Women's Health

Creating a ‘Sparkle of Hope’ for Women Suffering from Ovarian Cancer

Hortenese Momou is a woman like no other. Her inspiring story with ovarian cancer begins in 1995...

Creating a ‘Sparkle of Hope’ for Women Suffering from Ovarian Cancer

Photo: channel3000.com

Hortense Momou is a woman like no other. It is in 1995 that her inspiring story began when she and her husband left West Africa and moved to the United States. After living in New York City for a little while and then moving to Fargo, North Dakota, where they lived for 10 years, Hortense and her husband finally made Madison, Wisconsin their home.

In 2009, a near tragedy led Momou to the decision that she wanted to become a nurse. It was six years later when Momou was able to go for it, and she enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing.

On a summer day in 2015, Momou felt a sudden and uncomfortable pain. “I was taking a class, and I felt some pain on the side of my stomach, and it was radiating to my back” she said. She went to the doctor who suspected that it might be a urinary tract infection and prescribed her some antibiotics. However, by the end of the summer, the pain kept persisting and Momou checked herself into the emergency department. It was there that she asked doctors to take a closer look. “They did some tests. At the beginning they thought it was gallbladder. But then they did imaging tests and found out I have cancer, ovarian cancer. They told me stage 4” she said. This stage of cancer means it had spread outside the peritoneal cavity (the cavity that includes the pelvis and the abdomen) and to other parts of the body. In Momou’s case, it metastasized in her liver.

And just like that, with no previous symptoms and one year before finishing her nursing degree, Momou had to step back from her lifelong dream of helping others to fighting for her own life.

The power of persistence

After her diagnosis, Momou underwent several rounds of chemo and surgery. With the help of Dr. Ryan Spencer, gynecologic oncologist at UW Carbone Cancer Center, she went right back to studying for her degree. “I told him, ‘This is important to me, help me out, work with me, and we’ll do it’. And he’s like, ‘I know, I understand, this is your goal, this is important to you, I’m going to work with you’” said Momou.
“She’d come into the office all throughout that time and say, ‘You know all I want Dr. Spencer? I just want to have enough energy to take my test’. I’m like ‘You’re still taking classes?’ And she’s like, ‘Oh yes, I have to graduate’” recalled Dr. Spencer.

In January of 2017, Momou’s cancer returned, but she did not let it stop her from becoming a nursing school graduate. Often times, she was getting chemo treatments in one arm and taking an exam with the other. “If you see even what she’s done after she’s had this diagnosis, it’s as much as people do when they’ve never had a cancer diagnosis. It’s just remarkable” said Dr. Spencer. Momou’s fellow students would record lectures for her and Dr. Spencer did all he could to help her reach her goal, all the while caring for her wellbeing. “I found someone who wanted to help other people so bad, and I can relate to that. I can understand what her goals were, and how much that mattered to her life as a human being” said Dr. Spencer.

In May of 2018, Momou graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing. “I didn’t do it alone. I have all the curators I can have, all the backup that I can have, and I have my faith that got me through” she said. And as a special guest, Dr. Spencer was in the crowd, cheering her on. “Dr. Spencer was able to work with me and work with my goals” said Momou. “He gave me the kind of treatment I wanted and respected what I wanted and, together, we reached that goal” she added.

Nowadays, Momou continues in her battle against ovarian cancer with maintenance chemotherapy. She stresses that it is a battle that she is not afraid to take on. “The key is to not give up. No matter what you hear, don’t give up” she said. And she has a team that is ready to support her along the way. “Hortense could have two days, two weeks, two months, two years, 20 years, I don’t know. But she’s going to do special things with every moment she has. It’s just the kind of person she is” said Dr. Spencer.

Live. Love. Sparkle

As Momou matches on, she remains undaunted with a smile on her face and focused on her future in whatever it may bring. “Cancer may take over every cell of your body, your physical, emotional strengths, your financial resources, and even your dignity. However, you have to fight back to preserve your spirituality and your identity. Doing so, you are still a winner even when the disease kills you” she said.

On September 29th of 2018, Momou was honored at the Sparkle of Hope benefit for the Gynecological Cancer Program at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. Sparkle of Hope is an inspiring event that is dedicated to raising awareness and funds for women’s cancers, including ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, uterine cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer. It is a collaboration between the UW Carbone Cancer Center and the OBGYN Division of Gynecologic Oncology.

This inspiring benefit event features dinner, silent and live auctions, and a heartwarming roster of caregivers and patients of the UW Carbone Cancer Center and the OBGYN Division of Gynecologic Oncology. All of the proceeds from the event go to the University of Wisconsin for groundbreaking research on approaches to improving prevention, screening, and eventually, a cure for gynecologic cancers. Over the last ten years, more than $300,000 have been raised by devoted volunteer committee, past sponsors, and supporters in the fight against cancer.