Kristin Young is an ovarian cancer survivor and a volunteer for Survivors Teaching Students, a program supported by Team Teal initiatives. She is passionate about raising awareness so women can be diagnosed earlier. WomenCan spoke to Kristin about her journey with ovarian cancer.
How long ago were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC Ovarian Cancer in September 2009. Although that seems a long time ago, I am still living with ovarian cancer every day and it will never be behind me. When I relapsed in 2014, my prognosis went from "not great" to "incurable" and I just had to focus on living as well as I could day to day. But, as it turns out, I am living, yes really "living", proof that research and clinical trials can make a real difference to the lives of women with ovarian cancer. Thanks to one of the new targeted therapies, which was available at first only in trials but is now approved so that many women with the right genetic profile can benefit, I am a Super Responder and my future horizon has stretched out as far as I can see.
What did you know about ovarian cancer before your diagnosis?
Before I was diagnosed, I knew nothing at all about ovarian cancer - worst of all, I knew nothing about the genetic risk in my family which might have enabled me to have had preventative surgery. It was a long period of learning that slowly unfolded at the same time as my initial treatment and the long months of recovery. I do think there is more awareness now in the years since I was first diagnosed, and I put this down to the sincere efforts of many people that give their time and energy towards awareness-raising and supporting research and trials.
There is no screening or detection for ovarian cancer. You are a volunteer for the Survivors Teaching Students education and prevention program. Why is STS important?
When I first came across Survivors Teaching Students, right at the very beginning of its expansion into Australia, I felt this was the ideal program for me to contribute my skills as a health professional, an educator and a survivor with a lot to say about my cancer. While it is and will always be critical to support women and their families through their cancer experience, we can multiply the effect many fold by influencing the doctors and other health professionals and researchers of the future. To raise awareness of ovarian cancer, its tricky signs and symptoms and the many ways it presents, in just one future doctor has the potential to improve the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of women and their families over many years. That's good value!
Kristin, you are a self-confessed horse lover, tell us about the work you do with horses.
I was one of those little girls who loved horses, hanging around the stables when I could and pestering my parents to support my horse habit with trail rides and horse camps. What I loved the most was working together with a horse, mustering sheep, or exploring the bush - the horse-human partnership is pretty special. What moves me most about horses is, though they are so much bigger and stronger than us, they give us their trust and consent to go along with what we want to do with them. To me that is also an enormous responsibility, to respond to that trust with care.
When I medically retired due to ovarian cancer in 2018, I knew I needed to find something extra of value to add to my life. I was already active in the support and advocacy community for ovarian cancer. But I was lucky to stumble upon a new program at its inception, which brought a group of Military Veterans and First Responders together with Off Track Thoroughbreds from Racing NSW, to develop new futures for both these groups going through their respective "career changes". I threw myself into my role as a Volunteer helper which gave me both my "horse-fix" and a chance to put something back into the community.
What do you want the harness racing community to know about ovarian cancer?
I want the harness racing community to know that I, and I think all of us living with ovarian cancer, sincerely appreciate that you want to take our struggle with this difficult and sad cancer and share it to a very wide audience of people who might not have had much cause to think about it otherwise. Awareness ripples like a stone in a pond and, when you pair our colour Teal with the excitement of thundering hooves and racing horses, this will leave a strong impression in people's minds. The words I most want to say are "Thank You" for raising awareness and funds and I hope you continue to have heaps of fun doing it.
In the absence of a vaccine or detection for ovarian cancer we encourage women to know the symptoms, the risks and take prompt action with their family doctor should they be experiencing symptoms that are unusual for them and persist longer than 3 weeks.