Green socks for women with ovarian cancer? What does this mean? Politicians from the left spectrum are referred to, rather pejoratively, as “red socks”. But what is the “Green Socks Campaign” all about? On the occasion of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in March we spoke with Andrea Krull, founder of the Verein für Gynäkologische Krebserkrankungen Deutschland e.V. / Schwerpunkt Eierstockkrebs (Association for Gynecological Cancers Germany / Focus: Ovarian Cancer) and initiator of this project.
Ms. Krull, what prompted you to become involved with the topic of ovarian cancer, and how did the association come about?
Back then, I had founded the first self-help groups in Kiel, Hannover and Hamburg; a choir and other self-help groups were in the pipeline. So, I decided to form an umbrella organization to better coordinate and professionalize all these projects. Besides, nothing like this existed at the time, and I felt that there was a need for a reliable point of contact for women with ovarian cancer. So, it made sense to create an association that would take care of the women’s concerns and needs and reflect the patients’ side.
The spectrum of your services includes information on hospitals, therapy options and medications, but you also cover self-help and self-care. What is the goal of the association?
It is about providing a platform for women, to improve things, to communicate with doctors, to impart knowledge and know-how. I wanted things to get better, because to be honest, the situation at that time before the association was created was not good for us women. Everything was lacking. Since ovarian cancer is a serious and complex disease with various challenges and multiple prospects, I wanted to bring everything together and help to build transparency. My aim has been to give women knowledge and to empower them. We advocate for our side while striving to understand the side of health care professionals.
How did you come up with the idea for the “Green Socks Campaign”?
It all started when a very good friend of mine was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Due to surgery and chemotherapy as well as during her relapse she often felt cold. I asked her at the time what her favorite color was, and she responded “green”.
So, I started knitting her beautiful, warm, green socks. As the knitting took longer and many things came in between, I unfortunately was not able to give the socks to my friend, because she passed away in June 2016.
Every time I myself put on these socks in memory of her, I think intensely of my friend. I am still very sad that I did not manage to give the socks to her, although I looked after her closely at the time and accompanied her throughout.
Then one day I had an idea. “The Heart Pillow Project” for women with breast cancer made me wonder what I could do for women with ovarian cancer. What would help them? What would be a nice and “warm” way to convey information about ovarian cancer? How could doctors and nurses help and support? What was reasonable, feasible, and would attract attention?
And suddenly it came to me: green socks, naturally! Green stands for hope. Green socks would be the perfect vehicle for hope and information. So, the “Green Socks Campaign” was born.
In October 2019 I called for the donation of green socks on Facebook. The response was incredible! By December 2018 we had already received over 1,000 pairs of green socks, and a great number of clinics had contacted us to join in and distribute the socks to women with ovarian cancer. We had over 30,000 clicks in one week and hundreds of mail requests. You can follow the whole story on Facebook and Instagram. There you can find videos, articles, facts and figures. A huge thank you to everyone who helped, knitted, donated, and supported us.
This campaign is a huge success! I am proud that I had this idea back then, because in the meantime thousands of women have received more information about ovarian cancer through the “Green Socks Campaign” which results in them making better and more informed therapy decisions.
Is this campaign limited to Germany or does this project already exist in other countries?
Miraculously, the “Green Socks Campaign” was launched in Austria on December 6, 2021. We are planning to introduce this campaign to Switzerland next; other countries are to follow. Therefore, we are now looking for volunteers who would like to implement our idea in their country. Our group is happy to help and give support during the start-up phase. Just get in touch with us.
What does the national and international network of your association look like? With whom do you cooperate in the fight against gynecological cancers?
We are very well networked and collaborate with many international initiatives on gynecological cancers, like World Ovarian Cancer Coalition, ESGO Patient Advocacy (European Society of Gynaecological Oncology), all European patient advocacy groups for gynecological-oncological diseases, and the associated experts and hospitals.
What is your expectation from science and politics regarding the fight against ovarian cancer or gynecological cancers in general?
I wish that this disease could be detected earlier. Gynecologists and family doctors need to be more aware of this disease when they face unspecific symptoms in women. Also, better information about treatment and therapy needs to be provided, and women need to have a reliable and safe network of information and care when they fall ill.
I would also like to see more support and appreciation for the work of volunteers. Without the help and commitment of devoted volunteers, many services would cease to exist, and the comprehensive supply of information would no longer be available. Therefore, politics must strengthen the work of volunteers, and sustain self-help groups. We all burn for “our cause”, but we shouldn’t burn out. I would be happy to elaborate these thoughts and present them in detail to politicians and decision makers.
Thank you very much for this interview!