Ovarian Cancer Awareness: Leane Wants To Change The Future Of Ovarian Cancer

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May 8, 2023

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This Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day, we wanted to use our platform to share Leane Flynn’s powerful story with the Sweat Community. Diagnosed with Stage 3C ovarian cancer six years ago, Leane has become a powerful advocate for greater awareness about this silent killer, working with the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF) and retailer Witchery to share her story.

The most lethal form of gynaecological cancer, ovarian cancer claims the life of one Australian woman every eight hours, with approximately 1,800 women diagnosed each year. Globally, that’s a figure that reaches almost a quarter of a million women.

This insidious disease is often referred to as a “silent killer” due to symptoms or signs that easily go unnoticed, leading to delays in diagnosis. There is currently no early detection test for this cancer, something the OCRF and its ambassadors like Leane are looking to change.

Leane refuses to be silenced in the face of her prognosis, telling us that she will be sharing her story for as long as she can.

“Unfortunately, due to the horrifying statistics around ovarian cancer, we don’t get to make enough noise about this disease because we are either too sick, or we die too fast to get the message out there,” she tells Sweat.

“This is why we need others to become our voices for us. The more people who get behind this cause, use their influence and raise their voices, the more the 'silent killer' will be defeated.”

Prior to her own diagnosis in April 2017, Leane described herself as the healthiest she had ever been. A busy mother-of-three, a typical week involved three runs, a couple of strength sessions and some Pilates classes, with Leane reporting she was feeling fit and healthy at the time.

The only sign something might not be right? A constant bloating feeling and the need to urinate more frequently.

“That is what motivated me to go to my doctor because I found when I was going for my runs I needed to stop and go to the toilet all the time,” she says, “They were my only symptoms, otherwise I felt perfectly fine.”

Leane’s story is a familiar one amongst women with ovarian cancer, with signs and symptoms such as bloating and abdominal cramps often misdiagnosed and overlooked as common female complaints. According to the OCRF, this often leads to women only being diagnosed when they are in the advanced stages of the disease.

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • A feeling of abdominal fullness, gas, nausea or indigestion that presents differently to normal sensations 

  • Sudden or unexplained weight gain, bloating or abdominal swelling 

  • A feeling of vague abdominal pain or pressure 

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding 

  • Experiencing pain during sexual intercourse 

  • Aches in the lower back 

  • Cramping 

  • Persistent changes in bowel or bladder movements 

The OCRF and Leane want more women to be aware of these symptoms, as knowing what to look out for (as well as when you should consult your general practitioner) is currently the best approach if you’re concerned about ovarian cancer as there is no early detection test at present.

“I knew very little about ovarian cancer prior to my diagnosis,” Leane says, describing the news as a complete shock and surprise.

“My GP suggested I go and have an internal ultrasound and blood test - mainly to confirm her diagnosis of menopause,” Leane, who was 49 when she was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer, tells us.

“It was a complete shock to both my GP and myself when, after the scan, I was found to have large tumours growing on each ovary and another tumour growing between my liver and diaphragm.”

“It was so surreal. I felt like I woke up that morning thinking I was a healthy middle-aged woman, to going to bed that evening with the knowledge that I had an aggressive and lethal cancer growing inside of me.”

In the years since her diagnosis, Leane has used her voice and story to raise awareness and crucial funds as an ambassador for the OCRF.

“As soon as I discovered how underfunded ovarian cancer was I knew I wanted to get involved as an ambassador to work with them,” she says, telling us how passionate and dedicated the organisation is to changing women’s health outcomes.

“Most women don’t realise there is no detection test for ovarian cancer. They assume between pap smears and the cervical cancer vaccine that their reproductive health is under control,” she says, telling us she finds women are stunned when they discover there is no accurate detection or diagnostic test for the disease. “I am amazed at how many women still approach me and ask why I didn’t have a pap smear or what tests I overlooked."

The OCRF’s mission is to fund innovative research designed to save women’s lives through early detection and personalised treatment, a goal Leane shares.

“My wish is that an early detection test is found before I die,” she tells us. “It would mean a lot to me, not only for all the women in my life that I love, but for every woman - the mothers, daughters and sisters who are vulnerable to this disease at the moment. It would mean that my death wasn’t in vain, that I was able to make a difference and leave a legacy.”

Making a statement bigger than fashion

This year, Sweat and head trainer Kayla Itsines have had the privilege of working with retailer Witchery and the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation on the 2023 White Shirt Campaign.

The White Shirt Campaign is the highlight of Leane’s calendar and this year’s campaign has been particularly special, with her daughter Amelia joining her as an ambassador and two of her three daughters joining her for the launch event.

“To be surrounded by a room of influential women, who are listening to my story, and hopefully moved by it enough to continue the conversation about ovarian cancer, is very powerful.”

The legacy Leane has built over the past six years is undoubtedly one her family is incredibly proud of.

“My husband and three daughters are my world, and they are my biggest supporters,” Leane says of her family, who have become even closer in the years since her diagnosis. “We prioritise family time and every moment is precious to us.”

This year’s White Shirt, designed in collaboration with designer Pip Edwards of P.E Nation, is available to shop in-store and online from Witchery across Australia and New Zealand. When you buy a white shirt, Witchery donates 100% of the gross profits to the OCRF and funds raised by the campaign continue to fund essential research, innovative projects and research scientists.

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* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.

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