Women talking through a megaphone

Powerful Voices in the fight against Ovarian Cancer

8 May 2020

Clara MacKay, Executive Director

World Ovarian Cancer Coalition

A favourite aspect of my job is the work that we do each year with our 155 patient advocacy partner organisations on the World Ovarian Cancer Day campaign. It is challenging but rewarding to raise awareness of the disease, its symptoms, and key facts in this united way.

Although we speak with a common voice, we are not all the same. Some groups are long-standing organisations with reasonable resource and highly skilled teams, others are led by volunteers, working from kitchen tables or whatever tiny space they can find, and in some countries, there may only be one individual working alone to advocate on behalf of those living with an ovarian cancer diagnosis. However, despite these differences and disparities, each year we manage to come together as one to raise awareness. Since its launch in 2013, World Ovarian Cancer Day has provided an important opportunity for us to express our shared commitment to improving the survival and quality of life for every woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer - wherever she may live.

This year, COVID-19 completely changed the landscape, our World Ovarian Cancer Day theme (#PowerfulVoices) had been decided and we were well on our way to finalising the social media materials and campaign resources, our members were busy planning key events when it became clear that we were facing a global health crisis.

We worried about the appropriateness of launching a public-facing, upbeat awareness campaign in the middle of a worldwide pandemic which is especially frightening for those living with cancer. We were also worried about asking our partner organisations to participate in a campaign during a time when they were working flat out to cope with the impact of COVID-19. This impact included a substantial increase in demand for the services that they provide, plus a brand-new role as a provider of information that is specific to those living with cancer during a pandemic. All of this at the very time they were experiencing an unexpected and significant reduction in income, not to mention the need to make overnight changes to how services and events are delivered in a time of social distancing.

In the end, and after discussions with many partners and supporters, we realised that right at the very heart of the World Ovarian Cancer Day campaign is an important and timely message about solidarity and community. The importance of using our voices to advocate for each other, to stand together - especially during difficult times. And for those living with a diagnosis: you are not forgotten, we have not paused the fight against ovarian cancer, we are here for you.

So, with a little tweaking of our key messages and some subtle changes to our materials, we launched the campaign in early April. Our target reach is 2 million and we are well on our way to achieving this and we have been humbled and inspired by the commitment and resilience of the global ovarian cancer patient advocacy movement.

The #PowerfulVoices campaign belongs to the global community, and we have turned to this community to generate much of the content. Our series of #PowerfulVoices quotes – where people share a short quote about something relating to ovarian cancer that is important to them and a photo has produced incredibly inspiring and thoughtful commentary about ovarian cancer and the experiences of women from around the world. Our PowerWall lets supporters add their name to a virtual wall as a visual representation of how we stand together for each other. You can sign up here PowerWall!

We enjoy our annual campaign but we never lose sight of the challenges we face. Over 300,000 women are diagnosed each year with Ovarian Cancer and 180,000 die from it. By 2040 we expect annual incidence to increase by 47% and worryingly, there is a real threat that the gap between high and low resource countries will grow even more unless we take decisive, global action to enable access to basic healthcare.

There is much work to be done and World Ovarian Cancer Day is only one of the tools in the advocacy tool-box we use. But we hope it will help build solidarity and interest as we work towards the launch of a Global Ovarian Cancer Charter in September 2020, hand in hand with clinical colleagues. Based on the results of our Every Woman Study™, we are excited about the potential to drive change through the Charter, not just with globally relevant messages, but with action on the ground in many countries.

We have a busy and challenging year ahead, but in the meantime, please do join us on May 8th to use our #PowerfulVoices together!

About the author

Clara has worked at a senior level in the cancer patient advocacy movement for nearly 20 years. Her experience has included ovarian, pancreatic, bowel, prostate and breast cancer.

Last update: 
Monday 11 May 2020