A vow between a dying daughter, her mother and her sister is being kept today to keep a story of hope alive in the midst of a dark diagnosis. "J's Hope" raises awareness for ovarian cancer in memory of Julianne Guidry, who died of ovarian cancer in 2012.
Just four years after graduating from Barbe High School, Kaitlyn Guidry's big sister, Julianne, began feeling sick. "She had the bloating, the abdominal pains. She usually complained of sharp pains," said Kaitlyn.
Those symptoms are at the root of a variety of medical problems, from irritable bowel syndrome to appendicitis. But when Julianne's stomach started growing like she was pregnant, surgeons discovered a huge tumor. "Whenever they removed the mass, it ended up being a 13 pound tumor," said Kaitlyn.
That tumor had been growing on one of Julianne's ovaries. The diagnosis: ovarian cancer, a hard to detect cancer found on the tissues of the ovary. Oncologist/Hematologist James Gaharan with the Memorial Medical Group explains, "The problem with it is not that it's necessarily that much more aggressive, just that it's in a place that can get to be fairly advanced before the individual starts to have any symptoms."
Dr. Gaharan began treating Julianne after MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston exhausted everything they could do. "She had done 45 rounds of chemo, 25 rounds of radiation and then had about five surgeries," said Kaitlyn.
Ovarian cancer is difficult to treat, because the common signs like abdominal pain, bloating and urinary or bowel problems often show up too late. "By the time you have all those things, which are the most common symptoms, the disease may well be already advanced," said Dr. Gaharan.
That was the case for Julianne, who had a rare form of the disease, causing tumors to spread throughout her body. "She never acted like she was scared," said Kaitlyn. "She told my mom she wasn't scared. She told us that God was using her as a tool."
When Julianne died at the age of 23, Kaitlyn and her mom followed through with a promise to share Julianne's story. They created a non-profit group named "J's Hope" to raise awareness and Kaitlyn is now in school to hopefully become a medical assistant for cancer patients. "I feel like not just anybody can do that," she said. "It takes a special person, and once you've been touched by that, you understand what they're going through."
22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, and fewer than 50 percent of them will live for five years. That is more than enough reason for Kaitlyn to keep spreading J's hope. "Someone does care about ovarian cancer and is trying to get the word out as much as possible, even if we can just affect one person's life by telling her story, it's worth it."
Kaitlyn and her fellow students at Delta Tech in Lake Charles are raising money for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. She and her mom are also organizing a Painting with a Purpose event in August to raise more funds for research. To connect with J's Hope, click here.