Physician Suzanne Wedel Is Ovarian Cancer’s Newest Champion
Suzanne Wedel was bloated.
She thought it might be travel, perhaps, or the aftermath of a few skipped gym visits. Not typically one to complain, she mentioned it to her husband, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, who suggested she see a doctor. It turned out to be a symptom of metastatic ovarian cancer.
“It’s bloating—I mean, how many times have you been bloated?” Wedel says. “I wasn’t having trouble fitting into my jeans or anything. It’s a vague symptom.”
It’s precisely because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are so vague that Wedel, who is CEO of medical transport company Boston MedFlight and a Marblehead resident, has made it her mission to help find a way to catch the disease early—all while undergoing aggressive chemotherapy herself, in a sobering transition from physician to patient.
To start, Wedel is spearheading a fundraising initiative called XOXOut Cancer, named for her signature letter sign off, “xoxo.” So far, the group has raised more than $50,000 to go toward developing new early diagnostic methods. “It turns out that the technology to develop early screening tests is all there,” she says. “What isn’t there is how you put it together, because there’s just not a lot of funding for it.”
Part of the problem, Wedel says, is that ovarian cancer has very few champions, in large part because women are often diagnosed late in life and at late stages of the disease. “There’s really nobody that’s advocating for this disease because, candidly, it’s all metastatic and people aren’t in very good shape when they get this diagnosis,” she says. “I thought, Well, I’ve got to do something about this.”
Wedel is uniquely well-suited to taking on the role of ovarian cancer crusader—and patient—thanks to her decades-long career in medicine. “I was never afraid of the tests and the studies that needed to be done, because I understood the medicine,” she says. “I would just start talking to patients and try to put them at ease. Patients listen to other patients a lot, and my journey was so different because I didn’t have the fear piece.”
At the very least, Wedel says her journey from doctor to patient has changed her perspective on the healthcare industry. “It makes you so much more aware of what patients experience,” she says. “I think as care providers, we’re often so unaware of how terribly difficult it is for patients to do what we want them to and what we ask them to.”
But if Wedel gets her way, fewer people will become patients in the first place. She says XOXOut will meet in the coming weeks to strategize about its dual missions of raising awareness about ovarian cancer issues and finding ways to stop it in its tracks.
“Ovarian cancer is a horrible cancer, it’s diagnosed late, it affects women, and there’s not a lot of championing for early detection and awareness,” she says. “I started feeling like we have to do better for our children and our grandchildren. We just do.”
To donate to XOXOut cancer, visit massgeneral.org.