As a trained trapeze aerialist, Rita Karageorgos-Moore knows that the show can’t go on unless you’re brave enough to let go. But unlike flying through the air, having the courage to share her ovarian cancer story was not something with which she had the greatest of ease.
Rita, 49, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after back pain and a belly so swollen that her tiny frame appeared to be five months pregnant, landed her in the emergency room in July 2021.
“I thought that I would be really quiet about it, and just keep it to my immediate family and very close group of friends,” she says. However, after following other ovarian cancer survivors on social media, she quickly realized her own experience could act as a safety net for others facing cancer.
“I was inspired by others sharing their stories. How they’ve handled their illness with grace and determination. They showed me how healing vulnerability and connecting with others can be. I feel obligated to share my story, knowing it could be the lifeline that someone else needs to get them through their journey.”
Rita also wants to be a voice for what is often deemed the “silent killer” — with few early symptoms, ovarian cancer is often diagnosed in the advanced stages, when effective treatment is more challenging and often has less positive outcomes.
“It’s great to bring awareness to all cancers, but even more so ovarian cancer. I realize how little is out there for ovarian cancer patients compared to breast cancer or even prostate cancer.”
And since actions speak louder than words, Rita is also fuelling the life-saving work at BC Cancer (where the OVCARE team’s ground-breaking research is having global impact) by participating in Workout to Conquer Cancer.
“Physical activity has always played a role in my life. I’ve always believed in the power of daily movement and its ability to heal the mind, body, and soul.”
While she has paused the trapeze training, Rita assumed she’d be able to continue her more grounded athletic pursuits — trail running with her two dogs and teaching yoga — during her treatment.
“I recognized that my activity was going to have to be dialled back, but I really thought that I would have the strength, especially mentally, to push through and stay active. It was actually the opposite. I really struggled getting myself going every day — especially the first few days after chemotherapy.”
In addition to intravenous (IV) chemotherapy, Rita also underwent intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy, in which a port was put in just below her rib cage to deliver drugs directly to her abdomen. The side effects — a fluid-filled, distended belly for days after leaving the hospital and neuropathy (nerve damage that affects the feeling and movement in the hands and feet) — hit her hard.
“It, for lack of better words, kicked my ass,” she says. “During treatment, there were many days when my body could only handle taking a few steps from the bed to the bathroom.”
Four months post-treatment, and on a maintenance drug, Rita is slowly starting to get her energy back. She’s not ready to fly just yet, but her feet aren’t firmly planted on the ground either. “I’m still trying to maintain a level of training at circus school, I’ve been doing handstands for the last couple of weeks.”
Cancer taught me that everyone is on their own journey, she says. “It’s easy for us to say, ‘What’s holding you back? Just get out there and do some walking, keep active. It’s good for you.’ We all know that. But when you’re in the situation I was, you recognize just how difficult that is.”
Now that Rita’s feeling like herself again she’s excited to get active every day — for herself, and for others — through Workout to Conquer Cancer. “It’s an opportunity to give back to BC Cancer so they can focus on research, and working tirelessly to treat and support those affected by this disease.”
“This May, I want to move for all those who have had cancer affect their lives. I want to move for those who can’t, for those in treatment, and to honour those who aren’t with us anymore.”