“When you have cancer, your first thought is your family,” said Gypsy Abilla, a survivor of both cervical and breast cancer. “Who will walk them down the aisle? Who will talk to them about boyfriends?” Gypsy, who had been in treatment of cancer for one and a half years, is mother to five girls. And according to her, the disease is not something she would wish on even her worst enemies.
Gypsy was the cancer survivor and the human face of “Put On Your Power Pout!” This campaign organized jointly by GSK Philippines and VMV Hypoallergenics spreads awareness about cervical cancer, encouraging women to join the movement by wearing purple lipstick to show support for the advocacy. According to Mark Castillo, GSK product manager, the lipstick “is a woman’s own—when she wears it, she makes a statement about herself.” By wearing that purple lipstick, he says, you are making a statement against cervical cancer.
Literal Lady Killer
Cervical cancer has generally remained low on our radar. But the deadly disease is actually the second leading cause of cancer deaths among Filipinas, with seven dying from it every single day. It is also alarming to learn that two in three Filipinas diagnosed with cervical cancer may die within five years, according to Philippine cancer facts estimates from 2010. It can affect women regardless of their age, race, lifestyle, or socio-economic status. Even those who practice healthy living are still at risk of getting cervical cancer, though findings show those who smoke have higher chances of getting it.
Here are a few things you should know about cervical cancer:
- How it develops: It occurs when abnormal cells develop and spread in the cervix, the entrance between the vagina and uterus. During the launch, Dr. Esther Ganzon said that the normal cervix looks like the glazed donut from Krispy Kreme. When there is cancer, it tends to resemble ground beef, or even prunes.
- Causes: The human papillomavirus or HPV, which is a very common virus. Up to 99.7 percent of cervical cancer patients are positive for HPV infection. It’s also scary to note that up to 80 percent of women will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. It can take 10-15 years for HPV infection to develop into full-blown cervical cancer, but in some cases, it only takes one to two years.
- How it’s contracted: It is primarily transmitted via sexual intercourse. Another recognized mode of transmission is skin-to-skin genital contact; penetrative intercourse is NOT necessary to be infected. Another fact to consider is that use of condoms may not adequately protect from exposure to HPV.
- Symptoms: Cervical cancer also doesn’t have symptoms right away. A smelly discharge is one of the symptoms, when it has already reached advanced levels. Others include abnormal uterine bleeding or bleeding after sex, pelvic and leg pain and foul-smelling vaginal odor. There is also weight loss and blood in the urine.
How Your Sex Life Affects Your Chances
How do your sexual habits affect your chances of getting cervical cancer? Even if you are monogamous, meaning you only have one sexual partner, you can still acquire HPV. Cervical cancer patients are also getting younger. Even those who are 11 to 13 years old and have had their first sexual intercourse are at risk, including commercial sex workers. The incidence of cancer-causing HPV infection is also highest among girls in the age bracket of 15 to 19. The risk of persistent infection with cancer-causing HPV increases with age and is highest when a woman is around 66 years old.
As always, prevention is better than cure, and cervical cancer can be prevented. It is recommended that screening for cervical abnormalities starts at age 21. Women should have a Pap test every three years, beginning at this age.
Young girls should be protected through HPV immunization before their first exposure to HPV, such as sexual contact. This age can be as young as nine years old. Older women, on the other hand, should be vaccinated to prevent new HPV infections. But remember that vaccination is not a substitute for regular consultation with your doctor.
Surviving Cervical Cancer
According to Gypsy, when dealing with cancer, it’s important to have doctors who give straightforward answers. The support of family and friends is also essential. “You need the support of people,” she said. “To [help you] be strong and to cheer you up, but not to baby you.” She also said that you need someone to talk to about death as well as other related matters.
As someone who survived the deadly disease, Gypsy is vigilant about advocating prevention. Her advice for Filipinas echoes that of health experts: “Get the vaccine,” she said. “Choose who you’re going to have sex with. [Sex is] wonderful, but early detection, please. Be responsible.”
Join the Movement
Want to help raise awareness about cervical cancer prevention?
Take a photo of yourself wearing VMV Hypoallergenics’ Tutu or Chorus Line Lipstick, or a photo of you holding your kiss mark from the lipstick. Post it on Instagram and Facebook with the hashtags #Powerpout and #PowerOverCervicalCancer.
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Dark chocolate, dogs, and adventure are just some of Mel's passions. Aside from doing her best to live life to the full, she plans on writing her own fiction one day.