Pulling Back the Curtain on Gynecologic Cancer

Sharie & Heather Fitzenhagen

Sharie & Heather Fitzenhagen

September is Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month in the state of Florida

The roots of this designation lie in Southwest Florida with the Betty Allen Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, the brainchild of Sharie Kearns.

State Representative Heather Fitzenhagen is a board member of the organization and sponsored a resolution last year hoping to foster more awareness of these types of cancer. The foundation was first established in 2011 as the Betty Allen Ovarian Cancer Foundation. Betty Allen is Kearns’ mother.

Sharie Kearns and her mother, Betty Allen

Sharie Kearns and her mother, Betty Allen

Twelve years ago, Allen was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer and not only did she survive, but she is still thriving today thanks to early detection. The experience was so impactful that it set Kearns on a new life path.

“I was 46 years old when my mom was diagnosed, and I knew nothing about ovarian cancer or the symptoms,” explains Kearns. “It just shocked me that smart educated women think ‘because I get my pap I’m fine.’ They walk out with a negative pap smear but could still have ovarian cancer.”

Ovarian is the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers
and there is no screening for it

Dr. Orr & Betty

Dr. Orr & Betty

On top of that, most women are unaware of the symptoms.

Kearns’ mother had just lost her husband and was experiencing fatigue and bloating. She never mentioned it to anyone, attributing the symptoms to grief. Then one day she fell in a store and injured her hip. An MRI revealed there was more going on in her body than a bruised hip.

Through the ordeal, Kearns became a relentless advocate for her mother and ovarian cancer. With the encouragement of her mother’s physician, Dr. James Orr, she channeled her energy into creating a foundation to help others. She remembers, “He knew (Dr. Orr) there was a need for education and there was just nothing out there at the time.”

Dr. Orr currently sits on the foundation’s medical advisory board.

After the foundation incorporated in 2011, inquiries began flooding in for help with other gynecological cancers such as cervical, uterine, vulvar, and vaginal.

“According to the American Cancer Society, every five minutes a woman in the U.S. is diagnosed with a gynecological cancer,” Kearns says.

With a bigger picture coming into focus, the board changed its name and vision to protect women and girls from gynecological cancers through education, research, advocacy, and service.

Although Kearns’ vision is a big one, the current focus of the Betty Allen Gynecologic Cancer Foundation is on education. Kearns and her board are armed and ready to go into the community offering free educational workshops (Know the 5 and Survive) to residential communities, colleges, businesses, religious organizations, and women’s groups.

Betty Allen herself is known to make cameos at these events. She says, “I’m so proud of my daughter for doing this. It gives me chills.”

It is estimated that in 2018 more than 110, 000 women will be diagnosed with gynecological cancer and more than 32,000 will succumb to it

Kearns advises, “If you have a pain that hasn’t been there and persists for two weeks or more, or if you have any other symptoms for two weeks or longer, you may want to consult your physician.”

She continues, “I can’t prevent cancer but I can educate.” While a high percentage of local women are handed a stage 3 or 4 cancer diagnosis according to the advocate, she says, “Hopefully in a couple of years Dr. Orr will call me and say they are coming in at stage 1 or 2 instead. The earlier gynecologic cancer is detected and treated, the higher the survival rate. Then I know we’re doing our job.”

The foundation encourages everyone to visit its website at to educate yourself on the symptoms and risks of gynecologic cancers and sign-up to attend the Know the 5 and Survive Workshop. The foundation also has a variety of volunteer needs, sponsor, and donor opportunities.


Betty Allen Gynecologic Cancer

13300-56 S. Cleveland Ave. Ft. Myers, FL 33907

P: 239-935-8325  |  F: 239-466-4567