Rose: Cervical Cancer’s Impact on Women and their Families

Cervical cancer has a devastating impact on women and their families in the prime of their lives. Survivors are critical advocates for preventing and treating this tragic disease.

Rose Cheido, a 48-year-old single mother in Kenya, discovered she had cervical cancer in July 2013, and started radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments at Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital in early 2014. “The treatment was not easy,” said Rose. “I didn’t have a job, and the family had to support me. So, it was a struggle.”

Cervical cancer is a terrible disease that affects and kills women in the prime of their lives, when they are raising their children and contributing to their communities. Like Rose, they are often significant contributors to household income.

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Rose Cheido, a cervical cancer survivor and advocate, in Nairobi, Kenya. Cervical cancer kills more women in Kenya than any other form of cancer.

Their suffering is particularly tragic because it is avoidable. There are safe and effective vaccines against the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer (human papillomavirus, or HPV), and cervical cancer is also preventable by screening women and immediately treating any pre-cancerous lesions, an approach known as “screen-and-treat.” But access to these prevention services, and treatment for women diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer, is severely limited in less-developed regions of the world. As a result, the disease kills an estimated 311,000 women worldwide each year.

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Rose Cheido, a Kenyan cervical cancer survivor and advocate, speaks to her doctor at his office in Nairobi, Kenya.

After one year of treatment for cervical cancer, Rose was back on her feet, working tirelessly as a cancer patient advocate. She educates women that cervical cancer is a preventable and treatable disease, and assists those who are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer along an otherwise lonely journey.

Patient advocates such as Rose can help women unravel the trauma, fear, and other challenges that often block them from seeking proper treatment. And when they receive treatment, Rose helps them navigate the generally under-recognized and neglected challenges that women face afterward. Cervical cancer survivors can experience significant social, physical, and financial problems.

One big burden for cervical cancer patients is stigma. “You get stigmatized and you are left there alone,” said Rose, so she offers others hope through her own story, and encourages them to advocate for themselves. “It’s very possible to recover, but…if you don’t act, nobody would know what you are going through.”

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Rose Cheido, a Kenyan cervical cancer survivor and advocate, speaks to her doctor at his office in Nairobi, Kenya.

Globally, a lack of political attention and funding are obstacles to reducing the burden of cervical cancer. The experiences of women like Rose led Kathy Vizas to co-found TogetHER, an international partnership focused on ending cervical cancer.

“Solving the problem of the lack of funding around cervical cancer, to help women and girls, is what TogetHER is about,” said Vizas. “Our work every day is to figure out how to motivate people, spread the word and educate people, so that we can get funding for programs to screen women and to vaccinate girls.”

Sadly for Rose, after several years of remission, her cancer is back, and she again faces a steep recovery without the means to support herself and her family.

“Chances of really recovering and being the same are not very easy,” said Rose. “You may not have the same strength you used to have before.”

TogetHER envisions a world where all women and girls have access to the effective tools already available to ensure that no woman must go through what Rose has experienced.