Tell Every Amazing Lady, a Brooklyn-based ovarian cancer awareness organization, opened the doors of its community center in Windsor Terrace on Monday to visitors in honor of World Ovarian Cancer Day.
Survivors and family members joined TEAL president and co-founder Pamela Esposito-Amery and medical experts to raise awareness in the Brooklyn community about ovarian cancer.
“Our mission is to provide support to survivors and their families while educating the public on ovarian cancer,” Esposito-Amery said, while surrounded by TEAL volunteers and staff.
The co-founder recalled her sister’s diagnosis with ovarian cancer in 2007 and their journey to starting TEAL.
“When she was diagnosed, we lived in New York City, the capital of the world,” said Esposito-Amery. “So I thought anything she needed would be at her fingertips, but she couldn’t find an ovarian cancer support group; she couldn’t find an ovarian cancer survivor to talk to; her doctors didn’t know there wasn’t a screening test.”
In some ways, not much has changed, Esposito-Amery said. There are still no screening tests for ovarian cancer — but TEAL is working to fill in the gaps for New York City families like her own. The organization hosts support groups, wellness workshops, and educational events at the 16th Street community center.
“We’re trying to elevate talking about ovarian cancer,” Esposito-Amery told the small crowd. “We want to tell everyone who has ever been born with ovaries about the signs and symptoms of this disease because they could be at risk.”
Medical experts in attendance at the community center provided guidance on those signs and symptoms.
“This idea that ovarian cancer is silent is wrong,” said Dr. Kevin Holcomb, who is vice chair of Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “But the symptoms are often very mild, and they’re gastrointestinally related. Bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, not being able to eat as much as you used to are all potentially signs of ovarian cancer.”
Holcomb emphasized there is room for diagnostic improvement to be made even without having a screening test.
“A woman will have a constellation of symptoms, but she may not tell one doctor about all of them,” he said. “So we’re trying to educate doctors and patients that if you have this constellation of symptoms, get a test to see if you have a mass in the ovary and take a blood test.”
But to Esposito-Amery, a screening test is paramount, and it can only be developed with funding for research. Each year, the organization hosts a fundraising walk and health fair to support the cause and educate Brooklynites.
She is far from alone in her quest to fund this research, though. Steve Buscemi, the world-renowned actor who also volunteers for TEAL, joined her in encouraging the public to support TEAL and its efforts.
“Pamela is very interested in funding research, so we need a lot more funding in that regard,” said Buscemi, whose wife died from ovarian cancer in 2019. “It’s easy to donate, and you’d be doing your community a big service.”
Esposito-Amery and her volunteers also emphasized the importance of the sense of community TEAL provides as a resource for cancer patients, survivors and their family members.
“TEAL is a very important place for me because I lost my beautiful wife of 31 years, Jo Andres, to ovarian cancer,” Buscemi said outside of the TEAL community center, “And this place was a great source of inspiration and comfort to her. It was comforting for her to know that there was a network, so that she didn’t feel alone.”
Nancy Irizarry, an ovarian cancer survivor who has participated in TEAL for 14 years, echoed those sentiments.
“TEAL was my connection to support in the community and understanding that I’m not alone,” said Irizarry of her experience when she was first diagnosed in 2006. “I was negative for genetic testing, so it was really hard for me to understand how I got cancer, but TEAL was a great support for me.”
Dr. Holcomb said Irizarry’s experience is surprisingly common.
“While people with a family history of ovarian cancer have a higher chance of getting it, the majority of people with it actually don’t have a family history,” said Dr. Holcomb. “That’s where the importance of paying attention to the symptoms comes in. If you are in your mid-thirties or forties, it’s important to pay attention to the symptoms regardless of your family history. You could be the first person in your family to present with this disease.”
Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Kimberly Council and Department of Health & Mental Hygiene deputy commissioner Dr. Leslie Hayes also spoke at the event, publicly announcing their government’s commitment to supporting TEAL and its efforts.
“Having this place in New York City is phenomenal,” said Dr. Hayes, “And we at the Department of Health are here to support in whatever way we possibly can.”
For more information about ovarian cancer and TEAL, visit telleveryamazinglady.org.