Mum of three, Christine Sharp has had Stage 1 Ovarian Cancer twice, 30 years apart and is supporting the Team Teal Campaign.
What is Team Teal?
Over 150 reinswomen in teal coloured pants will strive to win harness racing events across Australia and New Zealand this February to raise critical funding and awareness for ovarian and gynaecological cancer research, as part of the Women's Cancer Foundation 2019 Team Teal campaign.
Christine Sharp is in Harness Racing, her husband Glenn Sharp, trains and owns trotters. The first time Christine was unwell, it was decided that her ovary needed to be removed, but Christine was pregnant so there were risks. Her results were positive cells for Stage 1 and she was told to be prepared for the loss of the pregnancy, her son is now 29yrs old.
The second time, more recently Cristine was at Shepparton Horse Racing meet and received a Team Teal pamphlet, she had been experiencing symptoms that she put down to 'change of life' or thought it might be a kidney infection. The information in the Team Teal pamphlet spurred her on to seek answers and she went to her GP who sent her for tests. In the meantime, she got worse and her husband took her to the ER. Her right ovary had burst and again, like 30 years earlier there were positive cells and an early stage diagnosis. Whilst she was already in the hospital her GP called to advise her to get to a hospital quickly.
Christine says, "I still have 12 week checks with my GP but I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't read the Team Teal pamphlet prompting me to take action. Women, indeed mothers always seem to have the 'I'll be fine! Pap smear tick' attitude."
Her advice to all women is; act now and don't wait, if you think that something is off then pursue it until you have a conclusive outcome.
As part of the Team Teal Campaign, every victorious female driver that crosses the finish line first in participating harness racing events in Australia and New Zealand, will secure a donation of at least $200 for Women's Cancer Foundation from harness racing controlling bodies, betting partners, trainers and other sponsors.
Funds raised will support research nurses delivering treatments in Australian and New Zealand hospitals and will support the national Survivors Teaching Students programme, where ovarian cancer survivors and caregivers share their experiences with health professional students.
"Team Teal is a really important fundraising and awareness activity for us", says Professor Philip Beale, Chair of the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG). "The support of the harness racing industry and community in Australia and New Zealand contributes to vital work by research nurses alongside clinical professionals providing new treatments for women with ovarian and other gynaecological cancers through clinical trials conducted by ANZGOG."
To support the Team Teal campaign:
Donate via the Women's Cancer Foundation website or https://teamteal.blackbaud-sites.com/
Visit harness.org.au to attend a participating race event & buy a teal ribbon
Attend the finale Team Teal Gala: Night at the Trots, 9th March 2019.
Visit womenscancerfoundation.org to buy tickets
Gynaecological cancer statistics:
1 in 84 women develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime; 1600 of these women will be Australian
There is currently no effective vaccine, early detection test or screening program for ovarian cancer.
2 out of 3 women diagnosed will die from ovarian cancer
Every 10 hours, a woman in Australia dies of ovarian cancer
There are 7 gynaecological cancers - ovarian, uterine (endometrial), vulvar, vaginal, cervical and two rare pregnancy cancers.
Approximately 19 women in Australia (16) and New Zealand (3) are diagnosed with gynaecological cancer every day.
Ovarian cancer is associated with the poorest outcomes.
Many women believe a Pap Smear will test for ovarian cancer and all gynaecological cancers... it doesn't! It will only test for cervical cancer
Question: What is Team Teal?
Christine Sharp: "Team Teal" is an awareness and fundraising campaign that connects the predominately male dominated harness racing industry with the Women's Cancer Foundation.
For 6 weeks (between Feb 1st and March 10) each year, the female drivers of harness racing nationwide and in New Zealand hang up their white driving pants for Teal ones to visually promote awareness and to raise money for ovarian and gynaecological cancer research, and research nurses conducted by the Australian New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group. (ANZGOG)
Every time a female driver, wins a race during the Team Teal campaign, funds are donated to ANZCOG. Reinswomen across Australia and New Zealand proudly wear their teal pants for the six-week campaign.
