It’s Personal: Women’s Cancer Awareness Week

By Madison Forsander ‘14

The week of September 26th – October 1st marked Hamilton’s first ever Women’s Cancer Awareness Week. The campus buzzed with activity as students participated in events designed to raise awareness for gynecologic cancers. Members of the Hamilton community attended a joint lecture by Professor of Women’s Studies Michele Paludi and Professor of Biology Jinnie Garrett, which explored both the science behind various gynecologic cancers, and the social issues surrounding them. During the week, students had the opportunity to sign ribbons, placed together into a giant ribbon, which was then donated to a local hospital.  Additionally, WHCL, the campus radio station, released several public service announcements about women’s cancers. To wrap up the week, The Little Pub hosted a Ladies’ Night on Friday serving customized and virgin drinks donating a portion of the proceeds to the cause.  HEAT, Hamilton’s hip-hop dance troupe, even showed their support and gave an energized performance.

The woman behind all of the events of the week, Sarah Perdomo ’12, is a native of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Her major is an interdisciplinary focus in art, comparative literature, and religious studies. She and a few friends were inspired by their personal experiences to raise awareness at Hamilton of various gynecologic cancers. After a meeting with Lisa Magnarelli ’96, Associate Dean of Students, the first Women’s Cancer Awareness Week at Hamilton was born.

Perdomo’s motivations for organizing Women’s Cancer Awareness Week are deeply personal. Her mother was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in March 2011 and underwent a hysterectomy, but over the summer, doctors discovered that what they thought was endometrial was actually ovarian cancer. Following this news, Perdomo’s mother underwent chemotherapy. Sarah cites this experience as her impetus to raise awareness of the unfortunate commonality of women’s cancers.

Women’s Cancer Awareness Week focused primarily on gynecologic cancers, such as cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer, which generally receive less recognition than breast cancer. The Foundation for Women’s Cancer estimates that this year, over 78,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed, and over 28,000 will die from gynecologic cancer. In the United States, there are only about 1,000 gynecologic oncologists, doctors who specialize in the treatment of these cancers, so not all women who have been diagnosed with gynecologic cancer will have access to the best treatments.

Fortunately, Perdomo’s mother has made a full recovery and was present at Women’s Cancer Awareness Week to support her daughter and promote her cause. But for many more women, the ending of their story may not be so optimistic.

Perdomo stressed the importance of being proactive, not simply reactive, when it comes to battling cancer: “We have to fight misconceptions. Cancer can strike young, it isn’t just limited to older women.” Since gynecologic cancers occur for a variety of reasons, including health, family history, sexual activity, and environmental factors, they can affect women of all ages.

Women can reduce their risk of contracting certain cancers through healthy lifestyle choices, scheduling regular medical exams, and taking birth control to encourage regular shedding of the uterine lining, where cancerous cells may develop.

There are also ways to become involved in the fight against gynecologic cancer on a larger scale. The Foundation for Women’s Cancer is organizing the second National Race to End Women’s Cancer on November 6th in Washington, D.C. Hamilton is organizing a team for the race, and interested runners (and walkers) of all skill levels are encouraged to join. It is important to remember that while events like Women’s Cancer Awareness Week are fun, their true purpose is to get people excited about the causes and make a difference. As Perdomo summed up, “As a community, Hamilton has a much wider reach than The Foundation for Women’s Cancers, and we have the ability to start a dialogue and take action to fight women’s cancers.”