She is a public figure using her private story to help others.
This week, in an essay published in The New York Times, Angelina Jolie revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed after doctors discovered what could be signs of early Ovarian Cancer - the very disease that killed her mother...
...and Jodie Kavensky's.
"I started the NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Foundation in 2008, the night my mother passed away from Ovarian Cancer," said Kavensky, Founder of the NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Foundation. "My mother's name was Norma. Her sister, Leah, also lost her life to Ovarian Cancer and I promised them that someday I would try and make Ovarian Cancer very, very visible in women's minds."
The NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Foundation located at 1612 2nd Avenue in Rock Island, is a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness and lowering the risks of a disease that doesn't have a lot of survivors.
"There is no early detection test and therefore most cases are diagnosed in Stage 3 or 4, so about 70% of women lose their lives to the disease within 5 years," explained Kavensky. "About 14,000 women each year in the United States die from it and another 22,000 are diagnosed with it."
It's why Kavensky did what Jolie just did -- underwent preventative surgery. Besides their family histories, both women carry a mutation of a rare gene -- BRCA. Women with BRCA have a nearly 65% risk of Breast Cancer and a 30% risk of Ovarian Cancer. Two years ago, Jolie underwent a double mastectomy after testing positive for the BRCA gene.
"No one is immune to Ovarian Cancer unless they have a Y Chromosome and therefore all women and even Angelina - I'm still at risk, but my risk has gone from 40% to 3%," said Kavensky.
"It makes a big difference."
Kavensky said the "Angelina Effect" - which some are calling Jolie's announcement - is making a big difference as well. It's prompting more women than ever to get genetic testing for cancer and become their own advocates for their health.
"Angelina Jolie is certainly advancing our mission and really getting women to know what their choices are, to know what their options are, to know what the risks are, and to know what the symptoms are," said Kavensky.
Kavensky added that over the years, there's been a "huge shift in the landscape." She said more people and survivors are coming forward to help non-profit organizations like the NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Foundation and get the word out about its mission.
The NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Foundation also distributes an array of materials to women. One is the "BEAT the Big O" Card. Kavensky's organization has passed out almost 150,000 in the last 3 years. It lists some of the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:
BEAT stands for Bloating, Eating Less & Feeling Fuller, Abdominal Pain/Lower Back Pain, and Trouble With Bladder & Bowels.
"If women are experiencing some of these symptoms, they should go to a doctor," said Kavensky. "There are tests that can be done to help diagnose the possibility of it, but there's not a flat out screening test so women really have to advocate for themselves."
"If women want to be vigilant and self-advocates for their health, they should know the symptoms. They should know their risk factors - not only for Ovarian Cancer, but Breast Cancer as well - when it comes to the BRCA gene" added Kavensky. "They should get their annual mammograms. They should monitor if there is a lot of Ovarian Cancer in their family. There are tests that can monitor what their specific benchmark should be for the disease."
Kavensky and Jolie both say surgery is not the only option for women since it does have some severe consequences by immediately putting the women into surgical menopause.
To learn more about genetic testing - click here.
To learn more about the NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Foundation, its programs, and upcoming events - click here.