While the Women of Team Teal, are getting busy in the gig, striving for the finish line first, the Harness Racing Clubs, nationwide are holding fundraising events to support
The Team Teal campaign was the brainchild of 3 prominent harness racing identities Michael Taranto, Jim Connolly and Mr Duncan McPherson OAM in honour of Duncan's wife Lyn McPherson who lost her battle with ovarian cancer in 2010. The Team Teal campaign was initiated in 2014. Duncan, has been the passionate driving force raising awareness and funds, getting the message of Ovarian Cancer out there.
Now, in its fifth year, the Team Teal has grown into a nationwide campaign, with the female drivers in New Zealand also being part of the Team. The men of the industry, drivers, trainers and owners, are too showing incredible support by donning Teal Caps and merchandise and cheering the girls in the home straight to win. It is wonderful.
Team Teal to me, raises the silent awareness that a woman keeps to herself, when she feels something is not right. To a voice, that can be heard and spoken about openly, with others and with family. Putting that awareness out into the communities is extremely important to me.
Question: Why was it important that you joined Team Teal?
Christine Sharp: Team Teal brought realisation, of my own 2 experiences with ovarian cancer to reality.
The realisation that ovarian cancer is usually not openly discussed something that a woman keeps to herself.
In the beginning I really did some soul searching.
We can openly discuss, lumps of the breast or shapes …… so why not the symptoms Ovarian cancer? Or just if something doesn't feel right – why as women, do we put it in the "Oh, it's just because I'm a woman" basket?
The statistics to me were alarming – 1 in 70 women will develop Ovarian Cancer. 2 out of 3 women diagnosed will die from ovarian cancer.
We needed a louder voice, to Teal Every Awesome Lady, (TEAL) that if you feel something is different or wrong …. Get checked…don't wait …. or put it off…
I didn't want to hear of another woman or family that went through what we went through. Can I make a difference? I'm not sure, but if I can convince 1 woman to go and get checked if she thinks something is not right – no matter how much she thinks it may be irrelevant. – I would be happy. Ask the questions – Get checked – YOU are the most important person …
Knowing Duncan, through the industry, listening and seeing his passion, about openly spreading awareness to any woman and support to any partner that would listen, awareness needed to be spread. Just Awareness needs to be shared.
Question: Can you tell us about your initial symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
Christine Sharp: Common symptoms of Ovarian Cancer are:
Abdominal pressure, fullness or bloating
Pelvic or abdominal discomfort
Vague but persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
A persistent lack of energy
Lower back pain
Frequency or urgency of urination in the absence of an infection
Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
Ongoing unusual fatigue
Christine's timeline of what happened:
In 1989, I fell pregnant with our first beautiful son. We were ecstatic.
When my doctor at the time Dr Roger Steer told me the news, I was ecstatic. Strangely, I said casually, "Thank you, Dr Steer, BUT so why do I still have like menstrual pain on my left side? "
"Hmmn, ok, so hop up on the bench and I shall have a look" his reply.
Sure, like every woman growing up, I'd had pain and sometimes irregular menstruation, but that's just normal – isn't it? I'd had regular pap tests. Always clear. Wondering, I climbed on the bench.
Dr Steer pressed gently on my lower abdomen, "Geez that was tender"
My world was in the next ten minutes about to fall apart. From the wonderful news of being pregnant to "I'm sending you to Swan hill for a cat scan (no ultrasound near back then) then I want you to come back here with the results. Today"
So, you just do what you have to do. Off to Swan Hill I went. Back to Dr Steer, results in a sealed envelope. On viewing the results, Dr Steer, looked over his glasses at me. Left the room and returned with a stern face.
His next sentence screamed panic at me.
"I'm sending you to Bendigo tomorrow, to see a specialist. You have a large ovarian cyst on your left ovary. The specialist will determine what the next steps are."
