Country music is story driven. That’s one of the reasons fans of the genre love it so much. Story can evoke emotion, create connection and inspire change. But a powerful story doesn’t have to be accompanied by a banjo or fiddle to motivate its listeners. Sometimes, just a single voice carrying out over the airwaves can stop a person in her tracks and help her change course. That’s what Sharon Green, co-host of The Eddie Foxx Show on 99.9 Kiss Country, hopes her message accomplishes.
The Power of Story
In January 2015, Green had an abnormal Pap test. Busy with work and family, she put off a biopsy. She had received abnormal Pap results in the past, and reasoned this time would turn out the same. But then another woman’s story changed her mind.
Not long after Green received her Pap results, she learned of the saga of Joey Feek, a beloved country music performer who was part of the husband-wife duo Joey + Rory. As many fans know, Joey was a cervical cancer survivor whose cancer returned and metastasized. She passed away in March 2016, but not before sharing her story with the world. Green gets emotional thinking about it.
“Working in country music radio, this was an artist I had always admired and been so familiar with,” Green said. “When it was announced she had stage IV cervical cancer, that’s when I really thought, ‘It’s time to go in and get this checked.’”
Green had a standard biopsy, which came back irregular. She then underwent a cone biopsy, which revealed cervical cancer. But there was a bright side; Green had IB stage cancer, which means she had a good chance at a positive outcome following the recommended treatment, which in her case would be a hysterectomy. This, Green said, gave her peace.
“At first it was a shock,” she said. “It’s something you think other people go through, but you never dream it will happen to you. But I was fortunate to be diagnosed at an early stage — and when they sent me to HOPE, I knew I was in good hands.”
The gynecologic oncologists at HOPE Women’s Cancer Center in Asheville specialize in helping women with gynecologic cancers like cervical cancer. “We coordinate care for women with cervical cancer from diagnosis to treatment, and through survivorship and into palliative care, when necessary,” said Ashley Case, MD, a gynecological oncologist with HOPE.
Green was confident about her treatment plan, but she did have some mental hurdles to deal with. Female reproductive cancers can strike an extra emotional blow, causing women psychological anguish that is bound to their sense of womanhood. Green said this was definitely the case with her.
“As a woman, you start thinking, ‘If I have a hysterectomy, are they going to be taking what makes me a woman?’” she said. “Until it’s happened to you, you don’t know how hard that’s going to be.”
Green said she and her husband, who have one 4-year-old son, also had to adjust to the reality that, after her treatment, they would no longer be able to have biological children. “I was 42 at the time, so we had already assumed we probably wouldn’t be having another child, but it’s difficult thinking about the option being taken away from you completely,” she said.
While many women with cervical cancer have experienced similar to Green’s, Dr. Case said fertility-sparing surgery may be an option in some instances. “This is more likely in earlier stages of the disease, when there are more treatment options,” she said.
Through the support of her family and doctors, Green was able to adjust her mindset. In fact, she said that having a clear diagnosis and treatment plan helped her through the process. “HOPE has some of the most wonderful people I have ever come across,” she said. “I can’t explain how wonderful Dr. Case was in explaining everything to me from the very beginning. She was so thorough; I didn’t have any questions when I left my first appointment.”
Getting the Message Out
Following her hysterectomy, which was performed with robotic laparoscopic surgery, Green recovered well with an excellent prognosis. She does still return to HOPE every three months for a Pap test. This is a precaution to ensure cancer hasn’t returned. Because cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which remains in the body, there is a chance that cervical cancer can recur.
“Every three months my mom is on me to make sure I’m going in,” Green said. “She always tells me, ‘If you don’t do it for you, do it for your son and husband.’ And that’s what I’ve told women on the air, on social media and everywhere: ‘Ladies, do it for yourself, but if you’re not going to do it for yourself, do it for the people who love you.’”
Cervical cancer screenings undoubtedly play a critical role in detecting cervical cancer early. In addition to the Pap test, women can also be tested for high-risk types of HPV.
“More than half of the women who develop cervical cancer have not been screened appropriately,” said Dr. Case. “Among women diagnosed with invasive cervical carcinoma, half have never had a Pap test, and another 10 percent have not had the test in the past five years.”
When caught early, cervical cancer is highly treatable. Women who undergo treatment of early-stage cervical cancer have excellent survival rates — with a 92 percent survival rate through the first five years following the diagnosis.
In light of the lifesaving benefits of screenings, Dr. Case recommends that women under the age of 30 get a Pap test every three years, and that women age 30 and older get a Pap test every three years or co-testing with a Pap test and HPV test every five years if both initial tests are negative. Screening can be discontinued when a woman reaches age 65.
“I pray that women will listen and realize they need to get checked,” said Green. “We all hate those regular Pap smears. You’re embarrassed, and it’s not the greatest experience. But it’s so necessary, because if you can catch it early on, you can have an experience like mine. In the early stages, surgery and radiation can cure you. You can walk away cancer free.”
The HPV Vaccine
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is detected in 99.7 percent of cervical cancers. A vaccine has been developed to protect against HPV infection and development of subsequent HPV-associated diseases such as cervical cancer. The vaccine is recommended for all females and males between the ages of 9 and 26. Use of the vaccine, coupled with recommended cervical cancer screenings, would eliminate most cervical cancer. “It’s simple. The HPV vaccine prevents cancer, and it saves lives,” said Ashley Case, MD, gynecological oncologist with HOPE Women’s Cancer Center.
For more information on the services provided at Mission Cancer Care, visit mission-health.org/cancer. Ashley Case, MD, is a gynecological oncologist with HOPE Women’s Cancer Center, an affiliate of Mission Health. (828) 670-8403
By Jennifer Sellers