Fourteen years after Annette McElhiney was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she’s using her borrowed time to advocate and inspire other women battling the disease.
“I’m an advocate because many women don’t live to become advocates,” she said from her home at White Sands La Jolla.
Diagnosed in 2008 at age 67 and given only a 25-35% chance to live five years, McElhiney was introduced through her oncologist to The Clearity Foundation. The non-profit has evolved to provide a wealth of information, resources, education, and referrals to women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, including free molecular profiling and personalized psychosocial support and counseling through their Steps Through OC program.
McElhiney is now one of the foundation’s most vocal advocates. Each morning she combs through publications and scholarly journals for articles, research and information to share with the foundation. She’s also a regular keynote speaker and mentor for women to ask questions, express concerns, share fears, or vent frustrations.
“I’m kind of the old lady of the group,” she chuckled. “I feel I need to give back; I’m so fortunate to be alive. I’m starting my fourteenth year; so many of my friends haven’t been as fortunate.”
According to the American Cancer Society, about 21,410 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the U.S. in 2021, and about 13,770 women will die from the disease. While 1 in 78 women will get ovarian cancer during their lifetime, it accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
In 2010, McElhiney penned Realizing My Post Cancer Self: Memoir of an Ovarian Cancer Survivor. The humorous memoir, complete with 18 original paintings depicting stages in her recovery, is from the perspective of her alter ego, Althea. McElhiney says the character helped her process her guilt and anger; it also became an outspoken voice for her and other women who stifle their emotions after diagnosis.
“When I was diagnosed, the most difficult part wasn’t physical, but psychological,” she said. “I’d never been ill in my life, never had low energy. Not to mention I was terribly afraid to lose my life; I wasn’t ready to die. One way to forget about it was to paint.”
In recent years, neuropathy has forced her to transition her painting from acrylic on large canvas to smaller watercolors. Some of her creations, many that have a distinctive teal or purple palette, now hang outside The Clearity Foundation’s offices. Others have been made into posters for survivors. All proceeds from her paintings and royalties from her memoir are donated to ovarian cancer research.
McElhiney is now focused on bringing hope to others, and looking for inspiration in those around her.
“I have this vibrant 95-year-old neighbor at White Sands, and I tell her I want to be like her when I grow up,” she laughed. “I hope I can keep doing what I’m doing.”
Read the article in SDNews.com: http://www.sdnews.com/view/full_story/27817665/article-White-Sands-ovarian-cancer-survivor-an-advocate-for-women?instance=news