Robyn Russo never thought as she walked the streets of Paris with her mother in early January, that her mom would be diagnosed with a rare cancer later the same month.
“It was really out of nowhere,” she said.
Russo, a graduate, and college professor, who today lives in Arlington, VA, is now planning to run for her mom, Vicki Russo of , who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer shortly after the trip to Paris.
The Pittsburgh Half Marathon takes place on May 6, when Russo and a group of friends plan to hit the pavement in honor of her mom. They'll raise awareness and funds to help battle ovarian cancer.
Russo said she and her mom always talked about going to Paris and she wanted to take her mom for her 60th birthday. The two spent a week strolling the French city, and even hiked the 300 steps at Sacre Couer. Little did they know, her mom’s cancer was also lurking.
“She’s probably had it for quite some time. Unlike breast cancer, you’ll never feel anything… One day you’re perfectly fine and then you feel like you’re bloated.”
Russo said her mom had been feeling a bit bloated and had pain in her abdomen, but nothing that seemed alarming.
“No one thought it was any bit of a big deal, at all,” Russo said.
Her mom was diagnosed with Stage 3C ovarian cancer in late January, a revelation that came as a shock to everyone. Russo said her mom underwent her first surgery on Feb. 8 to have tumors taken out. Some were found on her intestines, and their removal created other complications, which meant a second surgery to repair internal leaking. The process, Russo said, has taken a swift toll on her mom, who had always been healthy before.
“It’s been a very, very rough road for her,” Russo said.
Ovarian cancer creeps up on you like a monster in the dark. Through research, Russo learned there is really no way to detect the cancer, which begins in the ovaries. Women go to the doctor every year and are tested for cervical cancer, but not ovarian cancer. Only 3 percent of women diagnosed with cancer end up with ovarian cancer, Russo added.
Before receiving the news about her mom, Russo and a group of friends signed up early with plans to run the Pittsburgh half marathon after participating last year. This is the third half-marathon she’ll run. She often gets together with her friends to run on Sundays in D.C. Not only are they training together, but the group recently held a barbecue fundraiser in D.C., serving teal cocktails and cake pops while asking partygoers for $1 donations per marathon mile to help raise awareness.
Russo said it’s been hard living so far away. She wanted to lend support in some way and decided to use the marathon.
“I decided what the hell. I am going to try to fundraise,” she said.
Vicki Russo teaches math at Marshall Middle School in North Allegheny School District. She has taught for more than 30 years at various school districts, but is now on medical leave.
Several years ago, after completing her graduate work at Georgetown University, , while teaching English and American literature in Budapest. She and her mom had always talked about going to Paris together and she’s glad they did it this year.
“That was something we planned for a long time,” she said. “She said she wanted to go so we decided to go.”
Her mom is now undergoing chemotherapy every 21 days, and recently landed back in the hospital on a late night -- yet another complication due to just how intense the surgery was. Researchers are studying ways to improve ovarian cancer treatment and looking into ways to detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage — when a cure is more likely, according to MayoClinic.
Russo said that's precisely why she and her friends are fundraising, because if there were a better test, she said fewer women would end up in this situation.
Russo’s two sisters Kimmy and Ashley live in Pittsburgh and are doing a great deal to help out their parents during this time.
"A big part of the reason why I'm trying to raise money is because, like a lot of people watching someone they love suffer, I feel very helpless. Also, working in the D.C.-region, I hate that I am not home to help as much as I want to. My sisters, Kim and Ashley, and my dad, are all working so hard as caretakers.”
All proceeds raised will go to the Ovarian Research Cancer Fund. Donations can be earmarked for Russo’s cause at http://ocrf.kintera.org/russo.
This story originally appeared on Sewickley Patch.