When Camilla Freeman-Topper and Marc Freeman were just 11 and 13, their mother died from ovarian cancer. The founders of Sydney fashion label Camilla and Marc haven’t spoken publicly about their loss before, but yesterday the siblings launched a campaign to raise awareness about the disease – and to raise money to help find a cure.
The “Ovaries. Talk About Them.” campaign aims to fund research into an early-detection test for ovarian cancer. Every day four women in Australia are diagnosed with the disease, and every day three women die from it. The siblings have designed two limited-edition T-shirts, with all proceeds supporting the research of Associate Professor Caroline Ford at UNSW, who says the high mortality rate can partly be attributed to the fact that there’s no early-detection test. She says only 43 per cent of diagnosed women survive the first five years, but most will eventually die from the cancer.
“We can’t pick it up in the early stages,” she tells Broadsheet. “With breast cancer you have self-checks, mammograms, screening – we have no population testing for ovarian cancer at all. The science is not advanced enough to figure out an appropriate test for the population.”
Adding to this, she says, is the fact that symptoms aren’t well-known in the community. Many women and their doctors attribute the symptoms of ovarian cancer – including abdominal bloating, an increased need to urinate, pelvic pain and increased abdominal size – to other issues such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or endometriosis. By the time it’s diagnosed, the cancer has often already spread to other parts of the body, making it difficult to treat.
Freeman-Topper and Freeman have chosen to support an early-detection test because their mother was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. “Marc and I have been talking about doing something for a while, but as Marc just had a baby, and my daughter is now 11 – the same age I was [when my mother passed away] – it seemed like the right time,” Freeman-Topper tells Broadsheet. “We were seeing so many people being affected by this disease, people close to us.”
The siblings want to raise money to fund research, but they’re equally motivated to raise awareness around the disease itself. “There’s a large taboo around ovaries,” says Freeman-Topper. “Breast cancer has such a large amount of awareness around it, and so much funding – there aren’t the same taboos around breasts. Let’s talk about ovaries; they’re amazing, they’re why we can have babies.”
Ford agrees, saying that a huge reason why breast cancer is so well-funded and treated is simply because there are more survivors to advocate for it. “We’re trying to get breast-cancer survivors to advocate for their sisters with ovarian cancer,” she says.
The designers collaborated with Perth-based artist Rina Freiberg on the first T-shirt design, which has an abstract female form on the front and the phrase “Ovaries – Talk About Them” printed on the back.
“We’re really proud of it. It’s all about women wearing it and feeling empowered. The second shirt [which is available in black and white] says ‘power’ [on the front] and ‘solidarity’ [on the back],” she says. “We wanted to provide a unisex tee, so men and women could both be included in these conversations. It’s not just women who are affected … We wanted to bring everyone together.”
Freeman-Topper says they did a significant amount of research before deciding to support Ford’s work. They’re impressed with her knowledge and feel confident directing the money towards her research.
“It’s important to create awareness and put funding into an early-detection test,” says Freeman-Topper. “Most women are really diagnosed at stage three or four. That’s largely too late.”
The T-shirts are now available online and in Camilla and Marc boutiques nationwide.