Since losing her mother to ovarian cancer, Cristina Martins Sinco has become more devoted than ever to raising public awareness about the disease, advocating for ovarian cancer patients and encouraging men and women to be aware of its early symptoms.
“There’s no definitive testing for the disease, like a Pap smear for cervical cancer or mammogram for breast cancer," said Sinco, president and co-founder of the Teal Journey Ovarian Cancer Foundation. "The only way to help save lives, until there’s a cure, is through early detection.”
Established in 2016 with co-founders Gary McKinsey and Jay Connor, the Santa Maria-based nonprofit depends on its dedicated board and a pool of volunteers who make possible annual fundraising events, including a fashion show luncheon and a golf tournament.
By the end of 2017, the Teal Journey had already made its first significant cash contribution to Mission Hope Cancer Center. It’s $18,000 donation was earmarked for genetic counseling and testing for local cancer patients.
It has also promoted public awareness by offering talks, lectures, group presentations to service organizations, clubs and anyone who will listen.
“Our mission, quite simply, is to focus on advocacy and awareness for early detection, and then to support women up and down the Central Coast affected by ovarian cancer, and to help support their offspring and families,” Sinco said.
According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. About 22,530 women in the United States will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2019. About 13,980 women will die from the disease.
“There isn’t a cure, but if we can find more of this cancer in Stage 1 or 2, their chances of a better quality of life and longevity is so much better for them,” Sinco said.
The cause has touched each co-founder very personally. McKinsey lost his wife to ovarian cancer; Connor, a multitude of family members to a variety of cancers; and Sinco, her mother to ovarian cancer.
“My mother was such an amazing woman who believed in advocacy for all cancers even before she had it herself," Sinco said. "I thought: What better way to honor her than carry that on myself?”
Today, she is a Teal ambassador for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and an advocate for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance. Sinco attends their conference annually and has the lobbied on Capitol Hill for federal funding.
A nurse for 25 years before she quit to provide full-time care in her mother’s last six months, Sinco’s deep understanding of patients’ needs, medical systems and health education is apparent.
“People need to advocate for themselves, demand testing. It could be a matter of life and death," she said. "We don’t want to cause pandemonium and have people freaked out, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
The greatest challenge to detecting ovarian cancer is that early warning signs mimic other conditions and diseases.
“We’ve all had these signs and symptoms at some point in our lives: bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain, feeling full after eating very little, urinary issues including frequency or urgency," Sinco said. "These women are bounced around between their primary care providers and specialists, and by the time they’re diagnosed, they’re already in a late stage of the disease.”
She encourages women to know their family, to listen to their bodies, to seek help and, if there’s a history of ovarian or breast cancer in the family, to get genetic testing and counseling.