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Honoring a promise to help find a cure

Mike Skovran holds one of the teal scarves he intends to sell to raise funds for ovarian cancer research at his home in Sykesville Oct. 12. _- Original Credit: Paige Olson/submitted photo
Mike Skovran holds one of the teal scarves he intends to sell to raise funds for ovarian cancer research at his home in Sykesville Oct. 12. _- Original Credit: Paige Olson/submitted photo (HANDOUT)

Mike Skovran, of Sykesville, made a promise to his wife, Phyllis, before she died of ovarian cancer in September 2013.

He promised he would do all he could to raise funds and awareness about cancer, especially ovarian cancer.

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Ovarian cancer — cancer of the ovaries, the reproductive organs responsible for producing eggs and female hormones — is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death among American women, according to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund's website.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are difficult to diagnose, said Nancy Long, a volunteer who runs the central Maryland chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.

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"Symptoms are very vague and what many women have all the time anyway," Long said, listing bloating, indigestion and back pain. "It's difficult to diagnose."

Often the cancer is at an advanced stage when discovered, Long said.

"If it is discovered early, prognosis is wonderful," Long said. "Once [the cancer is] at stage 3 or 4, there is not a good chance of survival."

Skovran's wife did everything by the book, he said, but she was diagnosed too late.

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"Phyllis went and got all her checkups, mammograms — everything regularly, faithfully," Skovran said. "All of a sudden — boom! She didn't know anything about it. Had no reason to, really. No family history whatsoever."

Phyllis was diagnosed at age 67 and died four years later at 71.

"Never once did she complain," Skovran said of his wife, who had chemotherapy regularly throughout the years she was ill. "Never once."

Despite the seriousness of ovarian cancer, Skovran said, it isn't given the attention it deserves.

"Breast cancer is the one that gets all the publicity," said Skovran, 77. "The problem with ovarian cancer is that it is hard to diagnose. Too many times you're diagnosed in the late stages."

Their daughter, Theresa Olson, said more needs to be done to spread the word about ovarian cancer.

"Women are so concerned about breast cancer," Olson said. "I think that we need to put more emphasis on this type of cancer. It is so deadly. Women are often diagnosed in the late stages and the survival rate is not very good. It's a devastating disease."

Today, Skovran is doing his best to keep the promise he made to his wife before she died, including learning to knit scarves to sell as a fundraiser.

"I'm going to learn how to do it," Skovran said, firmly. "One of my sisters in Cleveland will teach me."

The idea to knit scarves came from his granddaughter, Kelly.

"I was doing some searching for a program," Skovran said of his desire to organize some type of fundraiser. "I wanted to do a biking fundraiser, but they're tough. Too many people doing them."

That's when his granddaughter started knitting.

"She said she was making a scarf for ovarian cancer," Skovran said. "I said 'it sounds like something I could get involved in.' "

While Kelly has yet to finish her scarf, Skovran has collected seven teal scarves completed by friends and family members.

The scarves are teal to match the color of ovarian cancer awareness. He is still deciding how to market the scarves, though he knows all proceeds will be split between both the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. He is hoping he can sell his scarves through one of the two ovarian cancer organizations or perhaps through the Internet. He might try local festivals, too.

"They are the two main organizations that support ovarian cancer," Skovran said. "OCF is strictly research. The NOCC's goal is to educate the public and to get involved in research."

But making scarves isn't the only way Skovran is keeping his promise. He has already donated more than $3,000 between the two organizations through a variety of fundraisers.

"Mostly what I've done is aluminum cans," said Skovran, who collects the cans from neighbors and friends and gives them to his son, who takes them to a recycling center in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania.

"You get almost nothing for them. It is a lot of work and you get about nothing for it, but it is the principle of it. I promised I would do everything I could," Skovran said.

He has also sold boxes of candy, he said.

"Different people took a box and sold them," Skovran said. "I sold them at my church's festival."

Skovran also drives cancer patients to their appointments or treatments. As a volunteer for the American Cancer Society, Skovran took a course, had a background check and was approved to be a driver for the organization's Road to Recovery program.

"This is really an incredible service," said Vivienne Stearns-Elliott, director of division communications for the American Cancer Society. "Sometimes for patients, the most challenging thing is finding transportation. They are not in physical shape. Their families are working or they have kids. Our volunteers are invaluable."

His oldest grandchild's college tennis team at Sacred Heart University, in Connecticut, also held a fundraiser in support of ovarian cancer in April 2014.

"My granddaughter's tennis coach became aware of what happened and the tennis team had a fundraiser up at the college," Skovran said. "They sold T-shirts which they had made for the occasion. It had the university's logo on the front and [the words] Ovarian Cancer Research Fund on the back. The girls wore them during the tennis match."

Skovran is a volunteer with the central Maryland chapter of NOCC in Annapolis.

"He's in Sykesville and I'm in Annapolis, and he comes to several of our meetings," Long said. "When he leaves a meeting, he always has a goal."

One of his goals after one meeting was to make sure more newly diagnosed women received the organization's teal tote bags, Long said.

"He said his wife never got one," Long said of the teal totes, which are filled with a blanket, information on ovarian cancer and a DVD with stories of hope. "It is a nice thing for a woman to receive."

"He goes to the hospital with gift bags of information and resources," Olson said. "He's very, very passionate."

Now, because of Skovran's determination, the Greater Baltimore Medical Center gives out the totes to women, Long said.

"Breast cancer is so out there. They've done their job. People know about lumps and mammograms," Long said. "With ovarian cancer, very little is known about it. We're trying to get the word out."

While family obligations kept him from participating this year, Skovran and his team, Baba's Girls — Slavic for grandmother — walked in the coalition's run/walk at Westfield Annapolis mall in September 2014, Long said.

"He is doing whatever he can to keep the awareness going of ovarian cancer," Olson said of her father. "He promised he would do as much as he could for the cause and that's what he's doing."

To Skovran, helping however he can is just a matter of keeping his word.

"I am just an individual," Skovran said. "I made a promise."

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For more information about ovarain cancer, or for volunteer opportunities, contact the Central Maryland Chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition at 443-433-2597.

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