Like many women with ovarian cancer, Joan Wyllie was misdiagnosed by multiple doctors before learning she had stage IV ovarian cancer. Once she learned what was causing her symptoms, Joan recalls, “For some reason, I was not one bit afraid. I knew I would be doing something [to help women with ovarian cancer] but I didn’t know what. I did not want other women to be afraid, once they received their diagnosis.”
Joan decided to form a nonprofit dedicated to ovarian cancer. She took the first steps to establish an organization while undergoing chemotherapy. The name of her group, Nine Girls Ask, was inspired both by the nine physicians who misdiagnosed Joan and the nine women in her family: Joan herself, her daughters and her granddaughters. “Our ages range from 8 to 68,” she says. “We want to know why there’s not a cure for ovarian cancer.”
Nine Girls Ask became a nonprofit in October 2008 and held its first meeting in March 2009. Six months later the group hosted its first event, a fundraising lunch that drew 400 people. “It was such a huge success,” recalls Joan. Today that event is in its fifth year; the Celebrate Life luncheon will take place September 14 in San Diego. Each year’s event raises money for research and “is full of fun and hope. We’re letting women know there are other women out there like them.” The luncheon is now so popular that 577 of 600 tickets to this year’s event were sold out before the invitations officially mailed.
Letting women with ovarian cancer know that they are not alone remains a key part of the mission at Nine Girls Ask. The group provides one-on-one mentoring to women; Joan herself works with about 52 women, while other volunteers mentor 20 to 25 women. “That’s nearest and dearest to my heart,” says Joan.
In addition to raising money for research and mentoring women, Nine Girls Ask also works to raise awareness of the disease. Through a new program called I-CAN (I Celebrate Awareness Now), the group places information about the symptoms of ovarian cancer in doctors’ offices around Southern California.
Nine Girls Ask became a Partner Member of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance to extend its reach beyond San Diego. “Sometimes bigger isn’t better,” says Joan. “We decided to keep Nine Girls Ask local here in San Diego, and started looking for a national organization that raised awareness. I just felt like the Alliance was the place for us to partner with.”
Both Joan and Nine Girls Ask have anniversaries coming up: five years since the organization was created and, for Joan, five years of being cancer free. “I’m very blessed to have found my mission at 63,” says Joan. “This is what I’m meant to do now. One day I will pass it down to my daughters and my granddaughters. I want this to go on forever.”