When the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) first contacted Ripa about working with them, she admits she didn't know much about the disease. But when two friends were diagnosed with it, the importance of being involved hit home. "Watching them, it became clear to me this was really a killer," says the co-host of Live With Regis and Kelly. "You meet so few survivors." In fact, while roughly 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, only 20 percent of those cases will be discovered in the early stages, when the cancer can be treated. "It's called the 'silent killer' because there aren't any obvious early warning signs," she says.
As Ripa watched her friends battle the disease, she decided to take action. "I was so excited to be able to oversee the OCRF's annual Super Saturday Shopping Spree [a celeb-packed fund-raiser in Southampton, New York, that's been dubbed the 'Rolls Royce of Garage Sales']," she says.
When her friends lost their fight, Ripa realized it wasn't just the cancer that was silent. Women also tend to suffer quietly when it comes to health problems, she says. "But if you do that with ovarian cancer, it will be too late. That's why these events are so important, to help educate women and raise funds for research."
Determined to do her part, Ripa co-hosted the Super Saturday event again this year and entered into a partnership with Electrolux. "They said, 'We know this is important to you, and if you'll be our spokesperson, we'll donate $500,000 to the OCRF,' " she says. "Of course I said yes!"
As a result, Ripa has helped raise more than $4 million for the OCRF in 2008 alone. She sees it as a gift to future generations of women, including her daughter, Lola. "Our goal is to help find a cure," says Ripa. "But what I really want is to eradicate it completely so Lola—or any woman, for that matter—never has to sit in a doctor's office and hear the words 'You have ovarian cancer.' "
What she wants you to know
Recognize what's normal for your body and take action if something's off. "When ovarian cancer is detected and treated early," says Ripa, "the five-year survival rate is greater than 92 percent." The insidious thing about the disease, though, is that many of the symptoms seem normal, so they're easy to overlook. As a result, the cancer has often progressed by the time it's diagnosed. According to the OCRF, symptoms can include gas, nausea, indigestion, abdominal bloating and pain, frequent urination, spotting, and unusual fatigue.
Her stay-healthy secret
Replace a bad habit with a good one. When Shape interviewed Ripa last year, she had recently quit smoking. "When I stopped, I knew I had to substitute the cigarettes with something that was good for my body," says Ripa. She began working with a trainer to distract her from her nicotine urges; feeling healthy made it even easier to kick the butts. Today the nonsmoker happily declares: "My new habit is exercise."