Focus Magazine recently shared Kate’s experiences of ovarian cancer and her incredible friends who took our September Step Up Challenge to the next level to support our crucial work. We are so grateful to Kate, Amanda, Carmen and Laura, and all of their supporters.
Written for and published by Focus Magazine on October 1, 2021
Amanda Mitchell, Carmen Lintsen and Laura Carleton entered the Step Up for Ovarian Cancer challenge in September to support their friend Kate Spackman who was diagnosed with cancer in November 2019, and to raise funds for ovarian cancer awareness and research during Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month. On the weekend of October 1st – 3rd, they’ll be participating in the Spring Challenge that includes rafting, cycling and running.
It all started back in August 2019, when Kate returned from her son’s wedding in Columbia. “I went skiing and was really tired. I’d been doing Pilates for 16 years but had no energy, my arm was sore and my tennis coach noticed something wrong with the way I was holding my racket. I had always been active, enjoying cycling, golf, tennis, tramping and sailing, I knew my body and I knew something wasn’t right,” she says.
When Kate got an intense pain in her abdomen, she marked where it was with a pen and went to her doctor. A transvaginal ultrasound found a five centimetre tumour in her left fallopian tube – directly under the pen mark. She had a hysterectomy and paraaortic nodal dissection and was diagnosed with stage 3 high-grade serous ovarian cancer. In January 2020, she started six cycles of chemotherapy.
Within days Kate began to get side effects: “Chemo is brutal. I lost all my hair, including my eye brows and eye lashes. It hurt, like someone was pulling each hair out because the follicles were very sensitive. Nerve endings in my feet and hands were affected, causing numbness and my jaw was really painful, I mostly ate soup so I didn’t have to chew, and my joints were really painful.”
Kate recovered from the chemotherapy but earlier this year she found a lump on her pelvis. A scan showed a cancerous lymph node on her pelvis. After surgery, her doctors recommended another six rounds of chemotherapy starting in April.
Her sixth and final chemotherapy session was scheduled for mid-August and it was a déjà vu for Kate because, just like before her last treatment a year ago, the lockdown was announced. Her daughter Sally had been keeping her company throughout the treatment but once lockdown struck, Kate had to go by herself.
The alert level change also created challenges for Kate’s friends, Amanda, Laura and Carmen, who planned to cycle, run and walk 1,000 km during September for Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month.
“Carmen, Laura and I were going to be training for the six hour Spring Challenge. Committing to Step Up, that was happening a month before the Spring Challenge, was a good way to motivate us and help raise funds for awareness and research,” Amanda said. They had planned to do a lot of the training together but lockdown prevented that and each woman had to train on her own.
Cycling is a passion they share with Kate. “Chemotherapy gives me painful joints, especially in my knees, and cycling is helpful. I’d been planning a trip to Sweden and, since I couldn’t go there, I bought an electric mountain bike and named it Sweden. It enables me to exercise and means I can keep up with my friends,” says Kate.
“We set a goal of raising $1,000 – a dollar for each kilometre. We’ve passed it and tried to push as far as we can,” says Amanda. The funds raised from their Step Up efforts support Cure Our Ovarian Cancer NZ.
Cure Our Ovarian Cancer NZ is the only charity in the country dedicated to ovarian cancer and plays a crucial role in supporting women with the disease and improving survival rates. One woman dies every day from a gynaecological cancer. Half of those deaths are from ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the 5th most common cause of female cancer death in New Zealand, killing more women than the road toll. The survival rate is less than half that of breast and prostate cancer.
Cure Our Ovarian Cancer NZ’s founder Jane Ludemann said people taking part in the challenge during September have raised almost $14,000 for ovarian cancer:
“We are so grateful to participants like Kate and her friends who kept going through lockdowns. We don’t get any government funding, so their support makes a real difference to Kiwis with ovarian cancer”.
Covid had a significant effect on the event and more funds are needed to reach Cure Our Ovarian Cancer NZ’s goal of $87, 500 which would allow them to fund national symptoms education, advocacy and a small research project.
“For some cancers, this would be a drop in the bucket, but for ovarian cancer it’s a lifeline. But fundraising is always difficult because ovarian cancer hasn’t been talked about in the way other cancers have. People are shocked when they discover what a huge health problem it is,” adds Jane.
On the weekend of October 1st – 3rd, Kate will be supporting from home as her friends finally participate in the Spring Challenge. Carmen, Laura and Amanda plan to wear Cure Our Ovarian Cancer T-shirts pre-, and post-race to raise awareness and honour their friend.
“We’ll be one of 450 teams taking part in the challenge that includes rafting, cycling and walking or running. We’re a super veteran team with a combined age of 150+! Last year we competed in this 6-hour challenge last year and it took us nine hours!”
OCFNZ started as Cure Our Ovarian Cancer in 2018, with a focus on low-grade serous ovarian cancer. In 2020, we expanded our focus to include all ovarian cancer and, in 2024, we changed our name to the Ovarian Cancer Foundation New Zealand.