HOUSTON - This cervical cancer awareness month, a local woman is speaking out about how important early diagnosis is. Late-stage cancer stole her chance to have another baby 25-years ago, but the right treatment spared her life.
Yolanda Lopez survived Stage 4 cervical cancer, but it has been an emotional battle to get this far. She and her husband had been through one pregnancy and were enjoying their three-year-old son. They were ready to have another child, until she started having odd symptoms.
"I didn't have any pain or any other symptoms outside of the fact that I had bleeding after intercourse and it was very light. So I just figured, oh maybe my periods coming on. I really didn't pay attention to, but nonetheless you know, I would always go for my annual screenings and my doctor did a pap smear," explains Yolanda.
She says the test came back abnormal, yet did not reveal how serious the problem really was.
"It didn't detect the cancer because the cancer was so way up in my cervical canal," explains Yolanda.
After suffering the same symptoms for a year, Yolanda went to Houston Methodist Hospital for a second opinion. A biopsy confirmed her suspicions, she had late-stage cancer.
Drastic treatments saved her life, yet destroyed her dreams of having a second child.
"It was a shock of course, it's a process, a grieving process. It's just like a death. You're losing body parts that are not going to function in the same way, it's going to be removed from your body because I had a total hysterectomy and radiation treatments. So it takes a while. You have to process it through, but I'm here to tell a story and I survived it, so it's okay," states Yolanda.
Now Yolanda helps other victims of cancer. She adopted a second child and left her corporate job of 30-years to work at the hospital she considers saved her life at Houston Methodist Hospital. She helps mentor patients through their Cancer Survivorship Program. She shares potentially life-saving advice.
"Know your body, number one. Number two is be proactive and getting your annual screenings. There are a lot of different screenings, including your mammograms from a women wellness perspective, so please do that. Thirdly, I would say is don't allow your circumstances, whether it's not having medical insurance or the resources knowing where to go, prevent you from getting treated. There are so many resources out there. The American Cancer Society is a real big one. This I stress most in the Latino community, where women tend to be a little bit more fearful of going to the doctors and saying I'm too busy taking care of my kids or my family," says Yolanda.
The American Cancer Society echoes those concerns.
"Hispanic women are especially vulnerable to cancer, there are higher rates of cervical cancer within Hispanic women. They're also faced with a lot of the health inequity challenges and the barriers that we fight for every day at the American Cancer Society. Whether it be the income challenges, the access to care challenges, to insurance challenges, all those things," says Jeff Fehlis, Executive Vice President for the American Cancer Society.
Fehlis wants to make sure women understand that cervical cancer is preventable.
"It starts with a pre-cancer. If you get screened and detected and then be able to treat, it can prevent almost all cervical cancers. There's also a vaccine, the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer in young women later in life. And, it's critical that we get these kids in and get those vaccinations done, because then you may not have to worry about having any type of cervical cancer issues later in life," states Fehlis.
12,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year, and 4,000 will lose their lives from it. Often there are no symptoms, which is why annual screenings are so very important. Yolanda hopes women, who ignored their appointments during the pandemic the past few years, will learn from her situation and go back to regular screenings.
The American Cancer Society says, although cervical cancer occurs most often in Hispanic women, black women tend to have lower survival rates and die more often than any other race. Another reason to get those screenings and take care of any problems quickly!
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