ATLANTA — Cervical cancer is a preventable disease. But a recent study in Georgia found that Black women are 1 1/2 times more likely than white women to die of cervical cancer.
“Yesterday, I literally celebrated 21 years cancer free, something that when I was diagnosed in 2001 at age 25, I could never see,” said Tamika Felder, the founder and Chief Visionary of Cervivor.
She is not only surviving but thriving two decades after her cervical cancer diagnosis. She figured out a way to help others suffering from the disease by creating a website called Cervivor where women share their journeys.
“Cervivor really is a reflection of what I wish I had when I was going through my cervical cancer diagnosis,” Felder said.
She stressed that education is vital because cervical cancer is preventable.
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The Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Economic and Social Justice and Human Rights Watch studied health disparities in Georgia.
They say the numbers that show Black women are 1 1/2 times more likely to die from cervical cancer than their white counterparts are distressing.
“General questions like ‘Are there doctors in your community? How often do you have pap tests?’” said Vickie Kemp, a human rights commissioner with SRBWI.
Her grandmother died from cervical at age 56.
For Kemp, the research she conducted in Wilcox County was personal.
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“I was still surprised the number of women who still have that mistrust from doctors especially white male doctors to be frank,” Kemp said.
For Black women, the reason they are not getting the care they need is layered, from mistrust in doctors to not feeling heard, to a lack of education, transportation, insurance and even lack of access to nearby doctors.
Some women do not know there is a vaccine that can prevent HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer.
“At first, I was a little ashamed to talk about it. I did not have HPV, which was surprising,” said Chanel Cooper, a cervical cancer survivor who also is part of the Cervivor community.
Cooper said the stigma is real because it is caused by HPV, a sexually transmitted disease agent.
“I was diagnosed in December of 2012. My husband and I were trying to have a child,” Cooper said.
The Conyers woman said her diagnosis was depressing and life-changing.
“I really just thought death,” Cooper said.
But she thought of her two boys and the husband she loves and became determined to beat cancer. She started making jewelry as a way to heal and hopefully help others do the same.
“When I had my surgery on July 26, 2013, and my doctor came in a couple of days later… and she told me, ‘We got it all. You’re going to be fine,’” Cooper said.
She underwent a radical hysterectomy and focused on advocating for women with cervical cancer.
“You do not have to live with this disease and possibly die. There are resources, we just need to find them. So, if that means I gotta get a billboard and shout if from the rooftops I will,” Cooper said.
When it comes to solutions, the study recommended that Georgia expand insurance access, fund programs to prevent and treat cervical cancer and encourage people to get the HPV vaccine.
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