by KELSEY CIPOLLA
One in every 79 women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime. Kelly Cannova found out her mother was one of those women when she was diagnosed in December 2011.
“I wanted to do something,” Cannova says of her mindset after hearing the news. “I didn’t want to be a person who just sat back and said, ‘I wish there was a cure; I wish there were better treatment options; I wish that someone would find something to help ovarian cancer more than it’s being aided right now.’”
So she decided to do more than wish for progress: She founded the OVERRUN Cancer Foundation in 2012, with an annual 5K and 1-mile walk as its central fundraising event. Shortly after, Cannova learned her friend Kristi O’Keefe’s sister was also battling ovarian cancer and asked O’Keefe to come onboard to help.
The two knew they wanted to raise money for ovarian cancer research, which receives less funding than other diseases. Although fewer people are diagnosed with ovarian cancer compared to breast cancer, the prognosis is often much worse, in part because there is no form of early detection, like a mammogram, Cannova says.
Aiming to keep their donations in the Kansas City community, Cannova and O’Keefe partnered with the University of Kansas Cancer Center’s ovarian cancer research program, overseen by Deputy Director Andy Godwin.
In the seven years since the foundation launched, OVERRUN has raised $300,000, most of which has gone to research, including potential therapies, overcoming chemotherapy resistance, new mechanisms of disease spread, and identifying several repurposed drugs and novel compounds.
“We can get money to the young researchers who are willing and able to think outside the box that the government wouldn’t necessarily fund so they can try new research projects with our money,” Cannova explains. “There’s a lot of red tape, and it takes a long time for grants to go through – this way, things can kind of move a little more quickly.”
Additionally, OVERRUN provides comfort bags for newly diagnosed patients at metro hospitals. Cannova says these bags are helpful to take to treatments and include comfort items such as “I am Strong” socks, Chapstick, tissues, hand sanitizer, lotion, mints, pen and a pad of paper to jot down notes from the doctor, and an “I am Strong” book with inspirational quotes and photos from the race.
Despite the discouraging prognosis for many patients, Cannova and company work to maintain an upbeat attitude for themselves and cancer patients.
“We always say, ‘We believe in a cure.’ We always want to be positive and hopeful and we have to keep hoping and working toward that cure.”
The community is invited to help be part of that cure through the annual OVERRUN Ovarian Cancer 5K Run/Walk and 1-Mile Teal Trail Walk. This year’s race will take place October 20 at Southcreek Office Park in Overland Park.
“Our race is more than just another 5K. It’s a day of hope and support and awareness for everybody,” Cannova says. “Teams come out; survivors come out. We have a survivors’ tent and tons of food and entertainment. It’s just a fun morning and a really important day for people who have been affected and their families, even families who have lost people.”
Since the inaugural run in 2012, participation has grown from around 750 people to more than 1,500 in recent years.
“The first race, we were just absolutely amazed at the outpouring of support. Every year, it’s such a great feeling that so many people are there to help and come out. My mom knew about it and would come out when she could and was so thankful and appreciative that we were doing that.”
Unfortunately, Cannova’s mother passed away in December after her seven-year battle with cancer.
“Some people ask if that’s going to make me stop,” Cannova says, “but it’s really made me want to get a cure more, to get better treatment options for these women of all ages that are diagnosed.”