When I was on medical school, I went to an annual check-up in my health center for students and Pap test . It was a routine visit, and I had no reason to expect anything out of the ordinary.
A week later my doctor told me that my results were not normal and I would have to be re-tested – every year more than 3 million women in the US pronounce a sentence.
Three weeks later came the diagnosis: "You may have an early cervix cancer."
I was shocked. I had just studied the reproductive system as part of my coursework, and I was scared to learn statistics: According to the CDC, 35 women in the US are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer every day . Hundreds of people are diagnosed with other precursors that could lead to it.
Following a test confirming that I had a high grade intraepithelial lesion of squamous epithelium (HSIL), a serious precursor to cervical cancer, I underwent a procedure called electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP). LEEPs are short procedures in which an abnormal cell is removed with a small electrical wire loop. Luckily, my Pap tests were clear for years.
Then, after another annual routine check, I was told I had to come and get tested again. The same fear that I had experienced years ago returned.
This time, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer or carcinoma-in-situ
. I was 27 years old. I just got engaged. We both wanted kids. It was something that we often talked about, and I was afraid that my diagnosis could mean that it is now impossible to have children of my own. The procedure I had to go through, a cervical conization, involved removing part of my cervix, which I knew to increase the likelihood of miscarriage and premature birth.
In my time as a medical doctor and head of public health, I never took part in this story. Almost a decade later, I am pleased that I am cancer free. Today I am the mother of a 17 month old son – a happy, healthy boy who is the joy of my life.
I was fortunate enough to have routine check-ups, safe and effective surgeries, and close monitoring. My life today could be very different if I could not access routine and timely checkups from 19459004 (19459023) and immediate interventions.
Cervical cancer can be caused by various types of human papillomavirus (HPV ). As cervix cancer generally progresses slowly, early diagnosis is often crucial to detecting the disease when curative treatment options are available.
It is difficult for me to talk about this experience, but when I stepped into my role as President of Planned Parenthood I thought about the many ways in which I can explain how basic reproductive health care leads to a happy, fulfilling life can. Considering that January is the month for cervical health awareness, I take this opportunity to address my own experience.
I live today because of this routine test that discovered my cancer at an early stage.
Routine Pap and HPV screenings save thousands of women every year from cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is also an important preventative tool because it protects against the HPV types that cause 70% of cervical cancers . The HPV vaccine did not exist when I was first diagnosed, but today it probably prevents thousands of patients from doing what I've been through.
But the fact remains: more than 4,000 women die each year from cervical cancer, including a disproportionate number of colored women. Cervical cancer is more commonly diagnosed in black and Hispanic women than in white women, and it is more likely that they will be diagnosed at a later date, making treatment more difficult. A recently published study in the journal Cancer that examined only women who had never had a hysterectomy found that black women actually die from cervical cancer at twice the rate of white women.
It is no coincidence that even women with high colors are uninsured or underinsured. Without access to high-quality, affordable reproductive health services – which are a standard of care – women will die because they are forced to forego the necessary prevention and treatment for cervical cancer.
Today I'm grateful as President of Planned Parenthood I can do something about this injustice. I run an organization that provides access to cervical cancer screening, HPV vaccines and the full range of reproductive health services for all our patients. We offer Pap testing in each of our over 600 health centers, and in 2017 alone we performed more than 270,000 Pap tests and tens of thousands of HPV vaccines.
Planned parenting also accounts for 41 percent of all Title X patients, which is the only nationwide funded program for reproductive health and family planning that offers affordable or free reproductive health services such as Pap tests to 4 million low-income women , The Trump Pence Administration recently proposed a rule that would restrict access to Title X meaning that millions of women could lose access to critical health services that help prevent or detect cervical cancer ,
from early diagnosis and treatment that I am alive and starting my own family. Nobody should die from cervical cancer because he has no access to high quality, affordable reproductive health care. As President of Planned Parenthood, I want to use my platform to raise awareness of the importance of reproductive health care.
More of us have these stories than you think. I encourage you to share yours.