Chambers Co. resident shares her cancer story to help others

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, August 30, 2023

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The Alabama Department of Public Health’s Cancer Prevention and Control Division has released a cervical cancer awareness film featuring Chambers County, the Alabama county with the highest rates of cervical cancer.

‘Linda’s Story, A Cervical Cancer Advocate Educates Her Community’ tells the story of the work that Operation Wipe Out is doing through Chambers County resident Linda Hayes’ experience with cancer.

Operation Wipe Out is an initiative to eliminate all instances of cervical cancer. The ADPH has partnered with Together for Health, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Rotary Clubs of Birmingham and the city of LaFayette on the initiative.

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“We are the third in the nation for mortality and incidence. Our rates are statistically significantly higher than those in the nation, especially Black women and especially in rural areas, and that shouldn’t happen,” said Nancy Wright, director of Cancer Prevention and Control Division at the Department of Public Health. “It’s preventable and highly survivable.”

The Cancer Prevention and Control Division has several programs to help increase vaccination rates and reduce mortality rates. Through the Alabama Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, they provide free screening, diagnostic testing and Medicaid referrals for treatment to individuals with no insurance in low-income areas.

Wright said there are three steps to eliminating cervical cancer. People should get vaccinated for the HPV virus as children.

“One hundred percent of cervical cancers are caused by the HPV virus,” Wright said.

For those who haven’t been vaccinated, regular cervical cancer screenings and HPV screenings are important to early detection. Wright said it’s also very important to follow up with a physician if a pap test comes back abnormal to receive a colposcopy.

The cervical cancer rates and mortality rates are significantly higher in African-American communities in large part due to healthcare access disparities. Many communities don’t have adequate access to healthcare or have misconceptions about the HPV vaccine and the seriousness of cervical cancer.

“There’s a lot of mistrust with the medical community. Historically, there’s been a lot of damage done between African Americans and medical communities,” Wright said.

Hayes was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2004 after years of pelvic pain. In the documentary, she said she didn’t have information about gynecological cancers and didn’t know what questions to ask.

Eventually, Hayes underwent a hysterectomy that saved her life. Since then, she has sought to advocate for cancer screenings and raise awareness for getting follow-ups.

“It’s not about me. It’s about what my story can do to help other ladies,” Hayes said.

“Especially knowing that African American women have the highest rate of cervical cancer, which is preventable, it touches home to me.”

Community members are also encouraged to ask questions during follow-up appointments and educate themselves about the risks of cervical cancer.

“No question is a stupid question when it comes to your body,” Hayes said.