Joan Derwin: Ovarian Cancer Survivor, Facilitator, and Helpline Volunteer

joan_derwin 40_for_40

When and how did you get involved with SHARE?

When I was diagnosed with stage IIIc ovarian cancer in July of 1990, I was so focused on treatment, that it never occurred to me to reach out for support. (I was also working at the same time.) It was when my doctor and I were finished and talking about a second look surgery that I tried to find someone to talk to, but I couldn't find anybody except other medical people. I wanted to talk to an ovarian cancer survivor, and someone suggested I check out SHARE. It was a breast cancer support organization, but they thought maybe SHARE would have something for me.

But they didn't. So SHARE said that if they got a few more calls from women needing support for ovarian cancer, and if they could find a survivor to facilitate, they'd put a group together, and they did. It was in SHARE's very first office on 44th street. We had to meet in the hallway because there was no room. And it was the most enlightening, emotional feeling of well-being, of camaraderie, of support, I've ever felt.

I kept emphasizing that the organization had to offer more services for ovarian cancer. Finally, SHARE changed the by-laws and the name of the organization to include support for women and their families who were going through an ovarian cancer diagnosis.

I became a hotline volunteer; I went for facilitator training; I ran a support group for about four years; and I sat on the Board of Directors. I was really wedded to this organization. I was part of the first SHARE walk, which had just four women with ovarian cancer.

What have you done for SHARE?

When I was a hotline volunteer, I took some very difficult calls. I feel as though I handled them with grace and a certain wisdom I didn't know I had. The hotline is the first line of help for women who are feeling paralyzed and crazed. Because somehow, when you get an ovarian cancer diagnosis, you don't think survival is possible. Most women think: This is it. I'm going to die.

I also loved facilitating the support group. I enjoyed the bonding, not only between me and the women, but among the women. After I got onto the Board, I did a fundraising solicitation letter for many years, through 2008 or 2009. The first letter I sent probably brought in $6,000 or $7,000.

How has SHARE helped you?

This may sound selfish, but I've gotten satisfaction that at a particular time, I could be some kind of a role model because I was a long-time survivor. I don't feel the same way now, because treatment and protocols, medications and chemotherapy have changed, and I've not stayed up on that. But for that period when I was diagnosed and helping others, I was there to say: It can happen; women can survive ovarian cancer.

What is your 40th anniversary wish for SHARE?

That we go out of business! Or that we grow and reach more and more women and their families, and are able to provide everything possible, including helping families through grief support.

See all the 40 for 40 posts here!