Uncomfortable, isn’t it? Perhaps even unnerving and without a doubt, embarrassing. But not discussing something for fear of treading through an uncomfortable conversation could quite literally mean the difference between life and death. Cervical cancer is on the rise and while it is preventable if caught early, it’s deadly if left untreated.
Holly Moore discovered the truth about cervical cancer the hard way.
Moore, owner and master hair artist at Imagine Hair Art Studio and Gallery Lounge at 334 Broad St., was diagnosed with cervical cancer on May 19, 2011. Having not had a pap smear since 1999, Moore knew something unusual was going on with her body. At 39 years old, Moore’s energy level was down and her periods weren’t normal.
“I just chalked it up to going through menopause early,” said Moore. “I’d heard that happens if you don’t have kids. I really just chalked it up to changes of life.”
But in the later half of 2010, Moore knew deep down that some of the changes her body was going through were questionable.
On that day in May 2011, Moore found herself sitting in her gynecologist’s office with her mother, sister and husband.
The moment the doctor said they needed a biopsy right away and went ahead scheduling CT scans, Moore knew she had cancer.
“It was in stage 4B, which mainly means my tumor was fairly large. It was six centimeters, and my lymph nodes in the stomach area were active. I have two spots on my lungs.”
Cervical cancer is preventable, but only if women get regular pap smears that will detect any abnormalities. Because the cancer is so preventable, Moore found herself angry.
“Mine wouldn’t be so progressed had I not been lazy in getting screenings and utilizing resources that were available,” she said.
Since Moore didn’t have children or health insurance, she said she stopped getting yearly physicals because she felt fine. After being diagnosed, Moore went online to research her cancer but found little information. It was then she realized there is a stigma attached to cervical cancer, which is caused by Human Papillomavirus, or HPV.
“There are more than 100 strains of HPV and 90 percent of all people are carriers of at least one of those strains,” said Ashley Altman, president of the Georgia Chapter for the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. “The most common strains for cervical cancer is 15 and 18. Strains 6 and 8 cause genital warts.”
Altman, who was diagnosed with stage 1 cervical cancer, encourages men and women to get the Gardasil vaccine, which helps to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts.
“Boys and girls can get it now, the CDC has approved it,” she said. “The minimum age is 9, but they prefer to give it to them around 11 or 12 before they’re in their sexual prime.”
Altman said men are the carriers of HPV.
“That’s the biggest issue is that there is no test for men,” she said, “They’re working on the test but the thing is that men don’t realize they are the carriers. That’s why I encourage boys and girls to get the vaccine.”
Moore has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments since June 2011. In December 2011, her tumor had become small and her doctor said she had “vastly improved.”
“Then they said let’s wait three more months because it’s so vastly improved it’s hard for us to tell what’s active and what isn’t at this stage,” she said. “In March of this year, when I got my scans, it showed my tumor had progressed again and that one of the spots on my lungs was growing. So I’m doing more chemotherapy now.”
But Moore said she is trying to remain positive about her battle, and most of all, raise awareness in the community.
Click to see more about the different stages of cervical cancer.
“We’ve got to quit being embarrassed to talk about our health. It’s really, really silly,” she said. “It’s not the 1950s anymore. Why is it ok we can run around and talk about our boobs all the time? Why is it ok to talk about colon cancer? Or prostate cancer? But oh my gosh, ovarian! Vagina! Cervical! Why is it such a taboo thing to talk about?”
Moore, a well-known figure in the community, said she is using her creativity to spread the word about cervical cancer. She is working with Women of W.O.R.T.H. Inc., creating awareness about the clinic's affordable, preventative health care services. She is also in the process of designing cervical cancer awareness T-shirt and bumper stickers that are being sold at her store.
Now Moore is committed to her own personal fight against cervical cancer, as well as spreading the word.
“I’m giving back. I feel a responsibility to make sure people are aware of what our community has to offer,” she said, “If even one person is inspired to take steps for their own health, whether it’s a man or a woman, then for me, I have more than served my purpose.”