By Emily Williams
Ginny Bourland wasn’t sure about sharing her cancer battle with a support group at first.
Shortly after the Vestavia Hills resident was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in 2011, at the age of 37, a member of the Laura Crandall Brown Ovarian Cancer Foundation emailed her and invited her to attend a support group for women in similar conditions.
“I still wasn’t ready to embrace the fact that I had cancer,” she said. It was about a month later – after she’d had a hysterectomy and was awaiting her first chemo session – before she finally decided to attend her first meeting.
“I had a bit of trepidation about it,” Bourland said. “I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but it was exactly what I needed.”
The group gave Bourland a sense of community as she battled a disease threatening her own body.
“You know that you are not alone,” she said. “You know that in your head – but when you actually go to the support group you see it, you feel it and you believe it. You realize you are not the only one going through this.”
After overcoming her early misgivings, Bourland became an advocate for the foundation and is passionate about educating women on the symptoms of ovarian cancer, which often are so mild that they go unnoticed or untreated. She is being honored for her involvement with the foundation during the Get Busy Fighting golf tournament in November.
Bourland, who has suffered three recurrences since her initial diagnosis and treatment, admits her illness has slowed her down a bit, but she said her health hasn’t kept her from staying busy. She is a mother to two children, Will and Bella, a wife to her husband, Shea, and an actuary for VIVA Health.
She said that once she accepted her illness, with the help of her peers, she was able to accept the lifestyle change that came with it. Her advice to women with similar physical struggles is to “cut yourself some slack.”
“My house is rarely clean,” she said. “Frequently, my kids don’t wear clean clothes. We go out to eat a lot, because I can’t cook as much anymore.”
Bourland said she wants to be the “super mom” who does it all, but it simply is not a possibility, so she chooses to accept the help that her friends and family offer so she has more time to devote to loving her children.
“Let people help you,” Bourland advised. “Be willing to say, OK. They can’t love on your kids for you, but they can cook and they can clean. Let them do the things they can do, because they want to.”
Once she accepted her illness and help, Bourland said, she found a sense of calm. “I think that helped the kids, too,” she said. “They could read the anxiety and frustration until I was ready to let go of it. They don’t think I’m a slacker-mom. This is just the life they have learned to live.”
Though she has found a balance in the chaos, Bourland also has added a third job to the mix as an advocate for the foundation. She said her work with the organization is important to her because it strives to educate women about the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Bourland said she looks forward to being honored during the Get Busy Fighting golf tournament because it gives her an opportunity to share her experiences and general ovarian cancer information with the crowd.
“It gives them the opportunity to learn more about the disease and tell their spouses and daughters,” she said. “The more they know, the more everyone will know.”
According to the website of the Laura Crandall Brown Ovarian Cancer Foundation, a woman is diagnosed with gynecologic cancer every six seconds, more than 90,000 women every year. Yet the only gynecological cancer with a reliable test for early detection is cervical cancer. Symptoms for many GYN cancers go unnoticed, especially ovarian cancer, with symptoms so mild it is called “the disease that whispers.”
When she was diagnosed, Bourland said, she wished she had known more about the symptoms – enough to push her doctors to take a closer look. Instead, she trivialized her only symptom of bloating for months before seeking medical attention.
“In our support group, we use the acronym B-E-A-T,” Bourland said. The letters stand for the symptoms of ovarian cancer: bloating, eating changes, abdominal discomfort and trouble urinating.
“Ovarian cancer is not silent,” she said. “It does have symptoms. I wish more physicians recognized that and I believe more are starting to.”
The Get Busy Fighting Golf Tournament, being held Nov. 2 at Oxmoor Valley Golf Course, benefits the Laura Crandall Brown Foundation’s mission to promote research and awareness of ovarian cancer as well as a support community for patients.
The tournament cost is $125 per player or $500 per team. The format of the tournament will be a four-person scramble with a shotgun start at 9 a.m. For more information, visit www.thinkoflaura.org/getbusyfighting.