Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecologic cancer in the U.S. and causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Ovarian cancer often goes undetected due to its subtle symptoms, but if diagnosed and treated early, treatment success and survival rate can increase significantly.
To help build awareness about ovarian cancer among women and recognize World Ovarian Cancer Day on May 8, we share the inspiring story of ovarian cancer survivor Elizabeth Courter, who uses her creative knack to promote well-being for herself and others.
Coping with Cancer, Creatively
When Elizabeth Courter was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2011, she turned to her faith and creative expression to aid in the healing process. Her penchant for crafting and dressing up in elaborate costumes around various holidays has not only helped to foster her own healing and mental well-being – even in the face of recurrent disease – it has brought positivity and hope to others coping with cancer, and appreciation for the dedication of health care providers.
Chief among her craft creations are three-dimensional Kirigami (paper sculpting, which involves cutting and folding paper) trees. “I've found making them to be therapeutic and meditative during my cancer journey,” said Elizabeth. “In the beginning, I was so stressed and anxious that I could hardly sit in the waiting room of my doctor’s office. To calm myself I tore an ad out of a magazine and started to make a Kirigami tree by folding and tearing the page. Since that moment, I always carry a small pair of folded scissors on my key ring and a short stack of paper squares. I can make the trees anywhere – standing in line at the grocery store or in the chemotherapy chair. I give the trees away, and it brings a smile to people. Positivity has a ripple effect.”
During the holiday season, Elizabeth makes Kirigami trees to symbolize T.E.A.L.®, which stands for Tell Every Amazing Lady about Ovarian Cancer, and Take Early Action & Live, and the color teal, which represents ovarian cancer. The trees, along with paper angels and snowmen, adorn the lobby and offices of Summit Health Cancer Center and other medical facilities in the community during the holidays and are available for anyone to take. Fully embracing the holiday spirit, she also dons a Christmas tree costume when she visits the cancer center to donate her creations.
Over the years, she has shared thousands of paper crafts, including hearts for Valentine’s Day; shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day; and pumpkins on Halloween. With an extensive collection of baskets, Elizabeth also creates and donates custom baskets featuring hand-decorated chicken eggs and silk flower arrangements for Easter. She gets into character by dressing up in a bunny costume, delighting everyone in her path.
“With her unique stamp of creativity, Elizabeth brings a dose of cheer to other patients, her care team and entire staff in the infusion suite,” says her medical oncologist Dr. Roshini George, who specializes in breast and gynecologic cancer. “Her spirit, individuality and resilience are remarkable, and it’s wonderful to see her doing well and soon marking the 10-year milestone since her diagnosis.”
Elizabeth added, “My mission is to bring a smile to people. I simply give people something nice to think about during their treatment, or to talk about with their family or friends rather than dwell in their circumstance. There’s always a way to bring light to darkness.”