NEW YORK – September is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. The disease primarily affects older women, but a young woman from Harlem has found hope in helping others cope.
Amanda Fitzpatrick sees her oncologist regularly at Mount Sinai as she approaches three years without her uterus. At 26, she developed the most common gynecological cancer, which often goes unnoticed.
“Any abnormal bleeding should be investigated,” said Dr. Stephanie Blank, director of gynecologic oncology at Mount Sinai.
Blank’s department works to understand and eliminate disparities between race and age outcomes.
“Our national society guidelines say you shouldn’t do biopsies in people under 45 unless they have strong risk factors such as obesity or a genetic predisposition to cancer,” he said. declared Blank. “If you follow the guidelines, you might miss a diagnosis like that.”
Fitzpatrick went to the emergency room when she started bleeding uncontrollably. A doctor prescribed her pills, but Fitzpatrick performed a biopsy.
“It’s so important that she stood up for herself,” Blank said. “She knew something was wrong.”
Although considered one of the most treatable cancers, CDC reports show that the number of uterine cancer cases and deaths across the country continues to rise. New York has the second highest case rate and the fourth highest death rate.
Black women die twice as often as white women.
“It’s even when people see the right doctors, they still don’t get the right care,” Blank clarified. “So there are all these underlying structural issues that are preventing people from really getting the best possible outcomes.”
Thanks to a dedicated plan, all traces of Fitzpatrick’s cancer disappeared within the first year of his diagnosis. The cancer returned five years later.
“She’s like, we had to do a hysterectomy, like, this is really bad,” Fitzpatrick recalled hearing over the phone.
Ultrasounds showed progression as the cancer was eating away at her uterus. Single and childless, Fitzpatrick felt his world turn upside down.
“I have to go on this new life and this new journey without a womb and hot flashes and menopause and everything, and how am I going to live?” Fitzpatrick wondered. “And it took a lot of acceptance.”
Doctors stored and frozen Fitzpatrick’s eggs for a secure future and referred her to Mount Sinai’s Woman To Woman support group for gynecological cancer patients.
“Everyone here looks like they’re of retirement age and I don’t belong,” Fitzpatrick recalled.
Fitzpatrick started her own group, “You’re Too Young For This,” hosting beauty days and pizza nights for people with gynecological cancer in her age group.
“I love them,” Fitzpatrick said of his new friends. “I can speak because this group.”
Talking and de-stigmatizing symptoms offers a solution to some of the systemic barriers to care. Mount Sinai is making an effort to reach out to its Harlem neighbors, and Blank is encouraging researchers to intentionally diversify clinical trials.
“When you work in a community that has a lot of black people, you have to really think about what the community needs,” Blank said.
The causes of uterine cancer remain unknown. Research aims to move forward, while statistics slip. The human factor can make the biggest difference.
For support and resources related to gynecological cancer, click here.
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