Cherrie-Ann Hurley watched three loved ones pass away as a result of two gynaecological cancers.
But rather than running scared and having negative thoughts about suffering the same fate as her grandmother and two aunts, the vivacious and enthusiastic young woman decided to become a champion in the fight against such cancers.
Just over a year ago, she founded the charity 246 T.E.A.L (“Tell Every Amazing Lady” to “Take Early Action & Live”.)
Starting the charity came through a university project and the realisation that there was hardly any literature on ovarian cancer.
“I was doing event planning at the university and I decided to do ovarian cancer. Doing the research, it was really interesting; there was hardly any information on it. It’s the worst of the gynaecological cancers and it’s a silent killer. The survival rate is low, there is no prescreening and there’s like two to three lines wherever you research.
“So in my head I was, like, this is why so many people die from it because there’s nothing geared towards this cancer. I don’t mind being the champion for it and I had lots of support to go forward and do it. Then I went on the hunt to find survivors but there are very few,” she said.
Recounting how her loved ones passed from the disease, Cherrie-Ann said it was an ordeal she would not wish on anyone.
“My grandmother passed nine years ago from ovarian cancer, my aunt passed four years ago from the same cancer and another aunt passed two weeks ago from uterine cancer. The sad thing about it is that no one knew so it took all of them very quickly. With the uterine, we had a little more notice in terms of the signs. But with the others, you’re moving around and then you’re gone.”
“My granny was very active, travelling, moving around, active in the church. She fell ill at the airport and when she got on the plane she felt a little better. when she reached her destination, they took her to the doctor and subsequently found out that she had stage four ovarian cancer. If she didn’t fall ill we would have never known.
“She had arthritis and diabetes. That’s what we knew granny to be sick with. The signs that we know now looking back we could see then that she was showing the signs but we just couldn’t tell. She had persistent bloating of the stomach, and then going to the bathroom a lot. she stopped eating a lot because she was fulling up quickly.”
“My aunt had a tummy, but some people they don’t go to the doctor until they are showing signs of being sick. And with this cancer, the signs don’t show until it’s very late stage and it takes you very quickly. Between when my granny found out and her passing, it wasn’t even six weeks. After her passing you still have to recover and deal with it, so it was hard all round dealing with all three,” she said.
Cherrie-Ann said one of the scariest things for her about ovarian cancer was the fact that it was so silent and this further propelled her to find information and to spread the word.
“The cancer whispers, it gives you little signs – you just have to pay attention. You have to know your family history. Gone are the days where you could just say your family member passed from cancer; you have to find out what type of cancer. It’s very important,” she stressed.
She said so far the charity’s outreach has been going well and she was excited to see so many people coming forward to get more information on it.
On a personal level, she said she and her mother make sure to get their tests done every year so they are always in the know.
“Knowing gives you peace of mind. Not knowing can be a huge frustration. I get my testing done, my mum gets hers done as well. We don’t play around with it. It’s not always genetic either, and it’s important to know that,” she added.
While it hits very close to home for her, Cherrie-Ann said talking and spreading the word is her therapy.
“Someone told me that every time I talk about it I’m reliving it and reliving the hurt and shouldn’t continue to hurt myself like that, but I see it as the opposite. By talking about it, it can benefit someone else. I feel like it heals. My granny was not a quiet lady – she was very agile – so to lose someone like that is hard. It didn’t heal right away, it took some time, and it was very painful. I don’t think we should lose anyone like that.
“So the earlier you know, the more you can work on it and you can work on it with others. For me, I think helping and educating persons helps with my healing. I want everyone to know about it. Education is power and I want everyone to have the power to know,” she said,
She stressed that support was one of the most important things, if not the most important, when dealing with cancer.
“Support is so important. When my aunt was here we slept over and we were there for her. She was just so thankful and she said it was a really big healing part for her. When you’re home alone dealing with it, it doesn’t help. Love helps to heal you too. It’s so much easier to do it together. Support is important. In life you need that extra support always.”
Cherrie-Ann added: “Ovarian cancer doesn’t have a face until it’s someone we love. We don’t want ovarian cancer to steal anyone’s family, so we want to spread the word. We want people to be aware of what’s going on and know all the signs so they can get checked out in the early. Remember: it whispers, but we can hear it if we pay attention.”