Ovarian Cancer Awareness

NU Women’s latest session was on ovarian cancer awareness, delivered in conjunction with Ruth Grigg from the charity Ovacome, Hillary an ovarian cancer survivor, and Dr Yvette Drew from Newcastle University’s Centre for Cancer.

Ruth is part of the Ovacome charity who supply emotional support and information to anyone who’s been affected by ovarian cancer and opened the session. As the charity has been run since 1996, Ovacome has spoken to a lot of women and have gained progress in promoting women’s knowledge of ovarian cancer.

Ruth shared this knowledge with attendees of the NU Women lecture stating that typically there is little known or understood about ovarian cancer. As ovarian cancer is uncommon, with 7,000 diagnoses each year (in the U.K. the chances are 1:52 ), it is not represented as loudly in the cancer community because the chances of other cancers such breast are much higher (1:7 in the U.K). Moreover, ovarian cancer usually presents late as a Stage 3 CD (there are 4 stages), so by this time the cancer has spread to the abdomen and other organs before a GP or any other services become involved.

The delay of spotting the cancer is due to vague signs and symptoms which don’t seem significant in the context of day to day life. Ovarian cancer is most common in people who are postmenopausal which means 83% of cases are diagnosed in those aged 50+. Regardless, the cancer can present in younger people too which is why it was so important for Ruth to go through the BEAT campaign, outlining the specific symptoms:

B is for BLOATING (this is new for you and is persistent)

E is for EATING DIFFICULTIES (you are eating less and experiencing reflux)

A is for ABDOMINAL PAIN (this is new for you and is getting worse over time)

T is for TOILET HABITS (unusual urinary or bowel movements)

Treatment for ovarian cancer requires a major hysterectomy surgery, followed by chemotherapy. 

A survivor of ovarian cancer, Hilary followed on from Ruth and gave a personal account of her journey from being diagnosed in April 2006 at the age of 48. Being a Chemist, with a long experience the pharmaceutical industry, BP and civil service, Hilary explained she was very used to being tired and stressed, especially when she switched between two jobs around 2006.

Notably, she remembers getting a smear test but the nurse couldn’t get a good enough sample as the process was too painful, she was told she would be contacted by the GP and thought nothing more. As life went on Hilary started developing bladder urgency but put this down to menopause. The turning point was when Hilary experienced persistent abdomen pain so severe she physically had to pull off the motorway as the pain was unbearable.

After going to hospital, the CT scans showed a 15cm cancerous cyst which grew to 17cm two weeks after. Hilary explained how her fallopian tubes, uterus and omentum were removed, which was followed by chemotherapy at the end of June. Between starting her chemotherapy in June and her treatment finishing in November 2006, Hilary worked part time with a supportive employer which helped her greatly- emotionally and mentally.

Hillary has now been discharged from her GP, reaching her 5 year remission mark and says that she is in good health but has experienced the side effects of surgical menopause such as brutal hot flushes, memory loss and depression. After 6 months Hilary began HRT and felt much better and is still on a low dose patch for the rest of her life.

After Hilary’s moving account, reminding us that sometimes  the session moved from the personal to the scientific. Dr Yvette Drew gave us a flavour of what the gynecology team are exploring – such as  the challenge of developmental therapeutics in ovarian cancer, as well as the lack of effective screening. Dr Drew explained that there has been significant barriers to progress in developing new treatments, shockingly stating that there has been no new treatments approved between 2006-2013 despite other cancers seeing developments.

However, we learned that this was due to the difficulty finding where the cancer originates. There is a common misconception that the cancer begins in the ovaries but in fact ovarian cancer starts in the fallopian tubes. Sadly, scans fail to show this. Nevertheless the management of ovarian cancer lies with the revolution of PARP inhibitors moving forward to PARPi combinations including immune checkpoint inhibitors.

Dr Drew stressed the importance of needing to recognise that epithelial ovarian cancer is many diseases in cancer drug development (High-grade serous, clear cell, low-grade serous, endometrioid, mucinous) and that programmes for drug development, design of clinical trials, and approaches to systemic treatment need to reflect this knowledge and focus on targeting the sub types of EOC.

With additional thanks to the chair, Nicola Curtin, Professor of Experimental Therapeutics at Newcastle University , this session addressed this challenging topic in an approachable way. Identifying the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer as well as discussing recent developments at Newcastle and beyond, hoping to reach as many women as possible.

For further information about Ovacome and the BEAT campaign please visit the following:

You can watch the recording of the full event below:

Rattle Snake screening review

On 6th December 2019, NU Women participated in a campaign to show a recorded performance of Open Clasp’s gut-wrenching and game-changing production, Rattle Snake, to as many people as possible. Why? Because despite living in a country where discussions about domestic and sexual violence are happening more frequently, over one million women still experience some form of domestic or sexual violence per year – and these are only the figures we know about. 

Open Clasp is a charitable organisation placing theatre at the heart of transforming lives of disadvantaged women and girls through acts of collaboration. They campaign for change on an international, national, and personal level. They’ve won awards for their work, but most importantly they’ve reached out to and impacted the lives of 107,764 people to date.  

They’re incredible.  

From 25th November – 10th December 2019, Open Clasp made their live recording of Rattle Snake available online to demonstrate the signs, effects, and emotional upheaval caused by coercive control in personal relationships.  

Open Clasp performance of Rattle Snake

They bring to the stage the reality of women experiencing the often-hidden nature of domestic abuse through the emotive and powerful performance of two actors. In fact, I couldn’t believe there were only two women on stage – the emotion they put into showing the multifaceted reality of the women they represented was breath-taking. And when I say reality, I mean these are performances based on collaboration with women who have experienced the trauma of coercive control. Trauma that won’t  end unless we, as a society, are willing to look for the signs of such abuse and have a system that puts an immediate stop to it.  

