31 March 2022

The Quest for Advancement in Ovarian Cancer Research

Madelyn Duckmanton and her daughter Letitia Linke.
Madelyn Duckmanton and her daughter Letitia Linke. Source.

Madelyn Duckmanton

Fundraising Chairperson at Letitia Linke Research Foundation
Associate Diploma in Medical Laboratory Science

Ovarian cancer takes the life of one woman in Australia every eight hours, with 70 per cent of cases being diagnosed in advanced stages of the disease.

Madelyn Duckmanton – mother, grandmother, medical scientist, and UniSA Alumni – is working to change these statistics by funding ovarian cancer research with the University of South Australia, inspired by her daughter’s legacy.

It all began when Madelyn’s daughter Letitia Linke, a 34-year-old mother of two, presented with symptoms of ovarian cancer that were overlooked.

Leticia with her young sons

“I look back on it now and there were signs and symptoms which we didn't pick up on at the time…she had had some changes in bowel habit, she had had some bleeding and had the low back pain,” says Madelyn.

“They found a lump, a cyst, on her ovaries and they said, ‘Well, it can't be anything too serious because you're too young’. So, it was never investigated any further.”

At a family lunch 18 months later, Letitia told her sister-in-law, Alison, who is a gynaecologist, that when she does sit-ups, she feels a bulge in her pelvic area. Alison referred Letitia to one of her colleagues.

“Initially, the first diagnosis was endometriosis and then she went in for two lots of surgery,” says Madelyn.

“When they did the first lot of surgery, to clean up the endometriosis, they biopsied the cyst in the ovary and it was ovarian cancer. At that stage we were in a good space. We believed that it was stage one, that it was probably contained in the ovaries and, you know, possibly no chemotherapy.

“However, the immediate follow up is a complete hysterectomy…every single one of the endometriomas was an ovarian carcinoma. So, we went from stage 1 to stage 4, and they did everything they could, but there were tumours in and around and behind her bowel that couldn't be removed so obviously she went on to chemotherapy.

Leticia in hospital

“We knew right from the beginning that chances of survival were very small.”

After years of gruelling treatment, Letitia passed away in August 2018.

While Letitia was alive, she spearheaded several fundraising initiatives for ovarian cancer that saw proceeds donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF) and Ovarian Cancer Australia (OCA). She was also an ambassador for both organisations.

Letitia’s efforts garnered widespread media coverage and support, particularly for her event Adelaide Silver Style Cocktail Party, which in its inaugural year, raised $75,000 and had over 300 attendees.

After Letitia’s passing, Madelyn, along with Letitia’s sister, Melissa, and a group of other Ovarian Cancer patients, family, and friends, continued to raise money and donate funds for research: $30,000 was raised at Letitia’s memorial; $17,000 from the 2018 Adelaide Silver Style Soiree ; $46,000 from the 2019 Adelaide Silver Style Dinner Dance and $60,000 from the Adelaide Silver Style Gala Ball in 2021.

Madelyn and Melissa talked about establishing a trust fund to support a PhD student or something that would be long term in Letitia’s honour.

“We thought we'd give it a name – name it after Letitia because none of us would be doing this if she hadn't touched us,” says Madelyn.

This is how the Letitia Linke Research Foundation was born. A not-for-profit charity where all funds raised go entirely to ovarian cancer research.

“Our plan is to raise money for research into early detection tests and better treatment for women with ovarian cancer, and also to spread awareness of the disease…women need to be proactive in their own health,” says Madelyn.

“I knew in South Australia we have research that is absolutely world standard going on, and that Martin Oehler and Peter Hoffmann have been working on a screening test for Ovarian Cancer for several years. Whilst they had some funding a while back, I knew that they needed funding to continue their important local research.

“Letitia was a very vibrant, very bright, very charismatic, I suppose personality, and she just wanted to change it. She just wanted to go, ‘I know this is not going to change for me. I know my chances of survival are very slim, but I want to do whatever I can for other women, to raise the awareness of the disease, to make women question more when they have symptoms, and to raise money for research into this disease’.

Leticia Linke

“It was Letitia's greatest wish that there would be an early detection test for ovarian cancer.”

Now, after their 2021 Adelaide Silver Style ball, Madelyn and the Letitia Linke Research Foundation have donated $60,000 to UniSA to fund two research projects.

The first is the “Autoantibody Project”, which builds on previous research to assist in establishing an early detection test for ovarian cancer. This project is conducted by Professor Peter Hoffmann.

The second research project is titled “Patient-Derived Sample Testing Using Organoid Technology”, which develops sample testing and analysis to advise on the best treatment for ovarian cancer. Dr Manuela Klingler-Hoffmann will be working on this project with Prof Dr Peter Hoffmann.

“Effectively the two research things we've put our efforts and money behind at the moment absolutely speak to our vision,” says Madelyn.

“For me, as a medical scientist, having worked all those years in that area and seeing what a screening test can do to change the course of a disease – the loss of my daughter was the driving factor – but that is also a really key component for me, that as a medical scientist I would love to see a screening test for ovarian cancer. In my lifetime I saw the same thing happen for cervical cancer.”

Madelyn, who acquired an Associate Diploma in Medical Laboratory Science from UniSA, and who built a notable and diverse career in pathology, has served as the Fundraising Chairperson at Letitia Linke Research Foundation since its conception.

After Letitia’s passing, Madelyn chose to step away from paid work in order to provide support to Letitia’s sons, Tom and Ollie, and husband, Paul.

“That was my last promise to my daughter, to make sure her husband and her boys were okay, and they are. It's been a fairly long journey for the boys, but I believe the boys are good now too,” says Madelyn.

Now that her grandsons are a bit older, Madelyn sees herself undertaking more board membership positions in this next stage of her career. But, as shown in her mammoth and inspiring efforts to honour Letitia’s memory, family will always come first for Madelyn.

Back to story index