It takes a sisterhood to save a sister. Local Tracy Jimenez was misdiagnosed by her doctors, but she, herself, could not aid in the diagnosis because she did not know enough about cervical cancer to have any idea that she might have the disease. Thousands of women were suffering and dying for decades from the disease, partly out of shame and confusion, and partly out of the information not being broadcast to the general population.
On January 2021, Colorado Governor Polis declared in a Proclamation that it was Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, “WHEREAS Colorado women should be encouraged to maintain consistent checkups with their doctor to ensure regularly scheduled Pap tests for early detection of cervical cancer.” Those who are diagnosed have a close to 75 percent survival rate.
In 2020, the City of Longmont made January 28th Cervical Cancer Awareness Day; as well as in December 2020 by the city of Boulder. Tracy Jimenez heroically got all three passed.
With this being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, what better time than now to spread the word, and offer up links to where you can find more information and a sisterhood of survivors and experts willing and able to listen to your experience and answer your questions. The place to start is www.Cervivor.org. Founder Tamika Felder was diagnosis with cervical cancer at the age of 25. She is a 19 year survivor!
“Hearing my diagnosis was indescribable,” Tamika said. “You’re so numb and you just can’t believe that you’ve heard those words. I couldn’t process it…There is no blueprint to exactly prepare you for this. …I went in for a routine Pap after not having had one for a few years.”
The doctor told her that her best chance of survival would be through a radical trachelectomy or hysterectomy. She was advised that she should consider immediately getting pregnant, but she was not married, or freezing her eggs, an expensive option.
“There is life beyond cancer,” said Tamika. “When you are at your lowest, you learn how strong you are. That’s what I want women to know—that we are resilient, that you can bounce back.”
In 2005, she started Tamika & Friends, Inc. a nonprofit that was dedicated to cervical cancer survivors and their family. At that time, she says, there wasn’t any support for cancer survivors. The internet was just getting started. She eventually formed CERVIVOR.org which is not only a place of community and sharing, but also a learning tool, an advocacy resource, and an online retreat for healing, connecting with others, and thriving. It is especially helpful during the coronavirus days, when people are isolated more than ever. Go to their “about us” page to read an explanation of the services offered.
Many Lyons people have seen Tracy Jimenez’s advocacy work in Colorado, mainly on Facebook’s Lyons Happenings, where she posts information and links to CERVIVOR, and also notifies people of her annual fundraising event. This year, she did a virtual Silent Auction, and still met her goal. Many Lyons businesses donated items. She has talked with families all over the Front Range, and in particular with some women in Pinewood Springs who had it, or are dealing with it, or who have family dealing with it.
Tracy’s story began in her 40s. She was a single mother of three great children, who she had sent off into the world. Like many of the surviving women’s stories that you can read online, one of the things that held her back from getting regular pap exams was not having insurance, and the other was not having enough information about why it was so important to get them.
She started to experience bad health in ways that she had never had before, such as terrible back pain, a difference in her periods, and more. First, she was diagnosed with sciatic nerve damage. She went to the Emergency Room with severe pain. The ER medical personnel did not give her a pelvic exam or ask her any questions about that part of her body. Later that year, she had something spontaneously eject from her body while in the bathroom, and she again went to the ER. She got a CAT scan, and was immediately referred to a doctor. She was later diagnosed with a mass on her cervix. The tumor turned out to be cervical cancer.
Over the next six months, she had 28 rounds of radiation, six rounds of chemo therapy, and four rounds of internal radiation (brachytherapy). It worked, and she is cancer free.
Today, Tracy is an Advocate and Survivor. She started the Northern Colorado Cervical Cancer Group, which advocates for immunizations in Colorado. She also is active with Cervivor, and has taken classes there. She encourages women to reach out to these groups if they are diagnosed with cervical cancer, as “I do not want to have women go through it alone. I had no one who understood, and it really affected me.”
She is also determined to teach everyone about HPV, and other cancers that it can cause; and to encourage parents to have their boys and girls get the HPV vaccine. HPV or human papillomavirus causes almost all cervical cancers. Newer technologies now screen for the PV virus, and it shows if a woman has an HPV infection.
“Most women think if they got a hysterectomy that they never need to go back for women exams and Pap and HPV tests, but that is wrong. If they still have a vagina they still need to go no matter the age,” said Tracy.
Other symptoms that she had were painful sexual intercourse; constant lower back pain, irregular periods that could last a day or a week, unusual bleeding, pain in back of her lower legs, and fatigue. Note, an HPV infection often shows no symptoms. Many times, the person’s immune system might clear the virus, but it can return.
She received treatment at the Rocky Mt. Cancer Centers, Longmont, and recommends them for their compassionate treatment of her. She is now three-years cancer free.
“While I wish the doctors in the ER had asked me more questions, I wish I knew to ask questions myself, …to mention my symptoms” said Tracy. “I want to help others. I am a fighter, and no one is alone in this fight.”