The need to recognise these signs was further emphasised by Catrina McHugh, the Artistic Director of Open Clasp and playwright of Rattle Snake, as she discussed why she made the performance available for all – because there’s a need for further empathy about such situations as a society and within the judicial system. What really impressed me about the evening was the supportive and welcoming environment it invited in discussing the issues raised in the performance – it was inspiring to hear everyone’s response and engage with the production directly. 

Numerous letters and feedback by those who have been impacted by the performance are posted on Open Clasp’s website, showing just how important a role this performance plays in initiating discussion about coercive control. Not only that, but the play has been used in police training to make officers aware of, and recognise, the signs of domestic abuse, as well as to understand that you need to know the full story before judgement can be passed.  

Before we expect the situation around domestic abuse to change, we need to be willing to talk about it, and Open Clasp runs ahead of the crowd in working within communities to represent real experience and put it out there to campaign for change. 

Sport, Sisterhood and Skates: Jo Day


Jo Day (left) writes about the sense of empowerment she feels in taking part in Roller Derby; this is a great read about inclusivity, confidence, and support.
You wouldn’t think that getting together and donning roller skates, whizzing around in small circles and hitting each other would necessarily be the base of so many strong friendships, but seriously – it works.
Roller Derby is a full contact sport on skates, and gained worldwide popularity after the 2009 film ‘Whip It’, starring Ellen Page, Drew Barrymore and Juliette Lewis. While the film naturally is a Hollywood version of the sport (no, you can’t punch people. No there’s no clothes-lining allowed. No, the uniform isn’t compulsory fishnets), it was responsible for a veritable stampede of people into the female-led sport, keen to tap into the idea of empowerment, sisterhood and *shock horror* team sport outside of the hockey sticks and netball knickers you knew from PE lessons. You may have seen the recent This Girl Can billboards or TV adverts featuring women on skates… we’re really starting to get around!
What strikes most people about the roller derby community is that word – it really is a ‘community’. We’re women with a goal, linked across cities, countries and the world. If I travelled to the other side of the world, I’d find a group of ladies willing to let me drop into their practice, skate and party with them and most likely crash on their sofa (I’ve done this all the way across the Atlantic). Most people come to the sport with their very own issues, insecurities, and experiences, and very often find solace and acceptance.

This Girl Can! Credit – Zero G Photography

Roller Derby is felt to be so empowering for women for many reasons:
  • It’s a sport that wholeheartedly encourages a positive body image – there’s a place and role for every body shape (big and strong, small and agile; fast nippy skaters and sturdier defensive players who grind down an opponent’s morale!)
  • It can allow women to show their powerful, aggressive side in a constructive, applauded way (killing it on the track with a crowd cheering: what a rush!)
  • Roller Derby is dominated by women all over the world – it had been a women’s only sport for many years before men started playing too, and is certainly played, coached, managed and administrated by more women than men (rare for a sport where men and women play).
  • Both international governing bodies, WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) and MRDA (Men’s Roller Derby Association) have clear inclusivity policies, allowing people to skate with whatever teams and genders they feel most comfortable with and identifying as (including gender-expansive participants who may feel other sports have no place for them in the locker room).

    Credit – Kodak Kojak
Team sports are all too often something that falls out of women’s realm once they leave school. The drop-off in physical activity when girls leave compulsory education has always been a big problem in this country, and many of the women in Newcastle Roller Girls hadn’t done any sport since school (which for most of us is over a decade ago!), so it could be seen as a team sport for non-sporty people… who end up athletes without even realising it. How did this crazy roller skating game take me from the girl who insisted the gym was “boring” and beyond her willpower, to a woman who attends 3 times a week and can leg press three times her body weight? Because I want to play better, I want my team to win, I want the women around me to be able to rely on my skills… and all of a sudden it’s a means to an end, necessary and not such a chore after all. I think there is a lot to be said for finding your best incentive to do the hard work of getting fit, and what could work better than a game? It is a game at the end of the day, but to most of us, it’s truly more than that: it’s a way of life.

Credit – Dave Moore

If you’re keen to find out more about what the sport is, there’s plenty of helpful YouTube videos (links at the bottom of this article), or you can come along to one of our home games!
  • 25-26th March – EuroClash (2 day European Tournament)
  • 8th April – women’s C team game
  • 22nd April – Women’s B team games
  • 13th May – Women’s A & C team games
  • Men’s games also available through Tyne and Fear Roller Derby.

We run a beginner’s intake a couple of times a year and our home is the Walker Dome. Check out our website (or ask Jo in the Student’s Union) for details!

What is roller derby? Find out here
Newcastle Roller Girls YouTube video and Facebook page
Tyne & Fear Men’s Roller Derby YouTube video


Developing Your Personal Resilience

Jo Geary, Head of Business & Management Services at Newcastle University Library discusses personal resilience.

This blog can otherwise be known as: How to avoid being a (squashed) bunny caught in the ‘to-do list headlamps’.

My to-do list was paralysing me. I needed a lesson in how to respond better in the face of an overwhelming workload. Luckily, Mandi Sherlock-Storey and my network of NU Women colleagues turned up to help me develop some personal resilience!

Mandi started her Personal Resilience Workshop by asking us what we would look like at our absolute best, at our peak in terms of resilience. She defined resilience as “successfully adapting to adversity and bouncing back as an even better, more capable person”. Resilient individuals have a bag of tools to help them become more flexible to life’s changing demands.

Continue reading “Developing Your Personal Resilience”