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Prathibha’s Story

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Offering cervical cancer tests to women in low-resource areas is a challenge, but one that’s well worth the effort.

This is a story that has been adapted from the Women’s Stories, Women’s Lives: Experiences with Cervical Cancer Screening and Treatment, a publication of the Alliance for Cervical Cancer Prevention.

Prathibha, a 37-year-old woman, lives in Maharashtra State, India. One day she heard from her neighbors that there was a team conducting cervical cancer screening in her area. When Pratibha arrived at her house, she saw two women from a cancer hospital talking to her husband about cervical cancer screening. He gave them permission to explain the procedure to her. They informed Prathibha that cervical cancer was the most common cancer in women in her region, but if detected early, it was a preventable disease.

Prathibha was not sure about getting screened, but the village elder, the panchayat, whose mother had died of cervical cancer when he was 10 years old, had already given his tacit approval, so her husband and mother-in-law agreed. The test was free, and she underwent the test even though she had no symptoms.

Prathibha’s test results were positive for cervical cancer. She was shocked, as she felt perfectly healthy. Further testing confirmed that she had cancer and the doctor advised she get a hysterectomy. Prathibha couldn’t believe that she was in such a dire predicament — going from feeling perfectly healthy to being diagnosed with cancer in a matter of days! She then underwent hysterectomy.

While in the hospital, Prathibha talked with another woman who had advanced cancer and was very worried about the future of her young child. It was at this time that it struck Prathibha how lucky she was to get the opportunity to be screened and treated. She said, “These people saved me. They have not only saved a woman but they have saved the mother of a small child. I am lucky that I live in the village of Osmanabad District, which has been selected for this program. I am thankful to these people, who put in so much effort to convince me to get tested and prevent cancer. They saved my life and my family.”

This story clearly illustrates the challenges of women’s lives in low resource settings. It also shows the challenges posed by husbands, mothers-in-law, local myths and fears, and, poor health services that prevent women from being screened for cervical cancer. Many women continue to die from the ravages of cervical cancer. Let us hope that stories such as Prathibha’s will help raise public awareness, and that millions of women will learn to battle a disease that, for the present, they don’t even know they can conquer.

Story contributed by:
Shobha S. Krishnan, M.D
Founder and President, Global Initiative Against HPV and Cervical Cancer
Experts’ Panel, American Social Health Association
Member, Medical Advisory Board, National Cervical Cancer Coalition
Author, The HPV Vaccine Controversy
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