Women run to defeat ovarian cancer

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 2, 2012 - 3:56 PM

They enjoy the companionship of running together for a cause.

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Last year’s Diva Dash participants included, from left, Becca Williams, Ashley Wagner and Elena Reicher.

Photo: Joey Mcleister, Special to the Star Tribune

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It has developed a playful, girls-day-out feel with massages, hair-styling and high-end handbag giveaways. But this women's-only race and after-party helps fund potential life-saving ovarian cancer research.

More than 1,000 women are expected to weave through the wooded trails of the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Regional Park in Centerville next month for the third annual Diva Dash. The Nov. 10 event, which features 5K and 10K races, raises money and rallies support for the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MOCA).

Many runners unbridle their inner divas by pairing their running shoes with feather boas and a little bling. Most wear MOCA's signature color, teal. Men come to cheer, to volunteer and to celebrate afterward at a local restaurant, Bamboo Bettys.

MOCA partnered with race organizer Final Stretch Inc. to create the event. The nonprofit receives $5 for each participant, and runners can set up fundraising websites to raise additional dollars.

"It's really all women that are running and that's special and different," said MOCA executive director Kathleen Gavin. "It's really great for an organization that focuses on women's cancer."

Gavin said the race has grown so quickly in part because women do relish the girls-day-out vibe.

"They say, 'Wow, this is so great. Next year I am going to make a whole girls' weekend out of this and bring my friends,'" Gavin said.

There's also a groundswell of support for the Minnesota-based nonprofit. More than 600 runners showed up for the inaugural race in 2010 despite nearly a foot of fresh snow that had fallen the night before.

"There is a really high fatality rate with this disease. There are a lot of family members running to change the future for other women," Gavin said. "Fewer than 20 percent are diagnosed early."

The five-year survival rate among women diagnosed in the final two stages of the disease is just 28 percent, Gavin said.

Kelly Dorholt, who oversees marketing for Final Stretch, said that most new races are considered successful if they attract 200 runners. The Diva Dash has exceeded expectations. The race is chip-timed with prizes for the top finishers, but it's also fun for first-timers, she said.

"There is a different energy for all-women's events, which is very fun," Dorholt said. "They come in tutus, tiaras or teal boas, and run or walk the 5K or 10K. There are a lot of families and spouses there who are affected by the disease."

A survivor

Cancer survivor Hannah Friedrich will run the race for a second time. At age 34, Friedrich went to her doctor with a dull, persistent pain in her abdomen and then bloating. Doctors initially diagnosed infection, acid reflux and ovarian fibroids, but the pain was unrelenting.

"I had a lot of abdominal pain and some of the classic symptoms of ovarian cancer. I was dismissed repeatedly," said Friedrich, now 35. "Not until I looked like I was 8 months pregnant did someone take me seriously."

She was diagnosed in the late stages of ovarian cancer. She turned to MOCA for information and support.

"I was so young. They didn't even think cancer would be an issue or an option because I've always been so fit," Friedrich said. "But ovarian cancer can strike anyone."

After surgery and chemotherapy, the Minneapolis mother of two now shows no evidence of cancer. She said running the race is a further testament to her recovery.

"It made me feel like I could accomplish anything," said Friedrich, an avid runner before cancer. "It made me feel healthy or that I was recovering. I had a lot of tears of joy and felt so thankful for MOCA and everything they stand for."

Shannon Prather is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

  • ABOUT MOCA

    The Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance was formed in 1999 by a group of Twin Cities women battling the disease. The nonprofit awards grants to Minnesota-based ovarian cancer research. It also provides support to women and families fighting the disease and educates health-care providers and the public about its symptoms. There's no routine screening test to detect ovarian cancer, and the four primary symptoms -- bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, feeling full quickly and urinary symptoms -- mimic other health conditions. The Diva Dash helps educate and support survivors, said MOCA executive director Kathleen Gavin. "It is really meaningful for women with ovarian cancer to know there are thousands out there running for them and raising money and fighting the disease." For more information or to register for the Nov. 10 race, go to mnovarian.org.

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