Do you know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
If you answered “no,” then you haven’t met Anamarie Rayburn.
Rayburn, 60, of Powell has made it “a labor of love” to educate and empower women facing the daunting battle with ovarian cancer. She is president of the Patricia A. DiNunzio Ovarian Cancer Fund, named for her sister, who died in 2014 after a five-year struggle with ovarian cancer. Pat DiNunzio started the fund in 2010, a few years before her death at 52.
For her 50th birthday, Rayburn and supporters organized a fashion show as a fundraiser for her “fashionista” sister. Now in its eighth year, Runway to Awearness is held each September, coinciding with Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. It has raised more than $220,000 for women with gynecological cancers, and continues to grow.
“We knew that she was going to die from ovarian cancer, so she said, ‘I want to leave a legacy.’ That’s truly what Pat really wanted—she always wanted people to have an experience,” Rayburn said.
The fund distributes “comfort bags” designed by DiNunzio herself while she was undergoing treatment.
“It has a water bottle, patient information packets, hard candy to help with nausea, hand sanitizer so you can keep your hands clean, ChapStick because your lips get chapped, and other things like an eye shield so you can actually rest,” Rayburn said.
Ovarian cancer’s early common symptoms—abdominal bloating, loss of appetite, back pain and changes in menstruation—often are mistaken for something else. When her sister was diagnosed, Rayburn said she was dismayed at the lack of patient education available.
“We’ve just always made it our mission for women to know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. I want them to know that we are in this fight with them and they are not alone,” Rayburn said. “You don’t know when it’s going to be someone you know that’s battling this disease. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t talk about it.”
The fund has purchased blanket warmers, TVs and furniture for patients at both Ohio State University’s James Cancer Hospital and the OhioHealth Hospice Kobacker House.
In 2015, a $3,000 scholarship was launched for Ohio State University nurses pursuing degree advancement in cancer care. “You’ve got to take care of the people who are taking care of the patients,” Rayburn said.
Last year, Room 25 at the OhioHealth Hospice Kobacker House was dedicated in honor of DiNunzio and the fund she started. “I think she would be very pleased that we took the little seed of her concept and grew it into a beautiful flower,” Rayburn said.
Rayburn was nominated as an Everyday Hero by her sister-in-law, Julianne DiNunzio, who said Rayburn puts in “countless hours just to make this awful experience a little more pleasant.”
“The fund does so much good for the many women suffering from ovarian cancer,” she said. “When Anamarie found out she was nominated as an Everyday Hero, she was happy for the fund—not for herself, but for the fund. She knows it’s another way to get the word out there and bring more attention to the fund and hopefully be able to help more people.”
Rayburn said she’s guided by a simple principle: “This patient is in the fight for their life; what can I do differently? How can I make it better? How do I reach out to more people?” Rayburn said. “I just really have a passion to try and make things right for the next patient.”