Jenny Perez Flores survived cervical cancer and hopes other women can get early detection and treatment.
A cervical cancer survivor, Jenny hopes women throughout Nicaragua can get early screening to avoid the illness she faced
Jenny Perez Flores never thought it would happen to her—that she would have cervical cancer. In 2006, after a regular Pap test, Jenny’s doctor told her she had the disease. She would need treatment immediately, possibly surgery.
A wife and the mother of a teenage son in a small, rural community in Nicaragua, Jenny couldn’t believe the diagnosis. Cervical cancer, she thought, only struck women who were promiscuous, had had multiple abortions, or had given birth to numerous children. Jenny, then 39 years old, didn’t fit into any of those categories. And she received regular check-ups. How had the cancer escaped detection?
For 28 straight days, the petite woman with a friendly smile traveled one hour each way from her home in Monimbó to a hospital in Managua for chemotherapy. She endured the painful side effects of treatment and the fear of her illness, hoping that her tumor would go away, that she would survive. Wondering how this disease had entered her body.
A test for developing countries
Many women in Nicaragua face these same questions. The country has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in Latin America, and most cases are not detected until the cancer is in advanced stages.
While wealthy countries successfully screen women with Pap tests and other methods and treat precancerous lesions before they develop into cancer, Nicaragua and many developing countries lack the laboratories, trained technicians, and financial resources to effectively administer early screenings or obtain accurate results. Additionally, women may lack access to health services, and they and their families may not be aware of the disease or its circumstances.
“When a woman finds out she has cervical cancer, it’s just an incredible lament for her, her family, her husband,” says Dr. Indiana Talavera, director of oncology at Nicaragua’s only cancer referral hospital for women. “Many times these women have four or five children, and often her husband will leave her when he finds out she has cervical cancer.”
The seven-minute Stories of Hope From Nicaragua video includes the story of Vilma Salazar Mairena and her fight against cervical cancer.
PATH is working with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health on solutions for preventing cervical cancer. With our partners, we’re introducing a new test tailor-made for developing countries that can detect the early warning signs of cervical cancer without expensive lab equipment or exhaustive resources. The test will allow health workers to diagnose and treat a woman in one or two visits to a health center, wiping away the cancer before it has a chance to progress.
The project will help Nicaragua strengthen its outreach to families and communities to educate them about the disease and encourage women to get early screening, says Dr. Josefina Navarro, director of epidemiology for the regional Ministry of Health that includes Jenny’s community. “It’s the opportunity to improve the health of women.”
Sharing her story to help other women
As Jenny underwent treatment for her cancer, she learned more about the need for early testing and the need to raise awareness among women about this disease. Despite her initial misconceptions about who gets cervical cancer, Jenny didn’t try to hide her diagnosis. Instead, she shared her experience with other women, in hopes that it would protect them from the disease.
After a grueling treatment, Jenny received very good news: her tumor had gone away, and she was cancer-free.
More than two years after her diagnosis, Jenny is surviving, and thriving. “I feel very good now because the doctors told me I don’t have the disease anymore,” Jenny says, a smile on her face.
Her hope now is that other women can be protected from the disease—that they can get early testing and treatment and face a future free from cervical cancer.
Photo: Miguel Alvarez.