A Call for Action & Education During National Hispanic Heritage Month

Did you know that Hispanic/Latina women have the highest incidence rate of cervical cancer in the U.S.? They undergo significantly fewer Pap tests than non-Hispanic white and black women and are less likely than women of other races/ethnicities to return for recommended follow-up after an abnormal Pap test.

These statistics from the American Cancer Society and Centers from Disease Control (CDC) are instructive to us at Cervivor to guide some of our educational efforts.

National Hispanic Heritage Month (celebrated Sept. 15 – Oct. 15 to correspond with the independence of many countries in Central America) honors Hispanic history, culture and contributions. Communities across the country mark the month with festivals and educational activities.

Educational activities? That sounds right up our alley as Cervivors!

Festivals? Preventing cervical cancer and saving lives feels like something to celebrate to me!

We want to halt cervical cancer in its tracks, in America and around the world. To do that most effectively, we need to be aware of the disparities in cervical cancer incidence and mortality among populations of women.

For example, in the U.S., black women (followed by Hispanic women) have the highest death rate from cervical cancer. Mortality (death) rates of cervical cancer among Hispanic women are 50 percent higher than those of non-Hispanic women, and incidence rates among Hispanics are twice the rates of non-Hispanic women. Different populations bear different burdens of this disease, for different reasons.
“I was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer stage IIB in 2008. I had not visited my GYN or had a Pap test for over 3 years. My mission now is to share my story to every woman especially Latinas, who are the most affected by this disease, and convey the message that my journey does not have to be theirs”. 
Patti Murillo-Casa

Data from the American Cancer Society show that Hispanic women are less likely to get regular Pap tests. Hispanic and Latino Americans amount to an estimated 17.8% of the total U.S. population, making up the largest ethnic minority. This makes it a focus for our educational messages about cervical cancer prevention with Pap testing, HPV testing and HPV vaccination. This makes it a focus for our advocacy, education and personal Cervivor stories. 

What can we do as Cervivors?

  • Familiarize yourself with Spanish-language educational resources and share them as part of your education and advocacy work. There is a downloadable Spanish-language “foto-novela” from the American Sexual Health Association, for example, fact sheets from the National Cancer Institute and cervical cancer screening patient information sheets from the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists. (These and many more Spanish language resources are available here.)


Join Cervivor Español: Private Facebook Group For Latina Cervical Cancer Patients & Survivors

  • Support local and national cancer control and prevention programs and policies aimed at decreasing disparities in cervical cancer mortality. For example: health reform efforts to reduce discriminatory practices against cancer patients and survivors (amen to that!); policies to include no-cost cervical cancer screenings and HPV vaccination as a mandated part of insurance coverage (hallelujah!), initiatives to expand HVP vaccination (yes!). 
  • Support the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP): The CDC’s NBCCEDP provides uninsured and underinsured women access to no-cost screening and diagnostic services, as well as a pathway to cancer treatment. Support federal and state funding for this program. Advocate for more funding to expand the reach of this lifesaving program. 
  • Share your story. We’d love to have more representation from Latina Cervivors on our site. Submit your story here and come to one of our Cervivor Schools to learn more about bringing education and advocacy to your community. 

Cervical cancer is preventable. Cervical cancer is colorblind. So are we at Cervivor. We are all bonded by this disease. We are all motivated to ensure that no one else has to go through what we’ve gone through. Let’s be aware of the racial disparities in cervical cancer, address them head on, and put our support, stories and voices behind programs that can change cervical cancer statistics and save lives. 

Let’s celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month by recognizing the power and strength of the Latino community and to doing what we can to expand education about cervical cancer screening and prevention. 

But It’s MY Hair!

A person might not think about how important their hair is to them until they face losing it. This is a real side effect for those who have been diagnosed with cancer and are on chemo. For some, hair loss is a distressing side effect and is a daily reminder of their illness.

My whole world crashed on April 13, 2018 when I was told those 3 devastating words, “you have cancer.” My life became a whirlwind of doctor appointments, surgery, radiation – both external beam and internal, and chemo. My initial treatment of chemo did not cause hair loss, but after a scan that showed the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes I started on a different round of chemo that causes hair loss. Not only did I have to face and deal with a re-occurrence, I had to deal with losing my hair. For me, the thought of losing my hair was devastating. I had several thoughts; ” I’ve always had hair, people know me by my blonde hair, and I like my hair…Why do I have to lose my hair?”

After finding out that I had a re-occurrence, people would ask how I was doing. My main answer was, I’m doing okay but I don’t want to lose my hair. After hearing some of their responses, I really didn’t feel like anyone was listening to me, listening to what my fear was.

-“Oh, it’s just hair.” Yes, it’s just hair but it’s MY hair and I don’t want to lose it.
-“At least you’re still alive.” True, I am very thankful to be alive, but I don’t want to lose my hair.
-“It will grow back.” Yes, it will grow back, but it’s MY hair and I don’t want to lose it.
-“It’s only temporary.” Yes, it’s only temporary, but I don’t want to lose my hair for any amount of time.
-“They have some nice wigs and scarves.” Yes, they do have very nice wigs and scarves, but I still don’t want to lose my hair.
-“Get a nice wig and no one will know that you are bald.” I will know that I have lost my hair.
-“It won’t take long to get ready in the mornings.” True, but I like to shampoo my hair and I don’t want to lose it.
-“Just think of all the money you will save not having to buy shampoo or get haircuts.” True, but I would rather spend the money for haircuts, I enjoy having my hair done.

I would hear so many different things, when all I wanted to hear was, “I know you don’t want to lose your hair and I’m sorry that you have to.” I wanted to just tell them yes, it’s just hair but it’s my hair and if it is no big deal you shave your head when I lose mine and keep it shaved until mine grows back, then tell me “it’s just hair. Funny no one took me up on that offer.

So, chemo day #1 came and went and about 2 weeks later, I started losing my hair and I was a mess – a hot mess to be exact. The first handful of hair that fell out was devastating and all I could do was cry, then the next handful and the next handful. Lose a handful of hair and cry was my routine for the following 3 days. On the 4th day I decided that I was tired of letting the “cancer” be in control and I chose to be in control – I don’t want to lose my hair, BUT I am losing it. That was the day I took control of when I was going to lose the rest of my hair and shaved my head.

Fast forward 2 weeks, my hair is gone and I have found some really nice head covers. I am slowly getting used to being ‘hair free” and I am sure that in time I will be rocking my hair free head without a scarf or beanie. What I have learned from this experience is that most people don’t think before they speak and often times they don’t know what to say. It’s not easy to see and understand that when you are facing something that is devastating and all you want is to feel supported and understood.

To all my teal sisters who have to deal with hair loss, I understand how you feel and I’m sorry that you have to go through all of this. Be strong and take control, don’t let the “cancer” have the control. For those who don’t have to deal with hair loss, just be supportive and understanding.
I guess there is a positive to losing my hair – at least I don’t have to shave my legs.

Angie McKibben is almost a 1 year cervical cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with stage 4a cervical cancer in April 2018. She is an RN case manager and animal lover. She lives in Zaleski, Ohio with her grandson, a crested gecko, a bearded dragon named Jasmine, and Mini – a daschund who believes she is Angie’s owner. She would like to see more cervical cancer awareness in her community and plans to be an advocate for prevention and early detection.