancer, whether it is money, or advice or just someone to talk to for comfort.”

Upon ovarian cancer diagnosis, Ms. Belcher-Stack underwent chemotherapy and surgery.

“It was 19 weeks of chemo, every week. And then surgery and more chemo. And here I am,” she said. “I get bloodwork done every three months, without question. And then I get a full body scan once a year, and that will be forever, because the return rate of this is 80 to 90 percent.”

She remains upbeat and positive.

“But I’m too evil …!” says Ms. Belcher-Stack with a smile.

Ovarian cancer has been called a “silent disease” as research indicates that 95 percent of women do have vague but persistent symptoms.

It is the deadliest of the gynecologic cancers, affecting approximately 1 in 70 women.

“I got into it because my sister passed,” said Ms. Oberle. “It’s been 11 years now. This is all in her memory.”

Because there is no reliable diagnostic screening, it often goes undetected or is misdiagnosed until it has advanced to the later stages.

“The fact there is still no test for it, that is the worst part,” said Ms. Oberle. “I mean you can at least get a mammogram and God forbid you get breast cancer. But you can get early detection and hopefully have a better chance of survival.”

The ovarian cancer awareness campaign turned teal in color in 2007 when a woman in New Jersey started placing teal-colored bows, “because she thought not enough was being done to increase awareness,” said Ms. Oberle.

Now it’s throughout 34 states. “So, it is national,” Ms. Oberle said. “We started this five years ago with a few towns and now we are up to 12 in Delaware.”

Millsboro, Georgetown, Milton, Lewes and campaign newcomer Rehoboth Beach are Sussex County’s Turn the Towns Teal participants.

Georgetown’s ribbon event was held Friday, Aug. 31. Volunteers joined several elected officials – Georgetown Mayor Bill West, State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn and State Rep. Ruth Briggs King – in placing teal-colored ribbons around The Circle in the heart of Georgetown.

Volunteers gather with Georgetown Mayor Bill West, State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn and State Rep. Ruth Briggs King Friday, Aug. 31 to place teal ribbons around The Circle area in Turn The Towns Teal to raise awareness of ovarian cancer.

Delaware Ovarian Cancer Foundation annually holds two major fundraisers: the Teal Ribbon 5K to Fight Ovarian Cancer every May and the Teal Ribbon Luncheon/Silent Auction in September.

Ovarian cancer survivor Henrietta Belcher-Stack and husband Jim Stack fasten a teal-colored ribbon to a sign on Main Street in Millsboro.

Part of the DOCF’s mission is support research. “Each year we have donated $50,000 to the Helen Graham Cancer Center,” Ms. Oberle said. “Most of those proceeds come from our 5K. And we have events all through the month of September because that is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.”

During awareness month, DOCF holds its salon awareness program, golf awareness with scrambles at various courses, plus participation in the Turn the Towns Teal national campaign.

Awareness is also encouraged through social media, promoting “Teal Tuesdays” that encourage everyone to help increase awareness by wearing teal, painting nails and toes in teal, and even wearing teal hair extensions.

In addition, informational packets/flyers are distributed to participating merchants and businesses as another awareness avenue, Ms. Oberle said.

There is also a survivors’ tea, which is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 14 in Newark.

“It’s another way that we can support each other, inviting the survivors …,” Ms. Oberle said. “We are still looking for new and more ideas and ways to reach others. The whole point is if we can reach out and just save one woman’s life it is worth it.”

More information

For additional information, visit the Delaware Ovarian Cancer Foundation’s website at: http://www.deovariancancer.org/ or visit the DOCF’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DEOvarianCancer/.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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