Wednesday, July 9, 2014
When Amber Hill and Jess Terry biked through Georgetown on July 2, some may have just seen two girls on their bikes.
But others may have seen them as a beacon of hope for bringing awareness and prevention of ovarian cancer down the East Coast.
The two Texans began their biking journey – what they call “Bike. Camera. Action.” – in late May when they flew to Maine and hopped on the East Coast Greenway, a pedestrian trail linking 25 major U.S. cities from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Fla.
Their route is roughly 2,400 miles and the women will be doing it all by bike. At an estimated average of 50 miles per day, with resting days in between, they expect to reach Key West by Aug. 5, a three-month trip.
“There's a lot of self-reflection going on,” said Hill. “You know, I started out doing this because it's bigger than me by myself, and that's still true, but then there's all this quietness. … It's a real look in the mirror. But in the end I'm doing this because someone I loved was taken prematurely.”
Hill's mother was unexpectedly diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008 and died from the disease in 2012.
The idea for the ride originated with her, and Terry excitedly agreed to take part after hearing the plan.
Although she doesn't have a personal tie to ovarian cancer, she has watched her own parents struggle with health problems.
“For us it's about dietary health, exercise and emotional health. They all go together,” Terry said.
The main goal of the ride is to spread awareness of ovarian cancer down the coast.
They're partnered with several organizations, including the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC), and have been stopping at NOCC chapters along the way, but have also been spreading the word on prevention and awareness individually.
“Our encounters have been very organic,” Terry said, “more personal. People have been asking what we're doing and we tell them.”
Hill agreed, it's “very one-on-one.”
“I've found that ‘cancer' is a trigger word for people. …There have been moments of knowing we can go further with someone and other times we just leave it at the basic ‘we're riding to spread ovarian cancer awareness.'
“It's been a very individual response. The approach to our journey is for ovarian cancer, but our heart is for all kinds of cancer,” she said.
The disease is known as a “silent killer” and is the leading cause of death of all gynecologic cancers and the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in the U.S., according to the NOCC.
Hill's mother had no family history of cancer, which made the diagnosis even more shocking.
“All of a sudden it was Mom doubled over in pain, she had to be rushed to the emergency room, and they told her she had a tumor the size of a grapefruit. … It's almost like it [the cancer] hides in there.”
Their journey for awareness made its way through Georgetown on July 2 and 3 when the duo cycled into town from Myrtle Beach, spent the night at a host home, and cycled away again the next morning.
They said raising awareness in a small area like Georgetown can be hard, but word of mouth works best.
“The NOCC's whole approach is catching it early,” Hill said.
Awareness is the key to prevention, as the cancer can have as high as a 93 percent survival rate is caught early, according to the NOCC.
The symptoms can be vague, but Hill said if women pay attention to their bodies it can be detected early.
The acronym “B-E-A-T” can be used to remember some of the most common symptoms: bloating, eating less and feeling fuller, abdominal pain, and trouble with the bladder.
“If all of those symptoms are lined up together, it's a sign that maybe something's not right,” she explained.
Terry said she's learned getting a sonogram is the best way to test for the cancer, but the test can be expensive. There are other tests available, but high costs and inconclusive results only increase the barrier between women and catching the cancer early.
She said if she only got to tell a woman one thing to keep in mind, it's “don't be dismissive.”
They plan to keep telling their story and spreading the word on ovarian cancer prevention until they make it to Key West.
Hill admitted the trip wasn't quite what she expected, but would she do it again?