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Learning to Listen

Hundreds participate in the Walk for the Whisper.

For several weeks last year, Charlene Bartol experienced pains in her stomach. “And my belly got really big,” said Bartol of Nokesville, Va., adding she knew something was wrong but didn’t know what.

“At first, they thought it was my liver,” said Bartol. After weeks of tests, Bartol, 48, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “It’s so hard to diagnose. Finally, a Cat scan found out for sure,” said Bartol.

Eight rounds of chemotherapy last year pushed Bartol’s cancer into remission. “It was tough for a while,” said her son, Adam Bartol. “First, it looked like there was no hope, but she’s so strong and fought through it.”

WEARING THE SIGNATURE teal T-shirt for ovarian cancer survivors, Bartol participated Saturday in the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s (NOCC) 6th annual 5K Run/Walk for the Whisper at Reston Town Center.

Bartol, who walked in the event for the first time, led a team of about 15 friends and family members called “Charlene’s Angels.”

“I’m overwhelmed,” she said Saturday, referring to the hundreds of people who participated. “I just keep crying.”

Bartol joined dozens of other survivors to bring awareness to the disease, but she also drew strength from each step to once again fight the cancer. “I’m in my second bout with it,” she said.

Bartol plans to rely on the same strategy that got her through it the first time. “You have to stay positive and gather strength from friends and loved ones,” said Bartol. “You’re going to have some real bad days, but you have to know it’s going to get better.”

ACCORDING TO the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer accounts for 4 percent of all cancers in women and ranks fifth as a cause of women’s deaths from cancer. Called "the silent killer," the disease usually isn't discovered until it reaches advanced stages.

In addition to raising money to help find a cure, NOCC works to spread awareness about the disease to increase early detection. The event’s theme — “Ovarian cancer: It whispers, so listen” — refers to early disease symptoms that are often subtle and non-specific. Women are urged to see a doctor if they notice innocuous symptoms like bloating or gas for more than two weeks.

Each year the event in Reston grows. Jennifer Blackwell, Reston Association president, ran in the 5K to show her support. “It’s such a great cause and certainly something not noticed enough, so it’s important to raise awareness,” said Blackwell.

Last year, more than 500 people participated in the event, raising more than $80,000. This year the event raised nearly $120,000 and expanded to include the 5K run.

THE EVENT ALSO honors the memory of people who lost their lives to the stealthy disease. Ruth Gerbec of Reston lost her best friend of 30 years to ovarian cancer. Donna McCaughey Sullivan was diagnosed with the cancer a month after her 52nd birthday in 2000. She died two years later.

“Donna started having abdominal pains,” said Gerbec, “but that’s the horrible thing about ovarian cancer, there’s really no accurate test.”

Gerbec and other members of “Donna’s Listeners” walk each year to honor of Sullivan. “And we’re all here to try to help raise money for research, education and awareness for this horrible and unfortunate disease,” said Gerbec. “Hopefully, they’ll develop an accurate test and targeted treatment.”

“We have to continue to spread the word about how it’s hard to detect,” said Judy Mall, who was Sullivan’s neighbor.