“An ad you can’t miss, for a cancer you do.”
That is the tagline that appeared on billboards in Piccadilly Circus and Times Square, as part of a campaign to raise awareness of ovarian cancer organised by former North Otago woman Jane Ludemann.
Ms Ludemann (36), who founded the Cure Our Ovarian Cancer charity after her diagnosis with low-grade serous (LGS) ovarian cancer four years ago, organised the giant billboards to mark World Ovarian Cancer Day on May 8. They featured the faces of more than 30 women, including four New Zealanders, all also diagnosed with LGS ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer was a difficult reality to be faced with, but the women were all focused on providing better outcomes for them and others. New Zealand creative agency Topham Guerin helped with the campaign pro bono.
The scale of the international campaign – and the extremes women were going to to be heard – “speaks to the urgency of the situation”, Ms Ludemann said.
“In New Zealand, all women with ovarian cancer are struggling. The Government hasn’t funded any ovarian cancer research in over four years and our overall ovarian cancer survival lags behind Australia.”
Ms Ludemann, who was brought up on a farm in rural North Otago, wanted the campaign to draw attention specifically to LGS ovarian cancer, but also to the “dire straits” of all ovarian cancer. She also hoped it would encourage donations to Ovarian Cancer New Zealand to support awareness, advocacy and research.
“We want women of all ages to be aware of the subtle symptoms of ovarian cancer which can easily be missed and dismissed. And we want research so women with ovarian cancer live longer.”
Ms Ludemann started noticing some unusual symptoms about two years before her diagnosis. Visits to doctors did not provide any immediate answers.
“Unfortunately, I just kept being told that it wasn’t anything serious, that I didn’t need to worry.
“A lot of women do struggle to be diagnosed. Part of that is because they don’t know the symptoms, part of that is because it’s something .. not every GP knows everything that they need to about it.”
When Ms Ludemann was finally diagnosed at age 32, she was stage two, and doctors gave her five to 15 years to live.
“It’s a lot of uncertainty to live with. At the moment, I’m doing well on my treatment, which is great,” she said.
But she was driven to create change, because she did not want her story to keep repeating.
“I want to make sure other women in the future have better opportunities and we can get the change that’s needed so women stop needlessly dying of this cancer.”
Her work over the past four years was paying dividends.
“It is really nice to see that we’re making progress. The specific type of ovarian cancer that I have, there’s a way to fundraise for it and donate for it and there’s research that’s happening because of those efforts,” she said.
In February, Ms Ludemann presented a petition with more than 7000 signatures to National MP Louise Upston at Parliament.
The steps of Parliament were covered in 180 white crosses to represent the lives lost last year, as petitioners called for the Government to help raise awareness and fund research to reduce the death toll from New Zealand’s least survivable women’s cancer.
At a glance
Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- Increase in tummy size
- Abdominal/back/pelvic pain
- Needing to pee more often or urgently
- Bowel changes