Mother-Son Duo Gets Passionate About Ovarian Cancer Awareness

Ryan Mitstifer is not like most 15-year-old boys. This weekend, while others may have been found hanging out with friends or catching up on schoolwork, Ryan is out spreading the word about ovarian cancer.
BY Brielle Urciuoli
PUBLISHED April 28, 2018
Ryan Mitstifer is not like most 15-year-old boys. This weekend, while others may have been found hanging out with friends or catching up on schoolwork, Ryan is out spreading the word about ovarian cancer.

“Friends would ask me why I missed school, and then tell me they don’t even know what an ovary is,” Ryan said in an interview with CURE at the 2018 National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) Annual Conference.

At the conference, Ryan and his mother, Meredith Mitstifer, PsyD, survivor and NOCC Board Chair, were advocating for ovarian cancer awareness – a cause that is very dear to them.

About a decade and a half ago, Meredith was trying to get pregnant, but to no avail. So, she and her husband decided to undergo in-vitro fertilization (IVF). But right before she did, her health care team noticed a mass on one of her ovaries. After being told to wait it out to see if it would shrink, the mass had doubled in size within a month. She was told to have it removed.

“When I went in for surgery, I did the typical pee-in-the-cup pregnancy test, and alas I was naturally pregnant,” she said in an interview with CURE.

But with the good news also came some bad news: a diagnosis of clear-cell epithelial ovarian cancer. Meredith was 30 years old.

At that time, Meredith had two options: she could abort the fetus or continue on what would be a risky pregnancy and hold off cancer treatments. She decided on the latter and underwent treatment with carboplatin and docetaxel after giving birth to a healthy baby boy.

“It takes a very special type of woman to say, ‘I will try to save my child’s life for mine.’ She went for it, and with the technology and amazing doctor, we survived,” Ryan said.

“He was definitely the motivation behind my drive,” Meredith said.

Now the mother-son duo are both involved in advocacy efforts for other women and families who are affected by ovarian cancer. One key message they want others to know is that they do not need to go through an ovarian cancer diagnosis alone – a mistake Meredith made at first.

“Despite being a psychologist, I kind of isolated myself at first,” she said. But eventually her friend invited her to an NOCC run that was being hosted in the Philadelphia area, where the Mitstifers used to live.

“That really got me out there, and I realized the impact of being around other women,” she said.

After she moved to Tucson, Arizona, Meredith got involved in the local chapter of NOCC as a volunteer and then in 2015 became a member of the NOCC Board of Directors.  Most recently, she was inaugurated as the Board Chair for the national organization.

“Community impact is important for our families, loved ones and caregivers,” she said. “It’s good for our children to know that they are not alone.”

Ryan echoed that thought, but with his own twist. He decided to join the advocacy space because he wants to be sure that no child loses their mother to cancer.

“I want to get the word out there so more moms can be there for their sons,” Ryan said. “My big thing is for teenagers not to lose their mothers, because I got to keep mine.”
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