Cheeky ladyballs campaign gets attention for ovarian cancer

Daily Brew

[Model Elly Mayday, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, supports Ovarian Cancer Canada’s ladyballs campaign. PHOTO COURTESY: Lane Bryant]

A ballsy new ovarian cancer awareness campaign is fuelling online discussion about the difficult-to-detect and deadly disease.

“Women have balls too. And they’re at risk,” one of the campaign’s advertisements says. “Ovarian cancer kills five Canadian women every day. Have the ladyballs to do something about it.”

Ovarian Cancer Canada’s new ladyballs campaign encourages all women to discuss the risks and symptoms of ovarian cancer, which is the most fatal women’s cancer in the country. About 2,800 are diagnosed with the disease every year in Canada, according to the not-for-profit organization, and 1,750 die annually.

“The fact of the matter is that there’s been little done about building awareness about ovarian cancer,” Karen Cinq Mars, vice-president of marketing for Ovarian Cancer Canada, tells Yahoo Canada News.

In order to take the discussion about the disease mainstream, the organization launched a national awareness campaign with and the related online, print, television and radio spots.

“That would move us from what was a clinically talked-about disease to a main-stage conversation,” Cinq Mars says.

Though age puts women at higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, all women are at risk of developing the disease, the organization says. And because it’s so often detected in later stages, importance of the symptoms and advocacy for proper testing is important.

The ladyballs metaphor is obviously meant to bring to mind the oft-used refrain to “grow a pair” — and given that ovaries and testicles are both gonads, the comparison makes scientific sense. And awareness campaigns — notably the well-known Movember initiative — for men’s cancers like prostate and testicular often make cheeky anatomical references.

Ovarian Cancer Canada did look at the success that awareness campaigns for breast, ovarian and prostate cancers have had in making the discussion of somewhat-taboo body parts something everyday, Cinq Mars says.

“It’s okay to talk about them,” she says. “It’s okay to talk about ovaries. And [we looked at] how do we bring that up in a way that could be contemporary, but also we wanted to get to that concept of, how do we do something about it.”

Unfortunately, the lower survival rates for ovarian cancer has hampered the ability to build a community of survivors who can push the conversation and the research forward, Cinq Mars says.

While testicular cancer has a high five-year survival rate — well over 90 per cent in Canada — the news is not as good for ovarian cancer. There’s no reliable screening test for the disease, which means it’s often not detected until in its later stages. And the five-year survival rate for Canadian ovarian-cancer patients is about 45 per cent.

“We can’t build that strong community. We keep losing women,” Cinq Mars says. “Ovaries give life, but continue to take the lives of so many.” 

There are symptoms of the disease despite the lack of a screening test like a Pap smear, however. They include persistent abdominal bloating, a feeling of fullness, difficulty eating, pelvic or abdominal pain, and urgent or frequent urination. These can be symptoms of many other conditions, serious or not, but if you have any of them and they are new, frequent and persistent, they should be mentioned to your physician.

Online reaction

Some online criticized the campaign for its indirect reference to testicles and for tying the idea of toughness to something generally associated with male anatomy. 

“Survey says 1000 women have never referred to ‘lady balls’ to mean guts/strength. Not a sexist campaign just…say ovaries,” tweeted Michelle Balaban.

“Ovarian Cancer Canada: I’m all for raising awareness and funds for cancer. Great work! But I will never refer to my ovaries as #ladyballs,” tweeted Laurel Buss.

But others said that detractors of the ads are ovary-reacting. 

“#Ladyballs? Whether you like the phrase or not it sure has people talking — I say that’s a success,” tweets Lindsay Bissett.

The campaign has the support of Elly Mayday, a Canadian model who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her late 20s. 

“It took a really long time to get diagnosed with advanced-stage ovarian cancer,” Mayday said on Breakfast Television. “Educate yourself, because having ladyballs is actually about having the grit to talk to the doctors.”

And some said that regardless of whether or not the campaign is in good taste, it’s getting attention — and considering the poor outcomes for ovarian cancer, that’s the most important thing.

“May not be the right thing to say or the right way to do it but everyone talking about #ladyballs is bringing awareness to Ovarian cancer!” tweeted Lola Bradfield.

That attention even brought down the organization’s website earlier Tuesday, due to higher-than-usual bandwidth. 

“It’s not used to all this attention,” Cinq Mars says of the site. “I’ve talked about ovarian cancer more in seven days than in the seven years I’ve been here.”