MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. Cervical Cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. Although it’s not as common on a national level, it’s still very common locally.
Oncologists at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute say cervical cancer is seen more on the Gulf Coast and in the state of Alabama than almost anywhere in the United States.
It’s slow-growing, so there are opportunities for prevention, early detection, and treatment during precancer stages. But if it’s not caught early, it can be deadly.
“For many women who are not getting those regular screenings, it can easily go on to be invasive cancer and for some women it can even kill them,” said Dr. Jennifer Young Pierce, GYN Oncologist.
She says it’s not enough to get an annual pap test.
“We want women to ask their gynecologist for an HPV test. So an HPV test is a cervical cancer screening test of the 21st century. The pap test is the cervical screening test of the early 20th century. So it’s an old test and it doesn’t work that well. That’s why you have to repeat it over and over and over again,” Dr. Pierce told Cherish Lombard.
She says there are a couple of reasons so many cases of cervical cancer are being seen in Alabama.
“We feel like it has a lot to do with access issues. We have a lot higher rates of uninsured women who aren’t able to get their regular screenings on time. There are still places in this country including Alabama where cancer, in general, is more common, which may be related to risk factors like HPV and smoking,” Dr. Pierce told News 5.
Tory Toomey was a smoker and is now a cervical cancer survivor.
“I was diagnosed October 11 of 2018 with class 4B cervical cancer,” Toomey said.
Stage 4 means cancer has spread to parts of the body outside the cervix. Stage ‘4B’ means cancer has spread to organs further away, such as the lungs.
Toomey said, “My first thought was it’s not real. It’s not happening, it’s not as bad as it sounds. It takes a couple of days for it to kick in and sink in that it’s serious.”
She says the hardest part was telling her family.
“How do you tell your adult son, hey, mom may not be around for Christmas?,” she explained.
Treatment lasted two 2 months.
“Five days a week radiation, and once a week infusion for chemotherapy. It was intense,” said Toomey.
Tory has been in remission since March 25th. She was told there’s a 30-percent chance that cancer won’t return, and she’s following her doctor’s orders to try to keep it at bay.
She said, “Taking better care of myself than I was previously. Following Dr. Pierce’s orders of eating right, exercising, don’t smoke, don’t drink too much, those kind of things.”
And although she admits it’s not always easy, Tory is keeping a positive attitude, and encourages others who receive a cancer diagnosis to do everything in their power to do the same.
She said, “Be as strong as you can be. We’re fighters. We’re warriors, and we’re brave.”
Tory also says she now gets up every morning, fixes her hair and puts on makeup and a cute outfit, even if she’s not leaving her house. She says that helps her keep moving forward.