As women, we may face health challenges throughout our lives. At Aleenta Health Club, we’ve previously covered topics including endometriosis and PCOS. These experiences can be tough to handle and talk about, but it’s important to raise awareness for these issues so we can help destigmatize, increase research funding, and one day find a cure. It has helped to bring breast cancer and endometriosis to the forefront, with more people around the world knowing and supporting these causes than ever before.
To bring more women’s health issues to light, we sat down with Kerri Monteiro, an SA local who is making strides in the fight against gynaecological cancer – and wants you to join her! But first…
What is gynaecological cancer?
Gynaecological cancer is an umbrella term for cancers that begin in the female reproductive system. There are 7 types:
- Ovarian cancer
- Uterine cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Vaginal Cancer
- Vulval Cancer
- Fallopian Tube Cancer
In 2021, over 6000 women were diagnosed with gynaecological cancer; that’s more than 12 women every day (i). Gynaecological cancers make up approximately 9.3% of cancers diagnosed in women, with the most common type being uterine cancer. It is the 4th most common cancer affecting women after breast, colorectal and lung cancer, with an estimated 1 in 23 women expected to be diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer by the age of 85 (ii).
The good news is that over the years the survival rate for several of these cancers has improved greatly. Previously, survival rates have been low due to these cancers often found and diagnosed in their late – and deadlier – stages. As awareness and research support increases, we are able to make earlier diagnoses… and hopefully in the future, find a cure.
How can you join Kerri in the fight against gynaecological cancer?
For the past few years, Kerri has been running a fundraising event right here in Adelaide: the Gynae Gala. It’s a fabulously fun night that consists of a 3-course meal, drinks, live entertainment and fundraising opportunities. All money raised at the Gynae Gala is donated to the Australian New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG) and ensures more women have access to clinical trials and treatment which is upheld by research. It costs approximately $1500 to enrol a woman in an ANZGOG clinical trial, so this support is crucial.
We sat down with Kerri so we could share more about her and the Gynae Gala:
Tell us a little about yourself!
I'm 36 years old, a wife, a mum to two, a paediatric oncology nurse and a mad fundraiser for gynae cancer and my son’s soccer club. I like motorbikes and am a crazy Valentino Rossi fan. I like driving fast cars and I love watching my husband drift his skyline, I also don't mind having a go in our paddocks too.
We are a family who has been rocked by cancer too many times. Our son had kidney cancer at 7 months of age (cured), my mum - endometrial cancer (remission), my dad - prostate cancer (remission), mother in law - melanoma (remission), father in law - presumed pancreatic cancer and lost his battle nearly 3 years ago, grandparents - endometrial cancer, melanoma, bowel cancer, mesothelioma (all sadly passed).
I am the founder of the Gynae Gala but wouldn't be here without my amazing team! They all go above and beyond and help to keep me sane. We all volunteer our time, we all pay for our own tickets to the gala we all do this out of the kindness and goodness of our own hearts and because we long for a day where there is a cure for these devastating diseases.
Why did you decide to support gynaecological cancer research specifically?
In 2018 my mum was diagnosed with stage 3 endometrial cancer. It all started with some abnormal post-menopausal bleeding in early January and this quickly escalated after an ultrasound showed some abnormalities that were likely cancer. She had a hysterectomy and then started chemotherapy and 6 weeks of daily radiotherapy. This was a horrible time for her. It was so draining. She lived an hour away from radiotherapy and by half way through she was too exhausted to make the trek herself. My dad was still working full time and needed to keep his small business and income coming in. Most of the time I would take mum to radiotherapy but sometimes other family members did. This is just one example of how cancer affects the whole family, we all pulled together to get mum to her appointments and get her through this tough time. She completed this part of treatment and had a routine scan. NO! the cancer had spread - on treatment!! She had multiple spots in her lungs and also some clots. So now she had to start daily injections to get rid of the clots and we had conversations with her oncologist about how the aim of treatment had now changed... it was unlikely they could cure her, she was now stage 4 and hopes of cure faded.
