Almost nine years ago, Samantha Bacchus was overcome by a crippling cough. A doctor herself, she requested a CAT scan.
“I was coughing so much that it felt like it was coming from my toes,” she said.
On June 13, 2014, a life changing diagnosis followed: stage four cancer.
“I know where it’s coming from,” she told the doctor. “My ovaries.”
Now an eight-year ovarian cancer survivor and a Gainesville pediatrician, Bacchus has found a support system in the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit founded to honor a life taken by ovarian cancer.
On March 25, Bacchus, who now sits on the Sandy Rollman board of directors, hosted the Sandy Sprint, a 5K and storytelling event to raise funds and awareness for ovarian cancer, at her Newberry farm, Prancing Horse Farm.
GSK’s Our Way Forward program, which calls on survivors to own their stories, collaborated with The Moth, a nonprofit whose mission is to encourage connection through live storytelling, to put on the local event.
This year, along with over 100 registrants, six survivors joined the walk: A victory in Bacchus’ eyes.
“That’s amazing to know that I’ve actually reached six survivors,” she said. “We had almost 40 years of survivorship today alone.”
Following the run, guests gathered on the farm to watch a dressage performance featuring horses and riders from Sunrise Farm. Guests – four-legged and two-legged – celebrated survival through song, dance and storytelling.
The event culminated with empowerment: Two women joined Bacchus in sharing their stories of survival.
Alisa Manzelli made the trip to Newberry from her home in Phoenix to share her story: one of finding joy in loss.
Ovarian cancer robbed Manzelli of her fertility at just 29.
“My story really focuses on losing my fertility and finding happiness in the everyday, little things in life and redefining what happiness means to me and what my definition of a family looks like,” she said.
She finds that happiness in hikes with her boyfriend and their chihuahua, “Rupaul’s Drag Race” and in a community of women fighting for one another.
For those currently in the fight against ovarian cancer, she and Bacchus stress the importance of telling your story and listening to your body.
“Every day I’d look at myself in the mirror and I’d see the scar, I’d take a daily medication,” Manzelli said. “This is going to be a part of my life forever, so I would just tell people to share your story and get out there.”