A letter to my mother 20 years after she died from Cervical Cancer

Dear Mom,

I often think of you as my guardian angel and that you can see me. You can see me driving a car fast like you begged me not to do so many times. You see me laughing. You see me with my friends. You see me making a tough decision, and having to be assertive. And when you see me and my brothers, you smile. It’s your big wide, gapped tooth smile. You smile and you put your head down, like I do when I smile. Sometimes with the smile you shake your head. You approve of what you see. You are pleased with us.

Do you know that January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month? Sometimes I really wish that I didn’t know that.  I really wish that the day in 1992 when you told me that you had cervical cancer never happened. Your smile was not there. You were sitting in a chair in your bedroom and you told me that you had cervical cancer. When you said it, your eyes closed and you grabbed your hands together. At the time, to me it felt like you were confessing something. I was too young and naïve to understand that you were scared. You said that there was an 85% survival rate. Because I thought this was a confession, I was relaxed. I relaxed during the whole conversation. There was no way that you would die.  My young, naïve mind said death happened to other peoples’ moms, not my mom.  Besides, I thought to myself, there would be no point of your death. You were too much of a good person.

I remember in 1995 coming to see you in the hospital and I was still relaxed.  My grandma was not. She pulled me into the hospital hallway and said that you were not going to get any better. In that moment, my heart went from the 8th floor of that hospital to laying on the ground on the street below. You were not supposed to die.

But in 1996 you did die. And I was left with a myriad of questions about the thing that took you from us. I did not hear many people talking about cervical cancer. What was HPV? How come you were not part of that 85% that lived?

In 2006, ten years after your death, I met a woman who explained all of this to me. Her name was Tamika and she was on a journey. She was racing to beat the clock to eradicate Cervical Cancer. When I learned about her journey, I saw Tamika and Friends as an army with soldiers. You always taught me to fight. I picked up my weapon and joined ranks with these cervical cancer soldiers. I was never going to let another woman get cervical cancer.

I have learned so much since you have been gone mom. I have learned about Henrietta Lacks, the different strands of HPV that cause cervical cancer, and how it is incredibly important to go to the gynecologist. And I have learned that sometimes bad things happen to good people. It is sad to admit this mom but your death has taught me just as much as your life.

Mom, I am faced with the cold fact that this year, you will have been out of my life for the same amount of time that you were in it.  I hope that you see that the world has changed and that I have changed. You always taught me to help other women and I have been doing that. I once met a girl who was in a job training program. I was doing a group counseling session with her and other young women. We talked about ultimate life goals. The girl had been quiet for most of the group. When it was her turn to say what, she wanted most in the world, she replied, “I just want to make my mother proud.” I touched her hand and I said, “Me too.”

I cannot see you, but the thought that you are smiling at me motivates me on my darkest days. It makes me want to talk to people about cervical cancer, organize communities, be a better mental health provider and be a servant of the Lord.  I do not know if you can really see me, but I have realized that I see you every time I do an act of kindness.

Hugs and kisses.

Your only daughter,

Lilly

Talk. Test. Treat.

April 2016 is STD Awareness month, with the theme “Talk. Test. Treat.” As cervical cancer survivors, you amazing ladies JG-3know all too well the importance of all three components of this drive. Let’s focus on “talk”. TALK floods the media with vaccine “dangers”. Is Gardasil dangerous? Or are the HPV vaccines a chance to eventually eliminate the 33,000 HPV-related cancers that attack Americans every year, including the 4400 women who die from cervical cancer each year? From 2006-2015, over 80 million doses of Gardasil were administered in the US, which implies at least over 25 million individuals (since it is a 3 shot series.) Adverse events have been scrutinized, including the 117 reports of death in young people who had received the vaccine in the months before their death. No link or pattern can be identified to suggest that the vaccine caused any deaths. Remember, with a population that large, a small percentage will be diagnosed with rare diseases that occur at rates of one in 500,000, or one in a million.

What problems can Gardasil cause? Like any vaccine, there is transient pain, redness, and swelling at the site of the shot. Gardasil is associated with a higher risk of fainting, especially in the first 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine.

What’s in Gardasil? Can it infect you with HPV? No, Gardasil cannot infect you. The primary ingredient is an empty shell made up from a protein on the outer surface of the virus. Gardasil contains no mercury, no thimerosal, and no live virus.
The adjuvant contains 225 micrograms of aluminum, which is the same amount of aluminum in a liter of infant formula or about six liters of breast milk.

How Effective is Gardasil? The great news is that Gardasil is incredibly effective. CDC reports that Gardasil showed nearly 100% efficacy in prevention of cervical pre-cancers and genital warts in women in young women who receive the vaccine series before they have ever been sexually intimate. In young men (who receive the vaccine before sexual activity), Gardasil is about 75% effective preventing anal cancers, and 90% effective against genital warts. Most of our data is from the original Gardasil, which targets four strains of HPV, so we expect even better results moving forward using Gardasil 9, which targets an additional 5 strains of cancer-causing HPV.

So, Cervivors, it’s great to have these solid facts to educate friends and family who may be swayed by the anti-vaccine “talkers”. But it is YOUR stories that are more powerful than statistics. Join Cervivor Jillian Scalfani and TALK about your cancer. If it’s too fresh or you feel too vulnerable to talk about yourself, share her story. For many Americans, cervical cancer is only a faceless disease, another statistic, and simple to ignore. Cervivors, YOUR “TALK” can raise that awareness and encourage vaccination, making your collective story have the happy ending of a complete CURE for this disease.
SeductiveDelusionsIICover.crop_960x1489_163,75.preview.format_png.resize_200xJill Grimes, MD
Family Physician, Speaker, Author & Educator
grimes.jill@gmail.com || http://www.jillgrimesmd.com ||