Anyway, she went on to have more treatment, and to everyone’s amazement, she kicked cancers butt!!! ALL CLEAR SCANS! How amazing was my mum? She went on to have a few more all clear scans and we celebrated every time. Then in April 2019, she had an awful headache. We didn’t think much of it because she was a migraine sufferer... but it didn’t give up. A day passed, still no better. By the second day, I was getting worried, and when I noticed she couldn’t walk well and would vomit when moving I began to worry even more. I called her oncologist and organised an urgent scan. We had to get an ambulance to get her to hospital. The doctor told us she had a "whopping great big tumour at the base of her brain" and needed surgery within 24 hours. So, the next day she went in for surgery, 7.5 hours later she was out - moving and talking thankfully! She then had 3 days of a high intensity radiotherapy to kill off any cancer cells left behind. This brain cancer contained endometrial cells, so it was the same cancer she originally fought. She continues to be on 3 monthly full body scans, monitoring all the sites of previous cancer and at this moment remains CANCER FREE! We know at any time, it could raise its ugly head again, but for now, we live and enjoy each day.
This is set to be the 3rd Gynae Gala. How did the Gynae Gala originally start?
In 2018, we decided to hold an awareness afternoon tea fundraiser for endometrial cancer. Mum had completed treatment and was doing well so we thought this was a good time to get all our friends and family around to celebrate and raise some money for research and awareness. I couldn’t find a specific endometrial cancer organisation but i found this campaign called "save the box"... “the box” referring to female reproductive organs. Mum enjoys a good laugh and so do our friends, we felt like this theme was quite a good fit for us. Mum would often say "you can’t save my box but hopefully we can save yours". The “Save the Box” campaign raises awareness for the 7 types of gynae cancers so endometrial cancer fitted into this. The money raised would go to the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology group, the peak national gynaecological cancer clinical trials organisation for Australia and New Zealand who run the "save the box " campaign. We had about 50 friends and family meet together and we raised $4000. We pulled the event together in a month and it was a real success. We had so much interest and everyone said let’s do this again!
So, the next year, we decided to hold a high tea. Mum loves a high tea, and 2019 had seen her have her brain cancer battle so we thought what better way to celebrate than to throw a high tea. We had 120 people attend our high tea and we raised $8000! It was such a beautiful event. And once again, everyone spoke of it for weeks after and said let’s do it again. We thought about doing a gala dinner. Until now, the events had been primarily women focused and we wanted a way to open the events up to the men in our lives but also our guest’s families too. So, we started planning for our first Gynae Gala (thanks to my sister for the name). And then COVID-19 hit... we watched and waited, wondering if it was the right thing to do. Then we thought "cancer doesn't just stop because of COVID, why should we!"
We forged ahead, held our first gala and had almost 200 guests and raised $16000. Can you see a theme with the amount raised here? It was super popular so again we held the Gynae Gala last year with 240 guests and $42000 raised (blew that theme out the water)! And here we are in 2022 wondering what magic we can make happen... ticket sales are nearing 350 and we are wondering if we can double last year’s amount raised…?
What is your favourite part of the Gynae Gala? What are you most looking forward to this year?
Oh, there are so many favourite parts...
I love when it's all over because then I know it was a success and everything came together and worked well.
I love getting an email saying "yes we will sponsor you or make a donation."
I love getting hand written notes with donations saying "well done and your work is amazing."
I love when people believe in me and the Gynae Gala and support it.
I love the night and seeing everyone enjoying themselves.
This year we are at a new venue so I am looking forward to seeing how that works too!
What is one key thing you would recommend for women in terms of gynaecological cancer detection?
Listen to your body. If something doesn't feel right, get it checked out, and if the doctor doesn't listen, get a second opinion.
What is your advice to someone recently diagnosed with gynaecological cancer?
Take the drugs (prescribed not recreational – ha!)
There's no extra prize for feeling sick or dealing with pain
Listen to your body
You don't need to be tough and strong all the time
It's ok to cry
Don't lose hope, it's not over 'til it’s over!
What is your advice to friends and family members of someone recently diagnosed?
Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks so much for your time and helping us spread the word!
This year’s Gynae Gala is on the 10th of September at Festival Functions in Findon. If you’re interested in attending, you can get your tickets at the link below:
Stay up-to-date with future Gynae Galas and other local events by following the SA Gynae Cancer Network on Facebook:
(i) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. "Gynaecological cancers in Australia: an overview." Cancer Series 25 September 2012: 254. <https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/gynaecological-cancers-in-australia-an-overview/summary>.
(ii) Cancer Australia. Gynaecological cancer in Australia statistics. 3 January 2022. 11 August 2022. <https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/cancer-types/gynaecological-cancers/statistics>.
Monteiro, Kerri. Kerri Moneteiro's Gynae Gala Sascha Czuchwicki. 8 August 2022.