We know Camilla Freeman-Topper for many things. For being one half of the creative powerhouse that is Camilla and Marc. For creating some of the most adored pieces in our wardrobes. For being a heart-centred mother of three.
But one thing we didn’t know about Camilla is that one of her life’s greatest missions is to help to find an early detection test for ovarian cancer, having lost her mother to the disease at just 11. With minimal warning signs, no early detection test, limited funding and no cure, once ovarian cancer is diagnosed, it is often too late. In Australia alone, three women die from the disease every day, while globally, close to 300,000 women are diagnosed annually.
It is these sobering statistics and Camilla’s (and her brother Marc’s) personal experience that has prompted them to launch a new campaign – “Ovaries. Talk About Them,” which aims to encourage Australians to speak transparently about the disease that is in so desperate need of funding and awareness.
“Along with countless others, we sadly lost our mother to ovarian cancer 26 years ago due to a late diagnosis,” said Camilla. “The pain of losing my mother so suddenly was devastating and one of the most difficult things I have ever had to encounter. We want to start a powerful conversation now, so that our children and future generations can look forward to a future where deaths from ovarian cancer are a rarity rather than the norm.”
She continued, “There is a social taboo that exists when it comes to the word ovaries and a general lack of awareness about this type of cancer. Our campaign aims to help women to talk more openly with their partners, sisters, friends, wives, brothers and mothers about their ovaries and about this disease. The more dialogue we can create, the more awareness we can raise, the more funding we can harness, the closer we come to a cure.”
To celebrate the campaign, Camilla and Marc have released a series of limited edition t-shirts. The first is a collaboration with Perth based artist Rina Freiberg – honouring and celebrating the female form. The words “Ovaries. Talk about them” are printed on the back of the t-shirt. The second features the words Power and Solidarity, representing the powerful movement that can occur when we come together to share our stories and create genuine change. Created in the brand’s signature effortlessly wearable style, these are t-shirts we’ll be proudly adding to our collection.
We spoke to Camilla exclusively about the campaign, why it’s such a critical part of her story, and the legacy she’s creating for her children in the process.
Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood and some of your fondest memories?
I grew up on the north shore and later, after my mother passed away we moved to the Eastern Suburbs.
I have so many fond memories of my childhood; my father, mother, Marc and I were all very adventurous and we would spend most of our weekends together spending time outdoors. Often we would drive out to the northern beaches where my father and Marc would surf and my mother and I would swim. My memories are of long days, filled with a huge amount of laughter.
I also loved to be in the garden with my mother – it was one of her hobbies and I remember hours spent in the sunshine with her, just enjoying her company.
Your mother tragically died from ovarian cancer when you were just 11. How did you begin to process that grief at such a young age?
It’s difficult to talk about, even today, the pain runs very deep when you lose your mother so young. At the age of 11 it was almost inconceivable that I would have to say goodbye to my mother and process her passing. I was confused, lost, deeply hurt and fearful of what life would be like without her. In many ways I went into survival mode, and although subconsciously I blocked out a lot of the trauma, I can still connect to the deep pain and sadness that no words can ever describe. There are no words to describe that grief and part of it is always there with me.
I did have many around me that supported me through this, my father was a tower of strength and protected both myself and Marc. My aunties and close friends of my mother were there, and still are to this day, to be there as mother figures.
What were some of the biggest lessons your mother imparted on you? And what legacy did she leave behind?
There are so many it is hard to name a few. She was so soft, caring, nurturing and warm, everyone who met her loved her dearly. It is her kindness that is her greatest legacy and much of what she impressed upon me from a young age was being aware of how others were feeling and having a sensitivity to that, being a deep listener and always embracing others equally.
This loss has obviously brought ovarian cancer to the forefront of your work. Can you tell us about the impetus behind your new campaign?
We want to start a powerful conversation now, so that our children and future generations can look forward to a future where deaths from ovarian cancer are a rarity rather than the norm.
Sadly, the statistics for ovarian cancer have not changed in 30 years. It is the deadliest female cancer, yet it is the most underfunded cancer.
Every year, close to 300,000 women worldwide are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, yet it’s not really spoken about. With minimal warning signs, no early detection test, limited funding and no cure, once ovarian cancer is diagnosed, it is often too late.
Currently diagnosis relies on a woman noticing her symptoms which, unfortunately for ovarian cancer, are very vague. They include abdominal pain, bloating, indigestion and bleeding and since most women can experience some or all of these on a monthly basis it is extraordinarily difficult to diagnose.
This week, we launch our first ovarian cancer campaign, ”Ovaries. Talk About them”. It is a bold campaign, designed to raise awareness and get women and men talking about ovaries so that we can raise the necessary funding required to find an early detection test. We all either come from them, or we have them, so let’s get comfortable talking about ovaries.
