Before playing a key role in raising $46,000 in cancer research funds last month, authoring a book about beating cancer, or tackling a hike through the Alps, Scottsdale resident Janice Coggins had to beat stage-three ovarian cancer.
In 2010, at the age of 58, Coggins received her diagnosis. Like anyone receiving such life-changing news, Coggins felt shock and fear. Yet she didn’t let it rule her for long. Only days after her diagnosis she began treatment. An unrelenting can-do attitude helped her survive, she says. “I sprang into action,” she recalls. “There was no way I was going to leave this cancerous mass inside of me one minute longer.”
Coggins refused to wear wigs or scarves — she was proud to be fighting — and winning. When she went in for a treatment, she wore bright orange shoes, just to remind herself and others “this wasn’t the end.”
“I sure as heck wasn’t going to pull the curtain down on life,” she says. “I was going to beat this thing.” She received her care at Arizona Oncology, followed Dr. Mike Janicek’s orders and kept a positive outlook.
“In April of 2010, ovarian cancer made the big mistake of messing with Janice Coggins. It awoke an otherwise peaceful person, who was minding her own business,” said Dr. Janicek. “She has since combated and shaken off multiple surgeries, chemotherapy infusions, countless blood draws, injections, probes and scans — all the while smiling sweetly.” Twenty-two weeks after her last treatment, Coggins completed a 100-mile hike through the Alps. The trek was grueling, she recalls, but it was her way of telling cancer it wasn’t going to beat her. “It was hard work. I carried a pack and cried a lot, but I did it. The day I walked off the mountain, I turned 60.”
“The cancer has been crushed and tossed aside,” said Dr. Janicek. “It was beaten badly by a person bursting with radiant energy, optimism, hope and faith.” Now Coggins is completely cancer free and devotes her time to helping other women with ovarian cancer. In September she was busy organizing the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Arizona’s 2012 golf tournament, Teal it Up, aimed at raising funds for scientific research. The tournament, held Sept. 22 in Scottsdale, raised $46,000.
“Crazy times, but good times,” she said. “I am still in shock. For our first tournament, we exceeded our expectations.” According to the cancer alliance, every 37 minutes a woman in the United States dies of ovarian cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates 15,500 women will succumb to the disease this year alone, and 22,280 will be diagnosed. Most women diagnosed are in their early 60s. Ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women and is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers, according to the American Cancer Society’s 2012 cancer facts and figures.
Women must be advocates for their own health and get regular checkups. Ovarian cancer can often have no symptoms, but most common ones include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, urinary symptoms and bleeding. The overall five-year survival rate is 44 percent and the rate of those diagnosed is not dropping. Continuing research is the key to battling ovarian cancer, which is why Coggins and many others are actively increasing awareness. Making sure diagnosed women are able to receive the treatments they need is also a priority of hers.
Along with serving on the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Arizona, Coggins is the secretary for Sisters in Survival, a local nonprofit that focuses on raising money for patients who are in treatment and cannot afford medication or diagnostic evaluation procedures. Sisters in Survival primarily assists women in Scottsdale, Phoenix and neighboring areas, and has also expanded its outreach to help women across the nation. “It’s critical to give these women a support network,” Coggins says. “It’s one of the hardest, scariest things that can happen to a woman. Finding the money to pay for a medication or a doctor’s appointment shouldn’t be an additional struggle.”
To spread the word, Coggins is authoring a book about her experience with a tentative publishing date in 2013. She has yet to decide on a title. Dr. Janicek authored the book’s foreword. Coggins encourages people to get involved with the two organizations by learning more. Good resources include: