Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas is taking part in a high profile media awareness campaign this March to help the ovarian cancer charity Ovacome raise the profile of the disease.
The co leader of The Green Party is one of 11 celebrities involved in the publicity. They have all been photographed with something teal – the colour representing ovarian cancer by Ming Yeung, a professional cameraman and editor for Getty Images and husband of Ovacome member Rebecca Readshaw, who was diagnosed with the disease five years ago.
The idea is that people seeing the photography of the personalities will question whether they ‘have been tealed’, which is shorthand for knowing the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Caroline is keen to help spread the message: “Most people know what to look out for with breast and even cervical cancer, but not so much with ovarian cancer – which is why this campaign is so important,” she says.
“The main symptoms can be remembered in Ovacome’s BEAT acronym: B is for bloating that doesn’t come and go; E is for eating less and feeling fuller quicker; A is for abdominal pain and T is for change in toilet habits.
“I’m urging women to make sure they go to a doctor if symptoms of ovarian cancer persist for more than two weeks – doing so could save your life.”
Fellow supporters of the campaign include the actors Jenny Agutter, Nigel Havers, Jane Asher and Terri Dwyer, the comedian Omid Djalili, the TV and radio presenter Sara Cox, MP David Lammy, the singers Hollie Cook and Kele Le Roc and radio presenter and former MP John Nicolson.
In recent research Ovacome found that despite bloating being the main sign of ovarian cancer, with almost nine in 10 women diagnosed having suffered from it, in only 20% of cases was it the symptom which took them to their GP.
They were far more likely to seek medical help when they have abdominal pain (47%), or a change in urination (25%): the most common symptoms to take a woman with ovarian cancer in the first instance to her doctor.
Ovacome’s chief executive Victoria Clare hopes the campaign will make women more aware of the potential significance of bloating:“We know that women recognise the symptoms of bloating, but often dismiss it as being something less sinister. It is understandable that they often only seek advice because of less easy to ignore pain, but this mindset needs to change,” says Victoria.
Ming wanted to shoot the high level media campaign to help spread awareness among men as well as women, after Rebecca’s stomach pain pre diagnosis was repeatedly dismissed by her GP as a parasitic infection from her six month stint in India. Rebecca also had bloating but thought nothing of it as she had a history of irritable bowel syndrome.
“I can’t help thinking that if Rebecca had been seen by a woman GP her ovarian cancer may have been picked up earlier,” says Ming. “As it happens it was stage 3 when it was finally diagnosed, over a year after her first visit to the GP,” he adds.
Now Rebecca, a BBC camera operator and aged 36, has stage 4 incurable ovarian cancer. At the time of Ming doing the photoshoots at the end of last year Rebecca was being given further chemotherapy, with her cancer having progressed after initial treatment.
Ming is optimistic ‘Have you been tealed?’ will make a difference to other women: “Hopefully, this campaign will help make everyone aware – including men – of what to look out for and not to dismiss the symptoms even in a young woman when it is much more likely to be something less serious,” says Ming.
If you are worried about ovarian cancer visit www.ovacome.org.ukor phone Ovacome’s freephone support line on 0800 008 7054.