Head to Toe

According to the National Cancer Institute, more young, non-risk individuals are being diagnosed with head and neck cancers around the world. New data indicates that the rise of HPV cases could be one of the significant links between oral head and neck cancers and cervical, vaginal, vulva and anal cancers. According to recent scientific data HPV is thought to cause 70% of oropharyngeal cancers in the United States.

Given these new health trends and after learning more from Dr Ian Ganly, Head of the HNC Department at MSKCC, it was evident to me that I needed to do more to help others. My HNC Fund Board and I immediately agreed to expand our HNC Fund mission to include supporting very specific discovery studies focused on learning more about how and why more young, otherwise non risk youth are being diagnosed with HNC and why they too might have a higher risk of a second form of gynecological cancer.

After speaking with Dr Ganly, I reached out to my friend Nicole Drost. We met at the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship Elevate Ambassador meeting last year. Both of us were nominated and won roles to raise awareness about our personal cancers in hopes of helping others. Nicole began a blog series about Gynecological Cancers called The Gyno Syndicate [thegynosyndicate.blogspot.com] and I am created a free online Head Neck Cancer Support group that will launch in the Fall of 2023.

While at our two day NCCS meeting, we instantly connected and became fast friends. Nicole is a wonderful mom of three children and teaches Prevention Education for middle and high school students in NYC. Nicole was diagnosed with Endometrial Cancer.

Together we thought it was imperative to highlight the importance of wellness at any age. Proper nutrition, exercise, sleep and regular wellness check ups are VITAL for both men and women. Detection of any form of cancer at an early stage is crucial in aiding in the effectiveness of treatments and significantly increases the chance of survival.

How Does HPV Cause Cancer?  

According to the National Cancer Institute, “HPV infection causes cells to undergo changes. If not treated these cells can, over time, become cancer cells. Once high-risk HPV infects cells, it interferes with the ways in which these cells communicate with each other, causing infected cells to multiply in an uncontrolled manner.”

How do you get HPV?

According to the National Cancer Institute, “HPV is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex. Unfortunately, it can be spread through even kissing.” This being said, it is essential, sex or no sex, to be safe and schedule your yearly wellness exams!

What are the symptoms of HPV?

According to the National Cancer Institute, “Most cases of HPV are asymptomatic, meaning you will not have any noticeable signs or symptoms. In some cases, HPV can lead to vaginal, penile and throat cancer.”

Following a brief overview of the topic, who better to obtain insights and tips from than someone who has experienced it and is now healthy! The following insights and tips are from my friend Nicole:

What type of cancer were you diagnosed with? How did you navigate your cancer journey as a mother of three children?

Nicole shared, ” I had Endometrial Cancer and did 6 rounds of chemo–carboplatin and taxol. As a family we navigated this time by shooting down numbered chemo treatments with nerf guns! It gave the kids something to look forward to. We enjoyed doing that all together. We tried to keep things as “normal” as possible for the kids! This included their science fairs and array of school activities and sporting events.  Praying also helped me. My friends and family sent me cards which were helpful. I took restorative yoga for cancer classes, acupuncture, and Reiki treatments. I tried to keep my mindset positive. I truly believe that integrating the Western and Eastern medicines and associated practices really helped me.”

What do you want others to know about Gynecologic Cancers?

 Nicole added, “Knowing the symptoms of Gynecologic Cancers can save the life of someone you love, and your own life!  ‘According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that 66,000 women will be diagnosed with endometrial/uterine cancer this year (2023) alone.  Diagnoses are increasing slowly in women, with African American women more likely to pass from these types of cancers.’

What are the symptoms of Gynecologic Cancers?

  • Heavy bleeding through your tampons/pads because your period is so heavy.
  • Irregular periods or abnormal discharge. Keep track of how you are feeling and if you experience bleeding between periods.
  • Feeling bloated in your pelvic area or feeling a significant amount of pressure.
  • Abdominal bloating or back pain.
  • More frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation.
  • Itching, burning, pain or tenderness of the vulva.
  • Changes in vulva color or skin such as rash, sores or warts.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full even if you have not eaten much.
  • Constant fatigue.

Nicole added, “Most women do not know that there are five distinct types of gynecologic cancer: Endometrial/Uterine, Vaginal, Ovarian, Cervical and Vulva. Keep track of how you are feeling and if you experience any of the symptoms above contact your doctor.”

What do you wish you knew before your cancer diagnosis?

Nicole responded:

  • That it really CAN happen to anyone.
  • You will find out who your true friends are when the chips are down.
  • If you are concerned about anything with respect to your body, tell your doctor. If they won’t listen, go to the next doctor. You know your body the best!
  • It is totally normal to ask “Why me?”, but you will learn “Why not me?” and refer to #1 above.
  • It is okay to be angry that you have cancer. Just don’t let it consume you.
  • Get fresh air daily.
  • It is normal to get “jealous” when a person has an earlier stage of cancer than you.
  • Survivors’ Guilt is real
  • A positive mindset will help you through the tough times.

      Nicole and I hope that this wellness blog helps facilitate conversations about various types of cancers and most importantly reminds everyone to make their health a priority. Always schedule yearly wellness checkups from your head to your toes. Seek medical treatment immediately if you sense that something is not right. Knowledge is power. The more we learn about the multiple variations of cancer, the more power we have to maintain our health and overall well being to ensure cancer free lives.

      Leave a Reply