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Allison Hicks

Allison Hicks Speech to the Global Summit on Women May 2009 Thank you so much for inviting me to speak. It is inspiring and invigorating to be surrounded by so many women working to strengthen and improve the world for women!

My name is Allison Hicks and I am here to tell you about my experience being diagnosed and surviving cervical cancer. I‘ll tell you how that experience led me to create The Hicks Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating cervical cancer through education and medical resources. At the age of 29, I was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer. I had regular medical care, but an irregular pap test went undetected and by the time I began showing symptoms the cancer had progressed considerably. To say that my diagnosis came as a complete surprise would be an understatement.

On that day, my life was completely disrupted and irrevocably changed. Before I was diagnosed, I truly didn't know the depth of change that cancer brought. In fact, when I received the call from my doctor, I wasn't alarmed, I assumed my treatment would be quick and without much inconvenience. My doctor's response was sobering. She said "This is a really big deal. The best hope you have is that you survive your treatments. Hang up the phone, call a friend, and have someone come over immediately because you are about to start a huge process.” I am a young, single woman. I work as a doula, helping many women give birth and care for their little ones during those first few weeks of life. My daily work had reinforced my own dream of motherhood. At times it was maddening to realize that as I worked helping women through this stage of life, the cancer was quietly stealing this stage of life from me.

My cancer had progressed so that I needed a radical hysterectomy to survive.

Treatment meant that my entire reproductive system was removed. What I thought would be a brief stay in the hospital turned into three weeks, with multiple surgeries and complications. I left the hospital with an open wound [[show on your body]]. I had a pump attached to my body and a daily visit from a nurse to clean the wound. Surviving became my new job. Like anyone preparing for work, I packed my lunch each day and drove to the hospital for daily radiation treatment. Then, every Tuesday, I went to chemotherapy. I spent hours sitting in a lounge chair in a big room with other patients. I tried to relax while being pumped up with chemo cocktails, steroids and anti-nausea medication. I spent the rest of each week trying to recover. Through everything, I had great support and found ways to cope with humor and friendship. But the reality of my loss kept pulling me under. The surgeries left me severely disfigured and unable to bear children.

I cannot overstate the experience of having my body change from something beautiful to something that felt diseased and broken. Cancer is a gigantic word. It is big. It is suffocating. It is scary and I felt tiny in the face of it. But as I healed I began learning that cervical cancer is somewhat different. Although it is the second most common cancer in women worldwide, almost every case of cervical cancer can be prevented with regular health care and tools such as the Pap test and new technologies including the HPV test and the HPV vaccine. Unfortunately, many women around the world don’t know about or have access to screening and vaccination. But I rallied around the fact that no matter how big, no matter how threatening, no matter how insidious cervical cancer can be, it is nearly 100% preventable. This was a call to action Hicks Foundation was born.

Eradication took the place of cancer in my vocabulary. It wasn’t huge, or scary. In fact, it felt entirely possible and focusing on helping women help themselves was incredibly inspiring. I wasn’t working to slay the humongous Beast of Cancer. I was working to empower women. One by one, I knew I could reach women. My initial goal for The Hicks Foundation was to raise money to provide free cervical cancer screening for women who had no health insurance. In three short years we’ve had many successes. We have worked with local health care providers to give free care for hundreds of Vermont women at our Free Screening days; we have successfully advocated for state funding for the HPV vaccine through legislation; and we have begun education programs that will help women get health care and learn how to prevent HPV and cervical cancer. We named our education campaign "Mission Possible" because we believe that eradication is within our reach – in my home state of Vermont and across the world. It is entirely possible.

Now, I talk to women, I meet with doctors, I join with advocates and I identify with them, not with cancer.

I now feel anything but tiny. Hicks may be a small non-profit organization in a small city in Vermont, but we have partnered with state and national organizations to eradicate cervical cancer. We see women getting care and taking care and we feel the momentum growing. Recently, we became a partner in the Pearl of Wisdom Campaign, a united, global effort to prevent cervical cancer. This campaign reaches women, healthcare providers, policymakers, and the media to raise awareness and encourage women to access the tools that prevent cervical cancer. As you can see, the Global Summit is also a partner in the Pearl of Wisdom campaign and you each have a pearl to take home with you, to wear in support of cervical cancer, and to share the message of cervical cancer prevention with your friends, colleagues and loved ones. These days, my life is very busy raising money for the Hicks Foundation and working with others to eradicate the disease. I am so grateful that my story can continue to live on in the Hicks

Foundation as a story of survival and one that inspires women to take control of their health care and live cancer-free.

I would love to talk to any of you about how you can join the fight. You can also learn more about the Hicks Foundation at www.freepap.org , and our brochures are here. Join me and the Pearl of Wisdom campaign. Take these messages with you to your families and communities. Together, we can eradicate cervical cancer!

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