Sportscaster Erin Andrews has always followed her mom’s example when it comes to visiting the doctor every year. Despite her busy schedule reporting at NFL games and hosting Dancing With the Stars, the 39-year-old still makes time for yearly checkups — including a gynecological exam. In 2016, that annual visit saved her life.
“I got a text from my gynecologist and she said, ‘I need to talk to you,'” Erin said in an interview with First for Women. “And I was like, ‘Oh boy, that’s not good to get a text on a Saturday.'” At the time, she was in NYC for an NFL assignment — but the hardworking journalist was actually in the middle of getting a manicure when she learned the horrible news that she had just been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
“I walked out crying,” she said. “So that was special, to explain why I didn’t want the flowers done on my nails. ‘No, I don’t need the gel! Just let me get out of here, I’m crying.'” Erin quickly called her husband and her parents, and they all got on the phone together. “Everybody went into the mode of ‘OK, what do we do next?'” she said.
Erin admitted that she had a couple of days where she felt bad for herself, but before long, she was ready to get all the information and find out the next steps. In her case, that meant undergoing a couple of surgeries. She wasn’t happy about missing time at football games or Dancing With the Stars and also wasn’t excited about getting surgeries or laying on the couch for a couple of days after her procedures. But with the love and support of family and friends, she did what she needed to do — and that’s why she’s still alive today. “I’m always hesitant to say I’m fine because I don’t want to jinx it,” Erin said. “But it’s been a year, and my checkups have gone well.”
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Now, she hopes to use what happened to her to help other women. She began to open up about her diagnosis in January 2017, and she recently partnered with Hologic — a medical technology company focused on women’s health — to encourage and empower women to visit the doctor for annual checkups.
Together, Erin and Hologic have launched the website ChangeThisStat.com to raise awareness that cervical cancer is preventable and treatable — but if women don’t go to the doctor to get checked out, the consequences could be dire. Erin was floored when she found out months after her surgeries that every two hours, a woman dies from cervical cancer.
“Nothing hit me more — besides hearing that I had it — than hearing the stat,” Erin said. But that’s not the only shocking statistic about cervical cancer. Every year, 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the US, and 4,000 women will, unfortunately, die from that illness, according to gynecologist Jessica Shepherd, MD. “It’s so important that she shares this story because she’s here today,” Dr. Shepherd said of Erin. “She’s able to share that story because she went to her doctor every year. She obviously had cervical cancer, but she got it treated and she’s here.”
Though the stats are still alarming, they’ve actually decreased quite a bit over the decades, thanks to the development of the pap test. Studies show that between 1955 and 1992 alone, the incidence and death rates of cervical cancer in the US declined by more than 60 percent — largely due to advancements in medicine over time. And by continuing to raise awareness about prevention and treatment, we can reduce the numbers even further.
Shepherd said that today, getting a pap smear is key for screening because many women do not experience symptoms from cervical cancer. When pathologists look at these cells under a microscope, they can see if there’s precancerous or cancerous cells there. Frighteningly enough, women who do have symptoms from cervical cancer — like watery, runny discharge or irregular bleeding — usually have late-stage cancer.
Shepherd added that she thinks women don’t visit the gyno because they might be fearful of hearing the word “cancer” at all. But from a healthcare point of view, there are varying degrees of cancer — and if you catch it when it’s early, your doctors have a much better chance of saving your life. “Listen, I have a very busy schedule,” Erin said. “Everybody’s got a busy schedule and everybody likes to use it as an excuse. They think, ‘Oh, I can’t really make it to the doctor, Sophie’s got soccer.’ You’ve got to take the time to address this and go check yourself out.”
This post originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.