Sandra Ann Slayton slowly sat down in the doctor’s cold, unsteady chair. A chill shot through her chest. She suspected the doctor had bad news. Slayton’s knees were shaking, her palms were sweaty, and she was beginning to tear up.
“Sandra,” the doctor said. Instantly, Slayton looked up.
“You have cervical cancer. I am so sorry,” the doctor said.
Slayton, a junior marine biology major at Eastern University, shut down with tears flowing from her eyes. Depression was closing in on her.
“I kept asking myself, why me?” Slayton said recently in an interview when she recounted her 20 minutes in the doctor’s office on May 15, 2007. “I am only 19 years old and I have to worry about something like this already.”
There was a 50,000-to-1 chance that a woman under 20 years old would be diagnosed with cervical cancer, according to Cancer.org. The disease afflicts 14.9 percent of slightly older women between the ages of 20 and 34. Every year more than 11,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, and each year 4,070 die from the disease.
Slayton said knowing she had the disease made her feel like an outcast. Her mother told her she felt responsible for her daughter’s pain because cervical cancer runs in their family.
“Regret is the word that constantly repeats through my mind, because I did not tell my daughter,” Mary Slayton said. “She had to learn about this disease from an outside source when she could have learned about it from me.”
Slayton learned about cervical cancer in health class but she never discussed it with her mother or any other woman in her family. Had she known the family medical history, Slayton would have known that her chances of getting cancer were greater and she would have known to undergo more frequent Pap smear tests and regular checkups.
Fortunately, Slayton’s cervical cancer was discovered in an early stage and she will not be threatened with losing her uterus unless the cancerous lesions continually reappear.
“Is my mom worth being mad at? I wish she told me sooner then I would not have to ask myself this question,” Slayton said.
More than 90 percent of women with cervical cancer are infected with the human papilloma virus, according to the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa. HPV is a common virus that infects the skin and mucous membranes. HPV is spread through genital contact. About.hpv.com estimates that 80 percent of all women, and 50 percent of men and women combined will get one or more types of “genital” HPV at some point in their lives. Most people’s immune systems are strong enough to fight off the HPV virus.
Women with cervical cancer will experience spotting or bloody discharges at unexpected times, such as between menstrual periods, after intercourse or after menopause. According to women’s health.gov, it is imperative that women begin getting Pap smear tests when they are 21 years old, or within three years of their first sexual intercourse. Other protective measures include using condoms, taking birth control pills or abstaining from sex.
“Protected sex does reduce a woman’s chances of getting cervical cancer,” said Dr. Kimberly Higginbotham of Howard University’s Cancer Institute. Condom use reduces chances of getting cervical cancer 99.9 percent. Higginbotham suggested every young woman get the Gardisil® shot. Gardasil can prevent 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and 90 percent of the incidences of genital warts. The shot is effective for five years, and those five years are significant because a woman’s chance of being diagnosed with cervical cancer is decreased by 75 percent.
“The best advice I can give is to abstain from sex, but if you cannot then the best thing to do is to have safe sex,” Higginbotham said. By having safe sex, Higginbotham means using condoms and having one sex partner.
Slayton said having cervical cancer has made her closer to God. She does not attend church every Sunday but she does pray, daily. Also, she attends Bible study every Tuesday and Thursday, and she gets Pap Smears test more frequently.
“Instead of going once a year, now I go every two months,” Slayton said. “My advice to women is to get tested. Find out now so you can prevent or cure anything you have.”
Slayton is orchestrating a cervical cancer walk in Chicago, her hometown. She is looking for volunteers on Facebook to walk for cervical cancer and a list is circulating at her college, Eastern University. The walk will take place on May 23. People who want to help can type in Sandra Ann Slayton on Facebook and sign up for the walk on her page.