Fairfield woman spreads word about ovarian cancer

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - Lydia Zipp knows she's here by the grace of God.

On Dec. 9, 1999, Zipp, then 34, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, stage IV. The survival rate was 20 percent.

For months, she dressed in black, went to chemotherapy and lived like she "wasn't going to live." Zipp tried to change everything - she stopped smoking, picked up better eating habits and began to exercise. She survived.

In 2002, Zipp had a reoccurrence and went through five weeks of external radiation and four weeks of chemotherapy.

She survived to tell the story.

"I feel like I'm called to spread the word to other women so we can change these numbers around," the 41-year-old said of the ovarian cancer statistics.

Currently, 80 percent to 90 percent of women with ovarian cancer get diagnosed at the advanced stage. Zipp, who is president and founder of the Women's Cancer Awareness Group in Fairfield, wants to flip those numbers around so women will be diagnosed at an earlier stage, with the survival rate of 80 percent to 90 percent.

"There is no diagnostic test for ovarian cancer," she said.

As a result, Zipp's group joined a plethora of women in their campaign to pass "Johanna's Law," a law that authorizes $16.5 million over a three-year period to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the awareness and education campaign.
On Dec. 9, seven years to the day of when Zipp was diagnosed with cancer, Congress approved the law (the Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act), named after Johanna Silver Gordon, who died from ovarian cancer in 2000.

"It provides funding for grassroots organizations like ours to spread awareness and demonstration grants for outreach and education," Zipp said.

Zipp, who along with almost 100 women stood "on the hill" of Washington D.C., in September wearing teal T-shirts in support of the act, made about five trips to the Capitol in three years and spoke with health legislative assistants to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Orinda.

"We wanted them to know what we are doing and they are very supportive of this," she said.

Like Zipp was, many women are unaware of the symptoms, which are subtle and difficult to diagnose. Since there is no reliable screening test, fewer than one in five women will be diagnosed in the early stages, according to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

Symptoms include abdominal bloating or discomfort; increased abdominal size or clothes fitting tighter around the waist; increased or urgent need to urinate; pelvic pain; low back pain or shortness of breath; lack of energy; and loss of appetite.

If a woman experiences any or a combination of these symptoms for more than three weeks, the OCNA suggests seeing a doctor.

"This legislation will help get the word out to millions of women across the country of ovarian cancer," Zipp said. "And that's what we're here to do."

A detailed list of symptoms and risk factors can be found on www.wcagroup.net. A gynecological cancer risk assessment test can be found at www.wcn.org.