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Diagnosed with cervical cancer

Henrietta Lacks

Painting by Kadir Nelson in the National Portrait Gallery

Henrietta Lacks, an African American mother of five children, was diagnosed with cervical cancer at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1951.

Despite undergoing radium treatments, the standard medical care at the time, Lacks died of the cancer later that year at age 31.

Samples of her cancer cells, now called HeLa cells, have the extraordinary ability to continue reproducing and have been used in more than 75,000 scientific studies ever since.

Source: “The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks” (Johns Hopkins Medicine)

See also: “The stolen cells of Henrietta Lacks and their ongoing contribution to science” by Katharine Lang on the Medical News Today website (2022)

And: “Henrietta Lacks’ family appointed World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassadors for Cervical Cancer Elimination” on the World Health Organization website (2022)


“This is very personal. This is very hard to talk about. This really, really sucked. I feel that my story can help somebody out there. You don’t want to be in my shoes.

I urge women to go get Pap smears. My story is going to remind you why you need to do that.”

Twenty-six year old Jani Marti’s heartbreaking story of being diagnosed with cervical cancer.

A 34-minute video.


In 2015, at the age of 26, Ashley was told that she had cervical cancer.

“All of a sudden your life changes. No warning, no signs, no nothing.”

When she found out that she wouldn’t be able to become pregnant and have children, “that’s when it really started to hit me.”

A 9-minute video from AshleyHasLife.


Tamika Felder hadn’t had a Pap test for a few years when an emergency room doctor urged her to get a physical exam. She went expecting to be told to lose weight, but in 2001, at age 25, I was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer.”

Felder survived her cancer and founded the support group for cervical cancer survivors called Cervivor.

A 4-minute video from Roche Molecular Systems.

Patti Murillo-Casa

“I had just retired and my husband and I thought that we were going to travel the world,” says Patti Murillo-Casa. “We were so busy and then I got diagnosed with cervical cancer. it was shocking.  I did not expect this. It was not in our plans at all.”

“I had a fight for my life. Just one 5-minute visit for a Pap test would have avoided me going through so much heartache for me and my family.”

 “Latinas tend to shy away from this topic but they have to know  that having the human papilloma virus is nothing to be ashamed of. They have to visit the doctor annually and take care of themselves. They have to make sure that they put themselves first.”

“I want women to know that  they should not for any reason fail to go to their gynecologist and have the Pap test.”

A 6-minute video from Cervivor TV.

Kimberly Williams

When Kimberly Williams was a 42-year-old mother of two several years ago, she received a life-changing diagnosis of cervical cancer.

“’Oh my God, how long has this been living inside of my body? Am I going to die? Who’s going to raise my children?'” she thought.

At the time, Williams had never known anyone else who had experienced cervical cancer, and despite having had an abnormal pap smear in her 20’s, she spent the next two decades unaware that she was potentially carrying a strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV) responsible for more than 95% of cervical cancer cases.

“No one ever told me my HPV status. No one ever said, ‘Hey, this is something that you need to be checking….’ My story may have been different,” she says.

Williams survived her diagnosis, though it resulted in her undergoing chemotherapy, radiation treatment, as well as a radical hysterectomy removing her uterus, cervix, the connective tissue around the cervix, and part of the vagina.

“When I went through the chemo and radiation, I was actually divorced at the time,” Williams says. “So I was doing a lot of things, along with my two children, kind of by myself.


So it was me trying to make everything work. And I think that was one of the reasons why I wanted to advocate for women. Because it was so difficult.”

Williams now works with Cervivor, a group that describes itself as a “global community of patient advocates who inspire and empower those affected by cervical cancer.”

See “Cervical cancer kills Black women at a disproportionately higher rate than whites” by Alana Wise in the NPR website (January 31, 2022)

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