Camilla & Marc's Ovarian Cancer Campaign Is Fighting For An Early Detection Test & Dr Caroline Ford Is Leading The Way

Ovaries. Talk About Them. That’s the powerful statement that fronts Camilla & Marc’s Ovarian Cancer Campaign. The brand’s latest capsule collection, featuring a selection of tees, crewnecks, hoodies, caps and a tote bag, all emblazoned with its signature slogan, has officially entered its third year. Not only are 100% of proceeds donated directly to Associate Professor Caroline Ford and her team of female scientists at the UNSW Gynaecological Cancer Research Group, but the annual capsule calls for an end to the stigma associated with women’s gynaecological cancers. Much like other years, countless familiar faces lent their support to the recent campaign, including Lara Worthington, Maddison Brown, Phoebe Burgess and Georgia Fowler.

After losing their mother Pam to ovarian cancer when they were only 11 and 13, Camilla Freeman-Topper and Marc Freeman’s campaign has raised more than $500,000 for the research group in the three years since its initial release — an incredible feat that has allowed the team to continue their necessary work, including making strides in their goal of seeing an early detection test move to clinical trials in the next four years, which if successful, would include a simple blood test made available to women globally at their regular GP visit.

“It was a bit of an unusual thing, where I got an email saying, ‘These fashion designers are interested in ovarian cancer, would you be able to host them on a lab tour?’”, Dr Ford explains of becoming involved in the campaign some four years ago. “That was an unexpected message to get as a scientist,” she adds.

In those early meetings something “immediately clicked”, Dr Ford says, beginning a partnership that proudly continues today, with the dual aim of raising awareness and funds for ovarian cancer — naturally, presented through the sleek and sophisticated design ethos of the local label. Without funding from the annual capsule, “we wouldn’t be able to run this project,” says Dr Ford, which allows two full-time scientists to work daily on their mission, as well as provide “consumables and the chemicals we actually use to carry out the experiments.”

“The funding allows us to collect blood from women with ovarian cancer and women in the community, which is a really key part of our project. And that takes time and it needs staffing and infrastructure to be able to happen. The funding is absolutely crucial, to be honest.”

The reality is, there is still no test for ovarian cancer, despite affecting millions of women annually. More often than not, the cancer is found too late for effective treatment, which is why the disease still sees a very poor survival rate, even in 2022 — sitting at around 45%, according to Dr Ford. And unlike other cancers, like breast cancer, it can mean not many women live to tell the tale, or are ready to be the advocates. This is something Freeman-Topper has previously touched on from her own experiences, telling The Grace Tales in 2020; “Sadly there are just not enough women who survive ovarian cancer to be strong advocates, meaning the disease doesn’t get the backing it so desperately deserves.” Nearly three decades on from the Freemans’ loss, the statistics remain barely changed. “It can be a really brutal and fast disease, so women and their families are often quite traumatised by the experience and not necessarily in a place to advocate for the disease,” says Dr Ford. “And that's in sort of stark contrast to something like breast cancer, which affects 10 times as many women, but has a 95% survival rate and has an amazing number of warriors, essentially.”

For the first time, Camilla & Marc’s 2022 capsule collection extended to include sizes for men and children, something that is a further effort to break down the notion that this disease is a “women’s only issue.”As Dr Ford says, this inclusion offers up an opportunity for much broader conversations to happen across Australia and globally about menstruation and gynecological diseases. “All of these things that are such a significant part of women’s health have been sort of shrouded in secrecy and stigma for far too long. I think we’re at quite an exciting time where a lot of women are raising their voices about these things. Men should be talking about it. This affects families and affects communities, and so it affects everybody.”

Beyond research and funding offered by the Ovaries. Talk About Them. campaign, Dr Ford says women should be having open conversations around what’s ‘normal’ when it comes to their monthly cycle. “That will help people distinguish what are the symptoms of ovarian cancer and what are just normal fluctuations. And while there are symptoms of ovarian cancer, the problem is that they are quite similar to symptoms of other diseases and also just daily life — pelvic pain, abdominal bloating, fatigue. The distinction for ovarian cancer is that those symptoms are persistent.”