CBU Professor, Dena Edwards Wadden, has always been passionate about community involvement and supporting equitable initiatives. After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the young age of 33, Dena saw an opportunity to use her experience to raise awareness for others. This is when she founded the Teal to Heal event and the Teal at Home Fund through the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation.
Teal to Heal is a free run/walk event that was created in 2022 while Dena was recovering from an extensive staging surgery for ovarian cancer. This event is said to be the largest free event for ovarian cancer in Canada and takes place each year on Mother’s Day. This year, Teal to Heal will take place on Sunday, May 14, at 9:30am beginning in the County Arena Parking Lot (305 Keltic Drive, Sydney, Nova Scotia).
Dena is an Assistant Professor in CBU’s Nursing program and a proud member of the CBU alumni family. Dena graduated with a Bachelor of Science, Nursing (BScN) in 2011 and worked in the Emergency Department at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital before graduating with a Master’s of Nursing – Nurse Practitioner in 2016. She now practices in Primary Health Care.
Although Dena has been a nurse for more than 12 years, she says it was completely different being the patient and not the healthcare provider while navigating an illness. Because there are no Gynecological Oncologists in Cape Breton, Dena knew travel would be necessary to Halifax in these instances, but she hadn’t previously considered the added stressors and barriers to care for Cape Breton women.
“The Cancer Center at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital is incredible and offers many services to those diagnosed with gynecological cancer, but travel to Halifax is typically required for some appointments, specialized treatment options and surgeries,” says Dena. “I couldn’t help but think of all of the added stresses Cape Breton women face in addition to the cancer diagnosis like the cost of travel and accommodations, not having access to a vehicle, not having sick time from work, having to pay for childcare during treatment and appointments and not having private insurance, to name a few. Outcomes for Cape Breton women are based on so much more than their cancer. The Teal to Heal event raises money to offset these additional financial stressors for Cape Breton women and their families, allowing them to fully focus their energy on their diagnosis.”
While one original goal of the Teal to Heal event was raising funds for the Teal at Home Fund to help with such needs, Dena’s biggest goal was to raise awareness for the disease. As Dena continued to research ovarian cancer, she found that close to 70 per cent of women diagnosed are found to have late stage disease. “Unfortunately, late stage ovarian cancer has a poor prognosis with less than 30 per cent survival within five years of diagnosis,” explains Dena. “I was one of the lucky ovarian cancer patients to have been diagnosed in stage one, as less than 15 per cent of individuals are diagnosed at this early stage. Survival rates for stage one ovarian cancers are 90 per cent, so early detection literally saves lives.”
While ovarian cancer is known as the silent killer, Dena prefers to refer to it as a subtle killer. “More often than not, there are very vague symptoms present,” says Dena. “Early satiety (feeling full more quickly), lower back pain, abdominal bloating and/or pressure, pain with intercourse and change in bladder patterns are all some of the possible symptoms of ovarian cancer.”
By bringing attention to these symptoms, Dena hopes to be able to help just one person. “Ovarian cancer has not seen an improvement in life expectancy in the last 50 years, so now is the time for awareness and research,” says Dena. “My hope is that my nursing students will see the importance of advocacy for health related issues and realize that small initiatives can lead to big changes both at a local level and a national level.”
Here at CBU, we are so lucky to have passionate employees like Dena leading the next generation of nurses. “Disease processes, preventative disease and health promotion is something I love to teach my nursing students,” says Dena. “The biggest message I strive to get across is to focus on the patient as a whole as opposed to only focusing on their diagnosis. As nurses, we have the power to advocate for our patients and communities while ensuring that policies and regulations meet patient needs and providing safe and competent care.”
This year, Teal to Heal is proud to honour Madonna Jackson and Kelsey Pyke, who both passed away from ovarian cancer. There will be live music, a wellness expo, a silent auction, face painting, children’s activities, food trucks and so much more. Last year’s event raised more than $116,000 to directly aid Cape Breton women and their families facing a gynecological cancer diagnosis.
To donate to the Teal at Home Fund or to sign up for this year’s Teal to Heal event, visit www.tealtoheal.ca or call the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation at 902-567-7752.