Kate Weissman was only 30 when she got the news that changed her life.
Full of energy and just embarking on her life’s journey, a simple phone call on Oct. 6, 2015 to her Charlestown home derailed all of her plans and left her to grapple with having Cervical Cancer and fighting for her life.
But it was a fight that she said didn’t need to happen, and one that she says other women can easily avoid.
With January being Cervical Cancer Awareness month, Weissman said she wants everyone in Charlestown to know her story so that perhaps women and families can get the facts on a vaccine that can prevent Cervical Cancer and the months and years of fighting she is and has endured.
Cervical Cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and while that virus is conquered by some immune systems, it isn’t for others. One of the misconceptions about Cervical Cancer is that it is an “easy” cancer that can be accomplished by a hysterectomy, but that wasn’t the case for Weissman.
After finding out she had cancer, she later found out that it had spread to her lymph nodes, making the condition a fight for her life. She spent nearly a year fighting the disease, enduring six rounds of chemotherapy on two separate occasions (once after it came back).
Ironically, it is a preventable disease if young girls get the HPV vaccine, which prevents one from developing the condition that can lead to Cervical Cancer. Weissman said it is a cancer that is preventable and could be eradicated in our lifetime if people are willing to have difficult conversations.
“After the dust settled, I survived and surviving cancer is really not all rainbows and butterflies,” she said. “There is a lot of depression with it and survivor’s guilt is big. I began to wonder why I had survived while so many of those I met who also had it did not. Cervical Cancer is a preventable disease. Not all cancers are, but it is. It usually happens to women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. A common misconception is it is the ‘easy’ cancer. It is not. A lot of cases can be accomplished with a hysterectomy, but it is not easy to live without your body parts. As soon as they remove it, you go into post-menopause. That’s tough to be post-menopause in your 20s or 30s. You also lose the ability to carry children. I’m young and I’ll never be able to carry a pregnancy.”
Weissman, now 33, actually got the vaccine when she was in college, but it was too late. After surviving her cancer, she decided she had to use her voice to prevent anyone else from going through cancer. One of the ways is educating parents on vaccinating their daughters, even as early as 11.
“For me, it does go back to the fact I survived this and figuring out why I survived it,” she said. “A way for me to process surviving it while others didn’t is to make it my calling. I understand after going through Cervical Cancer how much people don’t know about it…Women are still dying. I will keep talking about it until that isn’t the case. It is a preventable disease if we increase the amount of vaccines kids get.”
But, admittedly, it is a highly charged topic.
For parents, the idea of having their 11-year-old take a vaccine to prevent a sexually-transmitted disease like HPV can be unnerving. Many decide that their child isn’t sexually active, and thus doesn’t need the vaccine.
Weissman said that’s just one of the many misconceptions about Cervical Cancer and the vaccine. In fact, she said, one doesn’t have to be sexually active to get HPV, as it can spread in other ways like skin to skin contact.
That’s one of the stigmas that Weissman said she would like to end with her advocacy. She said if they can fight through the stigma and the emotions of the matter, she believes the facts will win out. And if that happens, suffering like hers can be eliminated for thousands of women.
“Let my story be an example,” she said. “It’s not taken care of with one surgery. Even if it is, the consequences of that surgery are monumental for women…Thirty years ago we couldn’t talk about this at all. Women suffered in silence. The time is up on that. We need to dismiss the stigma and have the tough conversations so we can eliminate this in our lifetime.”
For more information, one can go to Cervivor.org or the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.