Rockin’ doctors raise awareness for cancer ‘below the belt’

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Vagina isn’t usually a word you expect to see at the top of a story when you open your morning paper.

And that’s exactly the problem, according to Dr. William Winter, a gynecological oncologist.

Winter, who treats women’s cancers in Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, was the featured speaker at a documentary screening in Whitefish on Thursday night.

While breast cancer is no longer a taboo subject, cancers “below the belt,” such as vaginal, vulvar, endometrial, cervical, ovarian and fallopian are dirty words, Winter said.

He is attempting to change that with his gynecologic oncologist rock band and “N.E.D.: No Evidence of Disease,” a documentary film about the band.

“Breast cancer has a pink ribbon,” Winter said. “But as you guys are about to see, gynecological cancer has a rock band.”

Before the screening of the film, he led everyone in a chorus of the word “vagina.”

The film follows the six doctors in the N.E.D. band as well as many patients fighting against these cancers. More than 90,000 Americans are diagnosed with a woman’s cancer every year.

Winter said he would love to change careers if he could.

“It would be my dream to end women’s cancers completely,” he said. “I’d love to work myself out of a job and into another one as a full-time rock musician.”

Ming Lovejoy, who organized the Whitefish event after seeing the documentary in Portland, said her mission of the night was the same as the N.E.D. doctor/musicians.

“We want to make it acceptable to talk about vaginas and vulvas and ovaries,” she said. “I think the real cradle of civilization is there.”

Ticket sales helped raise money for WINGS Regional Cancer Support and Flathead Cancer Aid Services. A silent auction with dozens of pieces of art also brought in money for the two cancer aid services.

After the screening of the emotional hourlong film, Winter told the audience it still impacted him.

“It’s hard to watch that film every time,” he said. “It never ceases to amaze me and touches me every time.”

People living with, fighting against and dying from cancer make up the bulk of the film, and many of those in attendance had “walked the walk” of fighting cancer.

Despite the fact that many people have had someone in their lives who fought gynecological cancer, awareness remains dangerously low.

“The average delay of diagnosing obvious vulvar cancer is six months,” Winter said. “Three months of that is just embarrassment from the patient. The other three? From the doctor not wanting to look at it, not wanting to deal with it.”

A second, shorter film titled “What Every Woman Should Know” was scheduled to be screened, but the Whitefish event ran long.

It is available free on www.NEDTheMovie.com and goes over symptoms and signs of various types of gynecological cancers:

q Ovarian: Can be signified with a feeling of bloating or gassiness.

q Uterine: Often denoted by “spotting” after menopause or during a non-period week.

q Fallopian: Excessive watery discharge is a common symptom.

q Vulvar: Itchiness where there shouldn’t be can be a sign.

q Vaginal: “Dots, clots, and new white spots.”

q Cervical: Bleeding after intercourse could be a sign.

There are fewer than 1,000 gynecological oncologists in the world, and many doctors may not know such a specialist is available for these women’s cancers.

The N.E.D. band is dedicated to breaking the silence on these cancers. The movie runs on American Public Broadcasting.

“Our motto was, ‘We don’t suck,’” Winter said of his band. “When we raise this awareness of women’s cancers, we actually do more for women than when we are in clinic or in the hospital.”

For more information, visit www.NEDTheMovie.com.


Reporter Ryan Murray may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at rmurray@dailyinterlake.com.

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