In the summer of 1995, I was 17 years old. I had just graduated from high school and was preparing to embark on what would be the most life-changing four years of my life at college in Western Massachusetts. It was also the summer when my mother, Cindy, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It would kill her just two summers later, when I was 19, just a few days before I began my junior year.
If discovered in its earliest stages, cervical cancer is easily eradicated in most cases. But if it goes unchecked and is not found until the later stages, it is deadly. What has stuck with me most about my mother’s brave yet short battle was that her illness was 100% preventable, but she had not seen a gynecologist for a regular yearly exam for at least a decade before her diagnosis. One pap smear – which takes less than a minute to complete – could have saved her life.
My yearly trip to the doctor now happens like clockwork – a lesson learned by my mother’s experience. But I have always remembered that if an educated and aware woman like my mother didn’t realize the importance of a yearly exam, there must be many others like her out there. And so in addition to taking care of my own health, I have dedicated a portion of my charitable giving to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, an organization committed to educating women about the importance of cervical cancer prevention.
About the NCCC
NCCC was founded in 1996 as a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to serving women with, or at risk for, cervical cancer and HPV disease. (Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV – a sexually transmitted disease that many people have but they don’t know it.) It’s mission is to help women, family members and caregivers battle the personal issues related to cervical cancer and HPV and to advocate for cervical health in all women by promoting prevention through education about early vaccination, Pap testing and HPV testing when recommended. The NCCC has thousands of members around the world, and chapters across the U.S. NCCC’s sister organization, the Global Initiative Against HPV and Cervical Cancer, works throughout the developing world as a platform to empower people, communities and societies to reduce the disease burden from HPV and cervical cancers.
More than 12,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and more than 4,000 of women will die. Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women worldwide, but because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer. Deaths from cervical cancer in the United States continue to decline by approximately 2 percent a year. This decline is primarily due to the widespread use of the Pap test to detect cervical abnormalities and allow for early treatment. Most women who have abnormal cervical cell changes that progress to cervical cancer have never had a Pap test or have not had one in the previous three to five years.
Team Cindy is Born
When I married my husband in 2008, we made our largest donation to NCCC, in honor of our guests and in memory of my mother, in lieu of a formal wedding favor. This year, to celebrate the five year mark of that gift, I will be running a 5K for Cervical Cancer prevention in Montclair, NJ. I’ve trained for months, amassed a small team of friends who will be running with me, and I’m hoping to raise some money for the NCCC in the process. My ambitious goal is to gradually run longer races with higher fundraising goals for cervical cancer prevention.
A few people have asked me what my mom might think of my efforts. I think she would be waving off the attention of a #TeamCindy hashtag on Twitter and would scold me for making her the center of anything, but I also think she would be deeply proud of the support system that has grown out of this. She’d also be pretty psyched that I was doing anything athletic, especially running. But most importantly, I’d like to think Cindy would be happy to see the success of an organization that is helping to keep women from enduring the pain that she had to experience.
If you would like to support Team Cindy and the prevention of cervical cancer, please click here to participate in my CrowdRise campaign, which ends this Saturday, October 26.