BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Throughout September, Bridgewater residents will notice teal ribbons displayed at the municipal complex, public parks, schools and residences throughout the township in recognition of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
These ribbons have been placed by a group of caring volunteers, known as “volun-teals,” dedicated to raising awareness about ovarian cancer and its subtle symptoms.
The “Together Teal” campaign was originally started by late Bridgewater resident Renee Edwards, who became an advocate in response to her own battle with ovarian cancer. Her family – including husband Jamie; daughter Jordan, 17; and daughter Leah, 19 – has continued the effort in her memory since her passing in 2016.
Jamie and Jordan Edwards launched this year’s campaign at the Bridgewater Farmer’s Market Sept. 8, where they were joined by other volun-teals to distribute teal ribbons and awareness information from the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC).
Jamie Edwards said his wife was first diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer in February 2014 at a routine checkup.
“We did not know much about the disease,” he said. “All of the symptoms, she experienced them we just knew nothing about them. We didn’t put the pieces together. They can be disguised and written off as other things.”
“She was an amazing woman,” added Edwards about his wife who was the owner of Chez Colour, in Bridgewater.
He said that her symptoms included fatigue and back pain, which she attributed to being on her feet all day at work.
According to the NOCC materials, one in 75 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and nearly 70 percent are diagnosed in advanced stages. Signs and symptoms can include pelvic or abdominal pain, back pain, persistent gastrointestinal upsets, bloating, trouble eating or feeling full quickly and the need to urinate frequently or urgently.
If detected in its early stages, survival from ovarian cancer is 90 to 95 percent. There is no early screening test for ovarian cancer and it is not detectable by a routine pap smear.
“What she wanted to do was make sure that other people in Bridgewater were aware of the signs and symptoms so that if they experience them they can advocate for themselves and go to the doctor and hopefully catch ovarian cancer early,” Edwards said. “If you catch it in the early stages, it’s very treatable.”
Mayor Dan Hayes has endorsed an official proclamation recognizing September as National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and recognizing the “Together Teal” campaign. A “Blaze of Teal” wall in the municipal complex throughout September displays teal ribbons in recognition of individuals impacted by ovarian cancer.
Residents who would like to include the name of a loved one or request teal ribbons to display can contact email@example.com or 908-725-5750. There is no cost.
Jordan Edwards and fellow Bridgewater-Raritan High School senior Alexa Pappas have been “volun-teals” with the campaign since seventh grade. Pappas first became friends with Edwards when her mom was battling the illness.
“I knew Renee for one year before she passed away,” said Pappas. “This means a lot to me. I take part in it every year. The whole Edwards family means a lot to me.”
“Each year there’s a bigger and bigger turnout,” she added. “I feel like a lot of people don’t really know how big of an impact ovarian cancer has.”
The friends placed teal ribbons at the high school, intermediate and elementary schools and the Basilone Field, and they also spread awareness through the Facebook page, Bridgewater Teal Together.
The efforts started by Renee Edwards also inspired Bridgewater resident Donna Abitabilo to become a “volun-teal.” At the time, she did not know Edwards, but read about a ceremony being planned for ovarian cancer awareness.
“When I saw it advertised, I said I have to go,” she said.
Abitabilo lost her mom to ovarian cancer 21 years ago, just four months after she was diagnosed.
“At that point nobody knew anything about it,” she said. “She was advanced. If 21 years ago people were more aware, maybe my mom would have been diagnosed sooner.”
Abitabilo has been involved in the effort for the last five years, and displays teal ribbons on her street in Bridgewater. She said she continues to be inspired by the courageous work Edwards started, recalling that Edwards spoke at a Together Teal awareness event just weeks before her passing.
“It’s Renee all the way,” she said. “She did every ounce of this, it’s incredible. She blew me away. Her strength blew me away.”