CAMILLA Freeman-Topper vividly remembers sitting down together with her family for a meal before sunset on Erev Yom Kippur.
“Our family unit was always celebrated,” she tells The AJN.
“[My mother] cherished her faith and was an observant Jewish woman, so much so, she kept a kosher home.”
It is a treasured memory. Camilla was just 11 and her brother Marc was 13 when they lost their mother Pam to ovarian cancer. Now, 26 years later, they are doing all that they can to ensure that no one else experiences the “pain like no other”.
Earlier this month ahead of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival, the duo launched the groundbreaking “Ovaries. Talk about them” campaign, with the aim of raising much needed awareness and funds towards ovarian cancer prevention.
Together they created a limited edition T-shirt collection with 100 per cent of proceeds going directly to ovarian cancer research at UNSW Sydney, in order to fund the development of an early detection test.
Every year, almost 300,000 women are diagnosed with the disease which presents minimal warning signs. With the absence of an early detection test, limited funding and no cure, once ovarian cancer is diagnosed, the outcome is often dire.
“The statistics for women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are not positive; 75 per cent receive the news when they are already in stage three or four – that’s simply not good enough,” says Marc.
“The money we raise will go directly to the scientists; investment in people leads to advances in medicine – this is how we will find a cure.”
Camilla shares, “[My mother] was just 42 when she passed away, after two years fighting the disease. For the sake of my children, and women worldwide, I want to make sure we can spread the message far and wide and be a driving force in raising awareness of this silent disease.”
The catalyst for the initiative began when Camilla found the courage to share a private photo of her mother on Instagram on Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day in May last year. The picture was accompanied with a moving personal account.
“Marc and I rarely talk about this part of our journey, largely because even after all these years it is still raw and very painful for us … But there is power in sharing our stories and if ours can help to spread awareness about this deadly disease then this will have been worthwhile,” she wrote.
It resonated with many, and ignited a purpose within the brother and sister.
Ten months later, they launched “Ovaries. Talk about them”.
“I received such an overwhelming response and it gave me the confidence and understanding that sharing my story is so important,” Camilla reflects.
“Using our platform to raise awareness of this issue brings me a greater sense of purpose. It only makes sense that Marc and I start a more meaningful conversation with the women we dress.”
Musing on her mother, Camilla describes her as “a very spiritual woman who was so proud of her Jewish heritage”.
“There were many subtle but beautiful ways this was expressed in our family and she was very much the keeper of those traditions.”
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When we started this campaign, we had all of you in mind. This was always about bringing women and men together in a way that united us all in a really powerful way. Women, no matter who they are or where they are from all have ovaries, yet we don’t know much about them and worse, there is a stigma attached to talking about them openly. This social taboo prevents us from sharing about a really important part of our bodies, which means ovarian cancer is not spoken about nearly enough, and it often sees us disconnected from the symptoms, and from feeling when something is just not right. This disease has devastated my family and I want to do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen to yours. The symptoms for this disease are very vague so it’s important we’re all acutely aware of them. They are; Increased abdominal pain Abdominal or pelvic (lower tummy) pain Feeling full after eating a small amount Needing to urinate often or more frequently Support us by buying a t-shirt or making a donation so that Associate Professor Caroline Ford can develop the world’s first early detection test. If we can make this a reality, our daughters won’t face the same statistics that tragically exist today for ovarian cancer. Please, join us, share and unite for this cause. #Ovariestalkaboutthem #Powerandsolidarity
Food and cooking was one such way she connected to her Jewish identity.
“She was the most wonderful cook and loved to make traditional Jewish sweets for us all to enjoy – her kuglouf was a highlight and she made the most amazing chocolate sponge cake among other celebrated dishes.”
While women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have a higher hereditary predisposition to ovarian and breast cancer, Camilla emphasises the message of this campaign is universal and applies to all women.
“If this test becomes a reality it will help all women catch this early – those who are predisposed or not – it is absolutely key to changing the dire statistics for this disease,” she implores, a sentiment echoed by UNSW Sydney’s Associate Professor Caroline Ford.
“Developing an effective detection test for ovarian cancer will be a game changer for this disease, as you will be able to catch cancer early and cure through surgery,” says Ford, who leads the team of researchers that are working towards the development of the early detection test.
“The key to changing the statistics is research and awareness.”
And indeed, the eye catching design of the limited edition T-shirts are sure to open conversations. The first T-shirt was created in collaboration with Perth-based artist Rina Freiberg, and honours and celebrates the female form. The words, “Ovaries. Talk about them” are printed on its back.
“The design is uplifting, beautiful and designed to get women talking,” comments Camilla.
The second T-shirt design is unisex, and features the words “power” and “solidarity”. It speaks to “the powerful change that can occur when women and men unite to raise awareness over issues such as these”.
Says Camilla, “This is the first fundraising campaign we have done for ovarian cancer. By joining the conversation, whether it’s with family, at a dinner party or on social media, every discussion counts.
“Part of this campaign is about encouraging women and men to share their stories – there is so much power in that. And if this level of sharing can happen on a global level, I truly believe we can get to a tipping point where awareness of this disease will enter the mainstream.
“We all either have ovaries, or we come from them, so what’s the problem? Let’s start having the conversations that are going to create true change.”
To purchase a limited edition T-shirt in support of ovarian cancer research, visit www.camillaandmarc.com/eboutique/ovarian-cancer-tee.html.