Two P.E.I. sisters are turning the pain of their mother’s death from ovarian cancer into helping other women.
Jillian Forbes of Charlottetown and Jennifer Bowness of Clyde River lost their mother, Cheryl Clark, in 2017, seven weeks after she was diagnosed.
The sisters were devastated and, in an effort to help others, they helped launch the Walk of Hope and Lady Ball events in Charlottetown. The next ball, an event that celebrates role models in Atlantic Canada, will be held virtually due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic on Saturday, Sept. 26.
For their efforts, Forbes and Bowness were recently awarded the Peggy Truscott Award of Hope by Ovarian Cancer Canada. The honour celebrates and acknowledges the dedication of individuals or groups who volunteer to support the mission of Ovarian Cancer Canada.
“On Jan. 19, 2017, mom went to the hospital with what she thought was a blockage in her bowel. She had been sick for quite a long time," Bowness said. “We found out after some tests that she had ovarian cancer and we lost her seven weeks later. It was very quick."
At a glance
Following is information about the Peggy Truscott Award of Hope:
- Named after a volunteer and founder of the Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope.
- It recognizes involvement, contributions and/or achievements within the home community of the recipients.
- A single recipient was recognized in Canada annually from 2004 to 2019.
- The scope of the award was expanded to honour outstanding volunteers from each of the five regions across Canada.
- Jennifer Bowness and Jillian Forbes are the recipients from the Atlantic region. Four other Canadian women were recognized in other regions.
Ovarian cancer is not easily detectable, she added.
“It comes with very, somewhat benign signs (such as) bloating, abdominal cramps that you don’t necessarily attribute to something serious. She was kind of putting it off for a long time before she went to see a doctor, and typically when it’s diagnosed (it’s) in its late state. It was a very painful experience for us."
There’s no early detection right now for ovarian cancer and no tests, said Forbes.
“It’s the deadliest women’s cancer in the world, and there’s been no change in the outcome in 50 years."
Just the facts
The following information is available on the Ovarian Cancer of Canada website:
- Symptoms are usually confused with those of other diseases.
- One out of every two women diagnosed will not live past five years.
- There is no screening test.
- Ovarian cancer kills five Canadian women every day.
Bowness said federal and provincial funding for research has started to flow, but they wanted to do more.
Forbes went for a walk one day to try to clear her head soon after losing her mother. She wondered what could be done locally to raise awareness and money. The first thought that came into her mind was holding a walk.
“I needed to do something,’’ Forbes said. “We wanted to do something because we wanted to transfer our grief into a good cause."
Together, the sisters held the first Walk of Hope in 2017, about five months after their mother died. It was a success, raising more than $10,000 for research. The next one surpassed $13,000.
They also met survivors at the walks, who served as an inspiration to continue their efforts and do more.
“It was a way to bring them together because no one really understands what you’re going through unless you’re going through it," Bowness said. “We did it for mom … to bring these survivors together and give them hope that the outcomes will be better."
“It’s so important for us and for women and for the future generations to do better," Forbes said. “We want to increase testing and to increase the knowledge."
“And for women to not be ashamed to ask questions about their own body," Bowness says.
Following the success of the Walk of Hope events, a director with the Ovarian Cancer of Canada asked the sisters if they would be interested in holding the Lady Ball. There were already balls every September in Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.
The first one in Charlottetown was held in 2019, which raised more than $60,000. One was supposed to be held this past spring but was cancelled due to the pandemic.
So, they are going online this Saturday. The event, which includes auctions, stories from survivors and live music, will be held 6-10 p.m. People are being encouraged to participate in their own bubbles. Tickets are $50 per household, and they include a virtual swag bag. To access and register for the Lady Ball, click here.
The Guardian asked the sisters what their mother would think of all that they’ve done so far and about receiving the Truscott honour for their efforts.
“I think she would be super proud of her daughters," Forbes says, her eyes welling with tears. “She always said, ‘if I ever win the lottery, I want to do something good with the money’, so when we saw that huge amount of over $60,000, we felt like we had won the lottery for our mom that night."