In order to raise the necessary funding, we have designed two Limited Edition t-shirts – 100% of the proceeds from the sale of each t-shirt will go directly to Associate Professor Caroline Ford and her team at Ovarian Cancer Research UNSW Sydney to develop an early detection test. Caroline’s team has developed a test that may change how Ovarian Cancer is diagnosed. It’s a non-invasive test, easy to obtain from blood samples, and if successful could change the face of Ovarian Cancer. Her vision is to have a simple blood test available to women at their regular GP visit and health check-up – this would be revolutionary for the disease.
It has only been recently that I’ve felt ready to talk openly about my mother’s death publically. Being open and vulnerable about something that is so personal and so devastating has taken time.
My eldest daughter Leudica is at the age that I lost my mother so I could feel a deeper sense of how it would have felt for my mother to leave Marc and I behind. I have had a feeling to be more vocal for quite some time, and being a mother really was the catalyst.
Devastatingly, there remains no early detection test, limited funding and no cure for ovarian cancer. What do you hope your ’Ovaries. Talk About Them’ campaign will achieve in generating conversation?
We hope to raise as much awareness and funding as we can with a campaign that talks to the masses in a very bold and relevant way. This campaign aims to bring men and women together in an inclusive way and break down the stigma that exists for women and men in naming reproductive body parts. We all either have ovaries, or we come from them, so the message is, let’s get comfortable talking about them so we can shine a light on this devastating disease and the millions that it impacts.
The primary reason the statistics for ovarian cancer have not changed in 30 years is underfunding. When it comes to the allocation of government funding, money tends to go to the causes that shout the loudest and sadly there are just not enough women who survive ovarian cancer to be strong advocates, meaning the disease doesn’t get the backing it so desperately deserves.
With enough conversation, my hope is that with enough awareness, research and funding, we will find a cure or at the very least a way to detect this disease early so that families around the world won’t have to experience the same sort of tragedy and loss.
Tell us about the gorgeous t-shirts.
We designed the t-shirts to be worn long after the campaign period to continually spark much-needed conversation for this disease. We also wanted the women who are currently undergoing treatment to have something to wear that they could be truly proud of.
This disease is devastating, it is a silent killer and it has impacted millions of families around the world, so we wanted to design t-shirts that offered hope and inspiration and that deeply honoured a woman’s body. We also wanted to encourage women to talk about ovaries and ovarian cancer in a very real, honest and thoughtful way and by doing so, reduce the stigma that exists for women around naming gynaecological body parts.
We created two limited edition t-shirts; The first is a collaboration with Perth based artist Rina Freiberg which honours, empowers and celebrates the female form. The words “Ovaries. Talk about them” are printed on the back of the t-shirt. The design is uplifting, beautiful and designed to get women talking.
We created a second t-shirt, ‘Power and Solidarity’ as a unisex option, that spoke to the powerful change that can occur when women and men unite to raise awareness over issues such as these. We all either have ovaries, or we come from them, so what’s the problem? Let’s start having conversations that are going to create true change.
How do you talk about health and wellbeing with your children?
It is a constant dialogue through doing rather than telling and I am mindful that the way I live is always reflected back to my children.
Taking care of my state of being, and checking in with myself regularly is a big part of that. I pay close attention to how I am with myself, because that speaks louder than words.
Health and wellbeing is something we focus on as a family constantly, from our lifestyle choices, to what we eat, to how we exercise. We have always championed an outdoor lifestyle; in part due to my own upbringing. It is the joy of exercise, and how it makes us feel more so than the physiological benefits that we highlight to our children.
How do you take care of yourself today - from self-care, to health, to mental health?
It’s a huge part of my life, and losing my mother when she was just 42 is always at the back of my mind, so I am very diligent with health check-ups, taking care of my body and cherishing moments with my family.
Running a business and juggling motherhood is always a balancing act, so I am really fastidious when it comes to my schedule, and this helps to keep me sane. When everything is well planned out with my work, personal and family schedule everything just flows and life is much more balanced.
I always make sure to take time out for myself daily and get my body moving; whether it’s a walk, a PT session, or meditation. The clarity this provides and the space that opens up for me is really important to my overall heath.
What legacy do you hope to create for your own children?
This campaign and the intention behind it is a big part of the legacy Marc and I would like to leave behind. We’ve been so inspired watching the work that Associate Professor Caroline Ford is doing; her team are dedicating their lives to saving others, and to be part of that is nothing short of incredible. So as much as this brand is such a huge part of who we are, and what we will leave behind, it is being able to work on this campaign, to give others a platform to share their stories and play if only a tiny part in changing the trajectory of this disease. That is perhaps the greatest legacy we can leave for our kids, and our mother.