Cervical cancer threatens all women, worldwide, and not only those in low resource settings. Those of us fortunate enough to have access to advanced medical care are still at risk - and MobileOCT encourages every woman to attend a regular cervical screening.
A vocal advocate for cervical cancer awareness, and one of our heroes, is Liz Lange, the fashion designer and entrepreneur. Our own Aric Weinberg was lucky enough to speak with her about her experiences and to get her permission to share her story as a way to contextualize the work we are doing at MobileOCT. The interview was published first on our Indiegogo campaign, and the full interview is below:
Aric: What emotions were you experiencing when you heard you had cervical cancer?
Liz: I was only 34 years old when I was diagnosed with stage 1B cervical cancer. It was a total shock as it was picked up by a pap smear in a routine visit. It was of course extremely scary. I was a young mother (my children were 3 years old and 1 year old at the time). My new business, maternity clothing, was taking off in a way beyond my wildest dreams and I saw it all being taken from me. I would often go into my children's rooms after they had gone to bed and watch them sleep wondering if I would have the opportunity to see them grow up. That said, I was very lucky that cervical cancer in the United States can be detected quite early and can for the most part be completely curable. Still, I was terrified.
Aric: How did you make it through this difficult time in your life?
Liz: What got me through it was keeping cancer fairly compartmentalized. I more than understand that for many this isn't helpful and for many, one can't do this as the cancer and its treatment are so debilitating that it has to become the focus. I opted to tell very few people as I didn't like the thought of people constantly asking me about it, or feeling sorry for me, treating me differently or feeling uncomfortable around me. I did undergo a surgery (a hysterectomy) followed by concurrent chemotherapy and radiation. It was tiring and some days it was a lot worse than that, but soon after my operation (the operation was big and I was in the hospital for two weeks) I was able to continue working. Again, because the cervical cancer was caught early, the type of chemotherapy I underwent was lighter than it is for others and it did not make me lose my hair so it was easy for me not to talk about it. I really think staying in my same routine, working, being with my children who were much too young to know anything was the matter really helped me get through it.
Aric: After this life-changing experience, what would you like to tell other women about the importance of getting a Pap test, what about women in the developing countries?
Liz: Cancer is all about EARLY DETECTION!!! We are so lucky to live in a country where that is possible. You'd have to be out of your mind not to talk to your health care provider about what early detection method is best for you. I implore woman to have annual pap smears. It sickens me to think about the fact that a cancer that we have basically beaten is the #1 cancer causing death of woman in emerging countries. It makes no sense.
Aric: Tell me about the support group you had, who were they and how did they help you through the tough journey you went through?
Liz: My support group was small by choice. My sister came with me to every single chemotherapy session. She'd bring fashion magazines and we'd read them and gossip - she was a life saver. My closest friends were always there for me and knew that I didn't want anyone asking me in very heavy solemn voices "how I am doing or feeling". And work as I mentioned earlier was a big help too.
Aric: Did cancer change you as a person? If so how, how exactly did it change you, your outlook, your relationships?
Liz: I don't know if cancer permanently changed my personality. I thought it might. But truthfully I was entrepreneur before I was a cancer survivor and as such I have always had a fairly optimistic/glass half full/for every problem there's a solution type of person. I was the same with cancer. I promised myself that I would never sweat the small stuff again. But honestly, time passes (I was diagnosed in 2001) and now it is a distant memory. However, here is what has changed. At 34, I lost the ability to have any more children. Luckily, I already had a son and a daughter but still. And that sense of well being, the way I breezed into my doctor's office for my annual check up the day that I had that fateful pap smear - well that is gone forever. I got nauseas just thinking about going to the doctor and I look at my health in a whole new way.
Aric: What advice would you like to give women who have just been diagnosed with cervical cancer?
Liz: My advice is that as hard as this is (and I realize that this may sound crazy) feel fortunate that this is a very slow growing, easy to detect cancer that is primarily curable. I felt lucky that this was the type of cancer that I got, believe it or not. But of course to take it very seriously, visit the best doctors who SPECIALIZE in women's gynelogical cancers immediately and follow their treatment plan. Time is of the essence and all cancers need to be taken very seriously.
Aric: Looking back, would you do anything different?
Liz: I don't know that I can say that I would have done anything differently as my cancer was an unavoidable fluke. I feel very lucky that I had been vigilant about annual pap smears and again I implore all women to do that too.
Aric: How do you think MobileOCT' device could impact cervical cancer diagnostics?
Liz: Obviously it sounds like it could have a big impact by allowing doctors to detect cervical cancer more easily and inexpensively and therefore cut back on the deaths associated with it.
Thank you for getting to know the story of one woman who survived, and for your support expanding the access to medical care she was fortunate enough to have to others worldwide. Please encourage your friends to join you in saving women's lives, worldwide by sharing something such as this tweet: "Join me to save women’s lives: pledge as little as $2 to help aide workers win the war against #cervicalcancer: http://igg.me/at/mobileoct/x/22625"
How to Defeat Cervical Cancer
This blog reflects the lessons our team learns on our quest to defeat cervical cancer.