Good grief – all because I had said I still had menstrual pain? Yes, my tummy was tender, but it is supposed to be growing isn't it?
So, my husband and I went to Bendigo the next morning – I did have a little more pain, but thought, well, I'm pregnant so that's got to be usual?
We met with the specialist. The diagnosis was not good.
I had an ovarian cyst on my left ovary. The cyst was encased around my ovary and after the ultrasound that morning, was growing at an alarming rate.
Then specialist delivered the most devastating news.
"I can see two choices" he said
"You can do nothing, go home and Glenn, you will most likely lose both Christine and the baby, if the cyst bursts, living away from town or..."
OMG! There is an OR! We had just been given a life/death scenario. I couldn't focus, I couldn't grasp what was going on. First time in my life, I couldn't control what my choice was going to be. Overcome with emotion, I sunk into my hubby's arms. Devastated.
Then, the "or" came...
"Or, we can operate tonight the chances of keeping the baby would be 60%."
What! I'm pregnant; the emotion was so overwhelming… What is going on? I don't want to be here doing this? My tummy was only tender – I just had normal pain – I've never been sick? I was drained.
I turned to Glenn, "you have to make this decision, I can't."
So, Glenn took the 60% odds, and said – I think we should operate.
That night, Dr Jalland operated, and the results were removal of my left ovary with an ovarian mucinous tumour 16cms x 11cms, encased around the ovary, and growing at an extreme rate with pathology tests revealing cancerous cells inside.
And the baby, I can happily report, he will be 30 years old this year.
I shall always be in debt to the brilliant Dr Roger Steer, his interest in gynaecology and his determination.
Unfortunately, I wish I could say my story stops there.
But, as life gets busy and we age, 30 years down the track again, I didn't listen to my body, I just kept saying it was menopause, women's usual business…
In 2017, I fell ill one night, pains, and thought it may be a kidney infection – I had had one before, so it felt about the same.
I awoke at 5am to go to work, and the pain was excruciating. So, I thought if I went to the emergency department now, I could get some relief and stop it before it got worse before I got to the Dr's.
I stupidly, drove myself to the ED. The pain had moved, it was on my right side and centred. Tender tummy, yes. but I was tender all over with the pain.
Urine test revelled – no kidney infection.
Seeing an ED Dr, he ordered a cat scan, which revelled, an enlarged ovarian cyst on my right ovary.
Here we go again – How could I be so stupid, in thinking the pain etc was hormonal, change of life, menopause did I not learn to listen to my body? Take 10 mins for myself in life?
Unlike the first tumour, thirty years ago, this tumour proceeded to burst overnight in the hospital. Tests revealed it had benign cells so after three days in hospital I was given the all clear. And I am well now, Oh, and have, one amazing husband, three wonderful sons … three amazing daughters in laws and one exceptionally amazing, simply, gorgeous granddaughter. Which all I would not have, had, if it wasn't for a country doctor that was interested in gynaecology.
Question: What advice do you have for Australian women recently diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer?
Christine Sharp: Take your time to get well. You're worth it.
Ask you family and friends to help Raise the awareness of this killer disease. Don't be silent.
Ask for information to understand, for yourself, your partner (they suffer too) and children and family. Please don't think you are alone. You are not.
Question: How can Australians support Team Teal?
Christine Sharp: Information on how to support Team Teal can be found at www.womenscancerfoundation.org.au
Local harness clubs throughout Australia and New Zealand during the campaign are holding fundraising events. Attend your local club to support the Team Teal Girls, cheer them across the line! The whole family can attend.
With the gala event at the end of the campaign being: Sat March 9th – A Night at The Trots Gala Dinner at Tabcorp Park Melton. Tickets available online www.womenscancerfoundation.org.au
Even just by following and sharing a Team Teal post – we can all get awareness out there. #GETREALSUPPORTTEAL
Question: What is the main message you hope to spread with Team Teal?
Christine Sharp: To raise the awareness in town and country communities of the risks and symptoms associated with of the disease.
Interview by Brooke Hunter