Jane Ludemann

Jane Ludemann is the founder of Cure Our Ovarian Cancer, a charity on a mission to help women with ovarian cancer live better, longer lives. The charity was responsible for establishing the first ovarian cancer research fund in Aotearoa and the first counsellor-facilitated online ovarian cancer support group. Since 2018, it has raised over $500,000 in research funds.

When Jane Ludemann left the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Optometry in 2010, she had her sights firmly set on eventually becoming a partner in an optometry firm, and perhaps doing some volunteer work overseas. But when she received an ovarian cancer diagnosis at the age of 32, along with a projected life expectancy of five to 15 years, everything changed.

“I don’t think anyone in their worst nightmare would ever imagine they’d be facing a deadly disease with overwhelming survival odds before they turned 40,” she says. While undertaking her own treatment and navigating the health system, Jane became aware of the inequities that exist for people with ovarian cancer and found a new mission to improve things for Kiwi women.

“The most shocking thing I’ve learned is how huge the inequities are for ovarian cancer and just how much unconscious gender bias impacts the healthcare people receive,” she says. “Ovarian cancer has been the leading cause of gynaecological cancer death since at least the 1960s and accounts for more deaths today than all other gynaecological cancers combined.”

Despite this, ovarian cancer research remains extremely underfunded by comparison to other cancers in New Zealand. “To see the sacrifices the researchers make to stay in the field, in some instances even using their own personal savings to fund their research because they know just how important their work is, is really humbling as a cancer patient,” she says.

Jane established her charity Cure Our Ovarian Cancer (COOC) in 2018, and has since dedicated her life to fighting for better outcomes for women facing the disease. COOC has established the first ovarian cancer research fund in Aotearoa, the first counsellor-facilitated online ovarian cancer support group, and raised over $500,000 in research funds.

“I never would have imagined that I'd start an ovarian cancer charity and spend my days fighting for better outcomes for other women with ovarian cancer, all while continuing to undertake my own cancer treatment,” she says. “This certainly wasn't the future I had planned for myself, but I am proud of the changes I'm helping to make for women living with ovarian cancer.”

Although her life has taken a decidedly different direction since she left the University of Auckland with her BOptom, Jane says that her studies gave her a crucial grounding in “critical thinking skills, clinical decision making and the ability to read, understand and critically evaluate medical research” in a health profession with a high degree of independence.

Those skills have become invaluable in her charity and advocacy work for COOC, as she continues to negotiate a complex and unequal health system. “It’s that ability to interact with the medical profession and have insight into how they operate, but also bring an outsider's view to be able to critically evaluate what could be done better and not just accept the status quo.”

Even while facing her own uncertain future, Jane remains steadfast in her mission. “With an undetermined life expectancy, I think about my legacy rather than goals.” She wants to ensure that women living with ovarian cancer have an improved length and quality of life, and that New Zealand leads the way with ground-breaking ovarian cancer research.

“I have been incredibly fortunate to meet so many amazing women with ovarian cancer who have supported me and the work I do in so many ways,” she says. “When things are really hard I remind myself what a privilege it is to be here and to be able to use my voice when so many women aren't here to use theirs. They give me the strength to carry on.”