SOURCE: Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance

Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance

April 09, 2015 16:28 ET

Sisters Honoring Their Mother's Memory by Promoting Ovarian Cancer Awareness

DENVER, CO--(Marketwired - Apr 9, 2015) - Mother's Day will never be the same for Lindsay Abrams and Laura Brzezicki. This year, for the first time in their lives, the sisters won't be celebrating with their mom, Joyce Swanson, who passed away in September 2014 of ovarian cancer. However, the family still plans to get together on May 10.

"We were very close," Abrams said of her mother and sister. "We have wonderful memories and we were blessed to be able to spend so much time with her."

"We recognize now, more than ever, how much she brought our family together," Brzezicki added. "She had a quiet motivation and an always positive attitude, even throughout the most challenging times of her life."

The family will gather again on Saturday, June 6 in Denver's City Park for the Sixth Annual Jodi's Race for Awareness benefitting the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance (COCA). It was during the inaugural Race for Awareness in 2010 that Swanson learned about the symptoms of ovarian cancer (bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary urgency or frequency). However, she wasn't thinking about herself when she joined hundreds of others to promote awareness of ovarian cancer; each of her daughters already had a personal connection to someone directly impacted by the disease. For Abrams it was her first-grade student Meghan, whose mother Jodi Brammeier was the driving force and inspiration for the race. And Brzezicki's best friend from college had lost her mother to ovarian cancer. So when Abrams asked her mom to participate in the event, Swanson did not hesitate.

It was just over a year later, in August 2011, that Swanson recalled the information about ovarian cancer symptoms and became aware of the possibility that the fifth most common cancer in females in the United States -- and the deadliest gynecologic cancer -- was impacting her life, too.

"Her battle with ovarian cancer was a hard one, but she was a fighter," Abrams recalled. "She had such determination to keep going. She had incredible faith and dealt with the situation with such grace." 

Abrams said the one thing that bothered her mother, an active woman who taught aerobics and was a Jazzercise instructor for 25 years, was trying to figure out, "What did I do wrong?" Her eating habits were healthy ones, she stayed fit, and there was no family history of ovarian cancer.

All women are at risk of developing ovarian cancer regardless of age, according to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA). An annual gynecological exam does not check for this cancer and there is no specific screening test for ovarian cancer so being able to recognize the symptoms, leading to early detection, is critical to saving lives.

In June 2012, months after Swanson's Stage 3 ovarian cancer diagnosis, surgery and initial treatments, her husband Dave, their daughters Lindsay and Laura, and many family friends joined together to show their support for her, and to benefit COCA, at the Third Annual Jodi's Race for Awareness. And she was also represented by family and friends at the 2013 event. A wedding -- her daughter Laura's -- kept the group from participating in 2014, but there will be a team running for Joyce Swanson this year in City Park on June 6.

All money collected during Jodi's Race for Awareness remains in Colorado and funds programs that support women with ovarian cancer, including COCA.Cares Financial Assistance, Nicki's Circle Support Groups, Ovarian Cancer Resource Manual, Comfort Kits for the newly diagnosed, the annual Raise Awareness campaign, and Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women's Lives®, a national program of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

In addition to participating in the 2015 5K Race, Abrams, a full-time mother of twin girls who recently celebrated their second birthday, and Brzezicki, a nurse at Colorado Children's Hospital, are co-chairs of the Expo at this year's event. "We want to help COCA promote ovarian cancer awareness in any way we can," said Abrams, who considers herself lucky to have an opportunity to be a part of such an important cause. "It's a good outlet for grief and a way to honor our mother. We want to spread awareness so that women recognize the symptoms earlier rather than later."

"Even though Lindsay and I had experiences with ovarian cancer before it so closely touched our lives, I think I speak for both of us when I say we never thought it could happen to us," Brzezicki admitted. "I think that is why we want to be involved in raising awareness about ovarian cancer in our community. This has been the most devastating experience of our lives, and we don't want anyone else to have to experience this awful disease."

"Our mother was such a generous, caring person; she would do anything for anyone," Abrams recalled. "The love she gave us -- and to all the people around us -- taught us to be selfless. She made so many lives better. I hope that by spreading awareness about ovarian cancer I can make someone else's life better. I would like to touch their lives and be able to give them strength and courage. The women who are battling ovarian cancer are such fighters." 

Registration for the 2015 Jodi's Race for Awareness is underway at www.jodisrace.org. To learn more about COCA and its programs, visit www.colo-ovariancancer.org.