When Shannon Routh was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 32, she had trouble finding even one person who was going through the same experience. She also struggled to find joy-filled events for people going through ovarian cancer treatment. So she vowed to give other ovarian cancer survivors all the things she never had, and that's how Teal Diva came to be.
"I had just gotten back from my dream vacation in France, when I was told I had a rare and aggressive form of ovarian cancer, and I would never have children. It felt like a double whammy," remembers Shannon. "I needed to connect, to belong to a group of people going through this journey. I ended up feeling like the only young person on the planet who had been diagnosed with this disease."
During one of many chemo-induced sleepless nights, Shannon was inspired to create the sisterhood she hadn't been able to find. She'd been keeping a notepad next to her bed, so she could write down her thoughts to combat the insomnia. She started writing down her ideas, and the rest is Teal Diva history.
"The teal comes from ovarian cancer's ribbon color, and my husband provided the word 'diva.' I have absolutely no idea why he would relate that word to me," says Shannon, displaying her signature sense of humor.
Since its founding in 2009, Teal Diva has raised more than $385,000, with much of that going right back into the local community towards celebrating and honoring individuals, community outreach and funding research.
Teal Diva's core focus is survivorship, and the centerpiece of its program is the Teal Diva Retreat, an annual gathering for survivors of gynecologic cancers. "When you're diagnosed, it's like being in a tornado of appointments and treatments. Once everything's done, then you're tossed out and expected to get back to 'normal,' but what's normal? Your normal has been totally stirred up."
Shannon wanted to give survivors an experience to remember; a chance to be pampered, to celebrate life, and to create a sisterhood of women who knew what they were going through. "Every year we whisk our retreat participants away to a fabulous place, and we work really hard to make them feel special, celebrated, and loved," says Shannon. "It's amazing to watch these women go from being strangers to being a true sisterhood in just a few days." Participants are carefully selected through an application process, which is currently open. Learn more here.
Another signature Teal Diva event is the annual 5K Run/Walk, happening May 11 this year at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Uptown Charlotte. This event has grown each year, raising more than $145,000 in four years and almost doubling in participants in 2018. Funds from the 5K go toward the annual retreat, ovarian cancer research, and the Teal Diva Chemo Shirts specially designed for women in chemotherapy treatment.
In addition to celebrating gynecologic cancer survivors, Teal Diva works to empower women of all ages to be their own health advocates. Through speaking engagements with sororities and other organizations, Shannon encourages young women to know the symptoms of gynecologic cancers. She also wants every woman to know that there is no screening test for ovarian cancer — even at the annual OB/GYN exam. No screening test, coupled with the fact that ovarian cancer symptoms tend to mimic menstrual or digestive symptoms, is why ovarian cancer has earned the nickname of Silent Killer.
But it doesn't have to be that way, says Shannon. "Until a screening test is in place for ovarian cancer, it is up to all of us to know the symptoms and ask questions. Catching ovarian cancer in the early stages makes it 90% more treatable in most cases."
Shannon wants us to know the symptoms (persistent bloating, feeling fuller despite eating less, abdominal pain, bladder issues), track the symptoms, and schedule an appointment with a gynecologic oncologist if symptoms persist for two or more months.
Teal Diva started with Shannon's story, but she's adamant that what she has created is about every single woman who has been affected by gynecologic cancer. "I want Teal Diva to be relatable to everyone," says Shannon. "I want other people to see themselves in our story, to know that they belong."
Did this story speak to you? There are so many ways to help Teal Diva celebrate and honor women affected by gynecologic cancer:
The growing organization always appreciates in-kind professional services or training in grant writing, media relations and other operational categories. Contact Shannon to learn more.
Sign up to run, walk, sponsor or volunteer at the Teal Diva 5K on May 11.
Calling all online shopping divas: put your skills toward a good cause by helping Teal Diva stock their retreat gift baskets! Browse their list.
Grace Kennedy is a Huntersville-based writer specializing in storytelling for nonprofits. Learn more at gracekennedy.net.