The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
My name is Ryan and I am a typical 16-year-old. I can drive, am starting to look at colleges and manage Sabino’s state champion baseball team. I also love talking about ovaries. Yep, that’s right. I said ovaries. I am proud to be a Teal Ambassador. Teal is the color that represents ovarian cancer awareness.
My mom has always called me her whisperer because ovarian cancer is called the disease that whispers. If my mom would have had me sooner, a mass might not have been found and she wouldn’t have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was. I may have been her whisperer, but over the past few years, this whisperer has spoken out in hopes of saving lives and finding a cure for this deadly disease.
It all started when my mom wasn’t able to get pregnant and my parents decided to see a fertility specialist. Prior to insemination, an unknown mass was found. Surgery was recommended immediately. My mom was only 30 years old.
Right before surgery, she was asked to take a pregnancy test. Years of not being able to get pregnant, but they needed to check one last time. The test came back positive. My mom was naturally pregnant with me, and was given a choice. She was told to have everything, including me, removed or let the mass continue to live within her, decreasing her survival rate. She made the decision to wait until four months gestation to have surgery.
When she did have surgery, the unknown mass burst. The fetus survived (obviously, here I am), and my mom was diagnosed with clear cell epithelial ovarian cancer. She waited until after I was born to start treatment because very little was known at the time if the treatment would hurt me.
Fast-forward, my mom got divorced, finished her doctorate and moved us to Arizona. She rose from what she refers to as the darkness. She felt like she needed to share her story in order to raise awareness about ovarian cancer. As I got older, I began to engage with more survivors, families and other kids affected by ovarian cancer, as well as experience great sadness when we lost a member of what my mom calls our “teal tribe.” These experiences have shaped me and given me great perspective. These women are so courageous, brave and strong, and their stories had such a great impact on me.
In 2016, I decided to start sharing our story from my perspective. I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure other kids have their moms, like me. I first spoke at the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s Hope on the Horizon conference in NYC. If you’re going to go — go big! This led to speaking engagements all over the U.S. and most recently, I got to be part of TESARO’s Our Way Forward program in Seattle where I took the stage at a live storytelling event. Our Way Forward is a program that offers resources to educate, empower and provide unconditional support to those affected by ovarian cancer. I was so grateful for this opportunity that has allowed me to connect with more teens, survivors and care partners. My mom says connection is key. No one should fight alone.
One in 78 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Symptoms can be vague and often times, go undetected. If you have bloating, frequent urination and/or feel full quickly, and these symptoms persist over time, be your own advocate and talk to your doctor. Unfortunately, there is no test for ovarian cancer, and approximately 70% of women are not diagnosed until late stages.
For my mom and for all teal families, I plan to continue talking about ovaries, raising awareness and making my voice heard. I whisper no more. If this 16-year-old boy can talk about ovaries, I hope you will, too.