Ellen never imagined she had cancer. She was 45 years old, working full-time as a veterinarian, traveling, and taking photographs. But she was experiencing nagging abdominal pains, fatigue, and an urgency to urinate that became increasingly hard to ignore. In July of 2014, after palpating a mass in her abdomen, she was diagnosed with Stage IIIC ovarian cancer.
Ellen underwent major abdominal surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center to remove her ovaries, uterus, part of her colon, and lymph nodes, resulting in a successful "debulking."
After six rounds of intensive chemotherapy, she was in remission. However, a year later, the disease recurred, as it so often does, and Ellen continued treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation, and clinical trials, for another two and a half years.
According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women ages 35-74. Given the vague symptoms of ovarian cancer, most women are diagnosed in late stages when five-year survival rates are as low as 20%.
Additional information on ovarian cancer research and resources can be found at the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance.
After Ellen's ovarian cancer diagnosis, photography, which had been a hobby, became a passion. Although there were days she was too tired to lift her camera, photography was the only activity that could distract her from thinking about her diagnosis. Sharing pictures online kept her socially engaged, and editing photos of the beautiful places she had explored inspired her to fight hard for nearly four years.
Ellen established a project called Shooting for a Cure to give a face to ovarian cancer, educate women about its symptoms, and raise funds for an early detection test through the sale of her photographs. Proceeds from the sale of her photography were donated to the Drapkin Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ellen passed away on June 8, 2018. Today her photographs adorn the walls of the chemotherapy rooms at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center, as Ellen had requested, to help brighten the spirits of other cancer patients. And her legacy of philanthropy through photography lives on in this memorial competition.