Volunteers Tom Sorbie

Partners suffer alongside women battling ovarian cancer

Former Langford resident feels loyalty to annual Royal Roads fundraiser walk

Tom Sorbie feels proud about the fact he’s one of few men who have completed the survivors course for ovarian cancer.

The former Langford resident and DND military police officer took the program with his wife, Sue, who had been diagnosed with the disease. The couple worked hard to educate young up and coming doctors and other heath professionals about the symptoms of the disease, which is often misdiagnosed as another illness due to similar symptoms.

Getting the word out about the “whispering death” is what this Sunday’s (Sept. 13) 10th annual Ovarian Cancer Walk of Hope is all about. Sorbie was a major volunteer for the event with Sue until she passed away in 2010 at age 52. He’s since moved to Medicine Hat, Alta. to be closer to his daughter’s family, but is happy to be here to participate in it.

“I could go to the walk in Medicine Hat, but my heart is here, “ he said. “This is where we started this project. I always say my drive across the country is my contribution to ovarian cancer research.”

Sue survived more than six years after diagnosis, but in that time devoted much of her time, along with her eventual caregiver Tom, to raising awareness amongst young medical staffers about the disease, and later raising funds for the cause.

Sorbie pointed out this week that fundraisers for Ovarian Cancer Canada, the parent organization overseeing related support activities and events across the country, have raised roughly $19 million to date. That’s not exactly a modest figure, but he compared it to the tens of millions raised annually for breast cancer research and support, money that has boosted survivor rates.

As much as anything, Sorbie hopes to help inspire women to be vigilant when it comes to finding solutions to health problems that could well become fatal. His wife received a variety of diagnoses, from irritable bowel syndrome to urinary tract infection. Given that she was in her 40s, her symptoms were at one point chalked up to “women’s problems,” a.k.a. menopause, and even to mental illness.

Once she was definitively diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Sue volunteered for every research project she could in hopes that a cure or treatment might be found that would help future sufferers of the disease, Sorbie said.

“Sue knew there was something wrong, but she just didn’t know what. Women have to be taught that they’ve got to be brave and have confidence in their ability to seek out a second opinion.”

Walk of Hope co-organizer Nicole Fredrickson started the Island fundraiser in 2006 with her brother Phil, a year after their mother died of ovarian cancer.

Fredrickson said the event is not only a great way to support the cause and bring families together who have gone through this ordeal, it’s a great way to get educated about ovarian cancer.

“I just think it’s important to have everyone come out,” she said. “For me the biggest thing is bringing awareness to men, women, teenagers … Ovarian cancer does not strike at any (specific) age.”

As for Sorbie, who will serve as the national body’s ambassador at the Colwood walk, the event provides him with a source of peace, five years after losing his wife and best friend.

“It’s easier now; I can cope. In the first two years, I couldn’t even discuss it. Now I’m more comfortable talking about our experiences,” he said. “This is like a healing process, so when I talk to people about it, it helps me and hopefully it’ll help other people cope with it.”

Registration for the walk gets underway at 9 a.m. at the lower parking of Royal Roads University. Distances of 2.5 or five kilometres are available. Free post-walk refreshments, plus live entertainment, a children’s fun area and door prize draws are planned. Parking is free on lot P3 below the lower field.

Click this link for more information.

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