Women We Love: Olivarez helped establish local resources for ovarian cancer

March 15, 2018 GMT

Editor’s Note: In observance of Women’s History Month, The Monitor is recognizing local women who inspire us. This is the fourth of eight profiles on those who made our 2018 list of “Women We Love,” a series we’ll publish every Monday and Thursday in March.

As a 26-year survivor of ovarian cancer, Marlynn Olivarez works to raise awareness for the disease and provide local support.

Now retired, Olivarez taught elementary in the Mission and PSJA school districts and has called McAllen home for 40-plus years. She was diagnosed after the birth of her second child.

At the time, Olivarez said, the news was “basically a death sentence.”

The disease knows no age limit and, despite ranking as the fifth-greatest cause of cancer-related deaths in women, is not discussed enough. A statistic by the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance reports within this year, 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and of that number 14,000 will not survive.

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Mujeres Unidas, the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation and Texas Oncology are a few of the nonprofit groups which Olivarez has served.

TEAL — or “Take Early Action and Live” — is the motto and official color for ovarian cancer awareness.

Approaching this September for ovarian cancer awareness month is the annual indoor cycling fundraising event, “Ovarian Cycle.” Olivarez organized the first event at the Gym at Uptown in 2016, and this is the third year the nationwide “cycle” has been held locally.

Thanks to sponsors, supporters and participants, $10,000 has been raised for research, and Olivarez remains inspired to continue “paying it forward.”

“This day is the only one I know for sure that I have, so if I can make a positive contribution in some way each day, then it’s been a great day,” she said.

After joining the San Antonio chapter of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance in 2012, she began speaking before a group of medical students from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio “to bring to reality the face of cancer” and educate the future health professionals.

The educational alliance also supports “Survivors Teaching Students,” and while no such chapter exists yet in the Rio Grande Valley, Olivarez is working with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley medical school, as well as the nursing and physician assistant programs, to have it incorporated into the curriculums.

In July 2015, along with fellow ovarian cancer survivor Michelle Escobar Gonzalez, Olivarez brought the first ovarian support group to the Valley. Meetings for the group, which has grown to eight members, are held the first Wednesday of each month in McAllen and exist to provide comfort and encouragement.

Women, Olivarez believes, tend to have a great amount of passion in assuming leadership roles. A daily reminder of hers is to seize the day.

“The diem isn’t going to carpe itself,” she said, and cites it as her personal mission statement.

Registration for the Ovarian Cycle begins in June through ocrfa.org. Information for the monthly support group can be found at facebook.com/rgvovariancancersupport.

rvillalobos@themonitor.com