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Captivan shares story of survival, awareness about ovarian cancer

By Staff | Apr 3, 2009

Stella Farwell is many things – a wife, an artist, a former fire fighter, an active member of the community – but she is also a survivor.

In the spring of 2007, Farwell was healthy and excited to be preparing for a solo exhibition at BIG ARTS.

“That summer, I started having all these weird, unconnected medical things. The doctor said there’s something wrong here, but we have to figure out what it is. It was a great mystery for a long time” Farwell said, noting that she was having particular trouble with her hip.

Farwell’s doctor scheduled an MRI and that’s when the problem made itself known. It was “Stage 3-C” ovarian cancer.

What followed was a surgery riddled with complications and then intense chemotherapy, but she is now well into remission and gets a check-up every three months just to make sure.

More common cancers, such as breast cancer, are more easily detected and can be found very early. But the difficult part about ovarian cancer is that it’s very hard to diagnose until the disease has advanced.

Farwell explained that, after struggling with and ultimately defeating the disease, she wants to make people aware that ovarian cancer can and does happen to any woman, regardless of how old or healthy they are, and that steps need to be taken in educating and making people aware of ovarian cancer.

“I wish I could tell people to go get a test. There is no test. There is no mammogram, no blood test, there is no way to screen for this effectively,” Farwell said.

“That’s what makes ovarian cancer so scary because it’s so hard to diagnose. Very few people are diagnosed early,” she said, listing genetics and menopause as some of the risk factors. Women who have had children or who have taken birth control are less likely to develop ovarian cancer.

But while Farwell struggled as she tried to beat the disease, she says that a good attitude and the positive influences in her life kept her upbeat and ready to face the everyday challenges.

She met one woman while in Maine who had gone through the same things Farwell was going through. She was glad to find that this one particular woman, Jean Chapman, attributed beating her cancer due to keeping a positive, hopeful attitude.

“She had her ovarian cancer surgery and treatment 38 years ago… and she’s never had a recurrence. This is my role model! I am going to be like Jean!” Farwell said with a smile, adding that inspiration also comes to her from another survivor and fellow artist, Juanita Chocran, who designs upbeat and motivational notecards that say things like “Attitude is like a paint brush – it colors every situation.”

But Farwell also said that she often found support in the most unexpected of places.

Last summer, as she and her husband Phil were getting in their car in Naples,

an attractive lady – out for a brisk walk – stopped Farwell upon seeing her headcovering, asking if she was undergoing chemotherapy.

Farwell affirmed that she was, and the lady said, “A few months ago, I covered my hair loss the same way you do – now look at me. Be positive and don’t give up hope!”

Farwell was grateful for the support the complete stranger gave her.

“Here is this woman who is strong and walking fast and looking gorgeous. I blinked and she was gone, but it was just so cool to have somebody just say that, with no connection to me except that she spotted the headcovering,” she said.

“So many people were so supportive. It’s overwhelming how kind people are. They do things that make you laugh when you don’t feel like laughing,” Farwell said, recalling how one friend bought her a bright purple wig to wear while she was undergoing chemotherapy.

But Farwell also has some suggestions for folks who aren’t sure how they can help their friend or loved one as they go through something like cancer.

“Some of my suggestions are to be positive, but also realistic. Don’t tell someone about someone you know who died of the disease they have [and] remember that cancer isn’t contagious. You should express how you care in ways that are comfortable for you,” Farwell said, listing prayers and positive energy, cards, phone calls, e-mails, offering rides to treatment, offering to do errands, preparing meals and giving little gifts – even if it’s just a shell or a beautiful leaf – just to remind the person that you’re thinking of them.

“The most important thing, at least in my mind, is having a positive attitude, which is sometimes hard to hold onto. But, I have a loving husband, wonderful family and unbelievably marvelous friends, and each expression of care gives you strength,” said Farwell.

“It’s like, if they believe in me, then I can do this.”