Partner Member Profile: Ovarian Cancer Alliance of North Florida

Kelly Smith founded the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of North Florida while she was on spring break from college one year. Based in Tallahassee, this Partner Member focuses on younger women, including the many college students who attend schools in northern Florida. Kelly herself was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 17—about the age of the young women she speaks with today.

“My mom was diagnosed with liver cancer 30 days before my diagnosis,” she explains. Worried about her own health, Kelly went to see her physician. The doctor found a small tumor on her ovary that turned out to be a germ cell carcinoma.

During her treatment, Kelly thought about starting an organization dedicated to fighting ovarian cancer. “I did a lot of research before pulling the trigger,” she explains. The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance played a major role in that early research. “We wouldn’t have been able to get off the ground without the Alliance,” says Kelly. “It’s been very beneficial.”

Staff from the Alliance put Kelly in touch with other ovarian cancer groups in Florida, who helped her think through the logistics of starting a new organization. Once she felt ready to launch the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of North Florida, Kelly and a friend were able to incorporate the group, design a logo and start work in just a few days.

Since another organization provides support services for women with ovarian cancer in Tallahassee, the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of North Florida chose to focus on advocacy. This year Kelly urged the Florida legislature to pass a bill that would give the ovarian cancer community a seat on a statewide cancer advisory council. The legislation would also give ovarian cancer dedicated space on the Department of Health website, helping spread the word about the disease. The bill has passed both the House and Senate, and is expected to be signed into law in May 2011.

One of Kelly’s priorities is to put a younger face on ovarian cancer. She speaks twice a year at local sororities, and gives talks at several area high schools. Other activities with local colleges include a charity tailgate party each fall and a spring fashion show called “Outfits for Ovaries.” Events that bring in the whole community include a fall Masquerade Ball and an Ovarian Cycle bike ride in May.

Although the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of North Florida is still in its infancy, the passion of volunteers like Kelly has helped the group educate many women in North Florida and raise more than $17,000 for ovarian cancer research. To learn more, visit www.oca-nfl.org.