Last January Kimberlee Shonk, age 20, died as a result of ovarian cancer. She was a College of Charleston student, a biology major with a 3.7 GPA and with plans to attend medical school. Kimberlee attended Wando High School and was a proud member of the Wando Marching Band. She was an intelligent, articulate, beautiful young woman with a great sense of humor. Recently her college friends sent me their recollections of Kimberlee —
- She taught me so much about living and how to enjoy life.
- Seeing her walk down a busy street; it was like the sea parted for her with her beautiful long blond hair and flowing skirt.
- She coined the word “Swooztastic” to define the joys of life.
- She never lived in fear of dying.
Although we were separated by 40 years in age, we were sisters in ovarian cancer. Sitting in my office with our bald heads we compared notes on chemotherapy and talked about the lack of a reliable test to detect ovarian cancer. Both of us wondered how we could have had an earlier diagnosis. What symptoms did we ignore? What should we have done differently? Kimberlee was diagnosed with a rare aggressive cancer in the spring of 2009. I was diagnosed with stage III peritoneal ovarian cancer at the same time. Each year, over 20,000 women are diagnosed and about 15,000 women die as a result of ovarian cancer. The symptoms: bloating, abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly and urinary frequency or urgency, are common and often ignored. Kimberlee sent me an email last September 2010 as we were preparing events for Ovarian Cancer month. She included her symptoms, bloating and pain in the abdomen, in hopes that by sharing them she would encourage other women to pay attention and “listen to their bodies.”
Ovarian Cancer occurs more often in older women; however, it can attack women of all ages. For this reason, the Center for Women’s Lowcountry Women With Wings organization in conjunction with the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance at the College of Charleston hosted “Teal Day” at the College on September 30th, the last day of Ovarian Cancer Month. Teal is the color to recognize ovarian cancer awareness and all students, faculty and staff were encouraged to wear teal not only to bring awareness of ovarian cancer, but, most importantly, in memory of Kimberlee Shonk, a member of the College of Charleston family. “Teal Day” included distribution of ovarian cancer information and a “Breaking the Silence” event at 11:55 am in the Cougar Mall.
Another awareness event was held at the MUSC horseshoe on Sept. 27 with the Pink Fire Trucks that travel the country promoting awareness about cancers that strike women. Lowcountry Women with Wings was there as well with a teal convertible!
The goal of Lowcountry Women with Wings is to Rise Above Ovarian Cancer by educating our community about the symptoms. Kimberlee wanted to tell her story with the hope that she could encourage other young women to listen to their bodies, have regular check-ups and to attack this silent killer.
Sue Sommer-Kresse, PhD
Charleston, South Carolina