The ovarian cancer survivors who meet every month at Blumenthal Cancer Center know the emotional support they exchange is an important part of their well-being.

So when the group started brainstorming ways to hold an ovarian cancer event, it became more than a chance to raise awareness or raise money for cancer research. It became something to rally around, something to look forward to, something to connect them to other women and to their community.

They organized an event that had never been held in Charlotte, a “Stiletto Sprint,” in which women – and yes, even men – race 100 yards while wearing two-and-a-half-inch heels. The first Stiletto Sprint was held in April 2011 at SouthPark mall, and it raised nearly $80,000 for cancer research.

The idea, says cancer-support counselor Meg Turner, came from a discussion on how ovarian cancer has a lower profile than other cancers. The women wanted to take action to raise awareness, and a member of the group had heard of stiletto races in other cities such as Charleston and New York.

“They realized they shared a common passion to bring awareness to ovarian cancer,” Turner says. “When they began to put voice to some of their passions, they were unable to do it alone. But when they came together, they realized they shared the same dream, the same hope: that one day, their children or children’s children won’t be in a position where ovarian cancer is always found so late.”

Roughly 70 percent of ovarian cancers are Stage 3 or later when discovered, because there’s no reliable test that identifies ovarian cancer in a pre-cancerous or early stage, says Dr. James Hall, director of gynecologic oncology at Blumenthal Cancer Center. His group and researchers elsewhere are working to develop such a screening test – similar to a pap smear – which he says would be the “holy grail” of being able to identify women at risk for ovarian cancer. The Stiletto Sprint benefits the Carolinas Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, which supports research at Blumenthal Cancer Center.

“It goes without saying that you need money to do research,” Hall says. “We are blessed here in Charlotte that there are a large number of philanthropic people who are concerned about their fellow citizens and who have been supportive of the institution and the research here.”

Pamela Boyajian, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 ovarian cancer in 2007, says she’s in awe of the women in the support group, who are pushing forward and thinking of others despite their own health battles.

“I’m totally amazed at these women who are struggling physically but who just keep on going and choose to look at the positive,” she says.

Boyajian recalls her own days of uncertainty: the stomach cramps that sidelined her from playing tennis, the grapefruit-sized tumor in her ovary, her four kids shaving her head the night before she turned 45, the surgeries and the chemotherapy.

But when she was at her lowest, she drew strength from sharing questions and experiences with the support group. Now, the group wants to spread awareness to others.

And that’s giving the support-group members hope.

“I don’t know if they could ever cure cancer,” says Janet Rich, who was diagnosed with Stage 1 ovarian cancer in 2008 at age 41. “But just to be able to arrest it once it’s found and catch it earlier than Stage 3 and Stage 4 … it would just be wonderful.”

About ovarian cancer
Because there is no reliable screening test and symptoms mimic other health conditions, most women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed at Stage 3 or later. Symptoms can include abdominal pressure or bloating, pelvic discomfort, persistent indigestion and changes in bowel or bladder habits.

About the Carolinas Ovarian Cancer Research Fund
The Carolinas Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, established in 1998, supports scientific and clinical research conducted by physician faculty members of the gynecologic oncology division of Carolinas Medical Center’s Blumenthal Cancer Center. Researchers are working on a “tumor marker” that could be used to identify patients who are at higher risk for ovarian cancer.