"...since I led a healthy lifestyle and had a history of normal Pap tests, I thought I was safe. Unfortunately, I was wrong..."
I was raised by an affectionate family in the tight-knit community of Summerville, South Carolina. My life was full of love and happiness. The day before my 17th birthday, my beloved father died after a battle with colon cancer. I was devastated. He had been my best friend and confidant. He had looked forward to my upcoming senior year of high school, but now I could not share it with him. In the face of this difficult time, I knew picking up and rebuilding my life was the only option.
After graduating from college, I made the decision to move to Washington, DC and work as a television producer. My strong will landed me a number of successful positions within the broadcast industry. When a job change left me temporarily without health insurance, I was unable to visit my gynecologist. I knew I needed to go, but since I led a healthy lifestyle and had a history of normal Pap tests, I thought I was safe. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
In May 2001, my life changed forever for the second time. When I saw my gynecologist for a routine exam and Pap, I was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer. Devastated by this grim prognosis, my world began to fall apart. My dream of having children instantly disappeared. To save my life, I underwent a radical hysterectomy and aggressive radiation and chemotherapy. After my surgery, I started asking questions and discovered that if I had been tested for the human papillomavirus (HPV,) my cancer could have been prevented.
Before, I wasn't aware that we know what causes cervical cancer – high-risk HPV or the human papillomavirus. I also didn't know that the Pap test isn't foolproof. When used alone, it can miss abnormal cells that can turn into cervical cancer if they aren't found early. But if the HPV test is combined with the Pap test, doctors' ability to identify women at risk for cervical cancer increases to nearly 100 percent. In fact, most medical experts now recommend that all women age 30 and older (those most at risk) routinely have an HPV test along with their Pap.
After my diagnosis and treatment, I took an active role in educating women about HPV and cervical cancer to help them avoid what I went through. Speaking engagements, media appearances and an online support group titled Tamika & Friends allow me to tell my story and communicate this vital health information. Currently, I am producing a documentary film about HPV and cervical cancer to continue generating awareness. My main message is that early diagnosis is key, and I've learned first-hand that knowing your HPV status can greatly impact your life.
For more information, visit www.tamikaandfriends.org.