In her early 20s, Tamika Felder skipped seeing her gynecologist and getting Pap smears for a few years because she couldn’t afford health insurance.
She was working part time in a job that paid only about $6 an hour, and “it was either go to the doctor’s or pay the rent,” she recalled. But her health was good, and Felder figured she’d be fine.
Except she wasn’t.
In 2001, at age 25, Felder learned that she had cervical cancer. She needed a hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. And she was left unable to bear children.
“I didn’t want to lose my womb. I didn’t want to lose my fertility. But I was tossed into this world of cancer,” said Felder, now 35 and a television producer living in Upper Marlboro. “It changes you in such a profound way. You have to rebuild your whole life.”
Each year, about 12,000 U.S. women receive diagnoses of cervical cancer and 4,000 women die of the disease. Yet doctors view cervical cancer as a disease that can easily be prevented and treated. Precancerous lesions and early cancer are easily detected through Pap smears; lesions can be removed in a minimally invasive procedure before they turn into cancer. And since 2006 there has been a vaccine against human papillomavirus, or HPV, the sexually transmitted virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer.