Previously, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month didn’t hold much significance for Pam Stromme. However, that all changed when she was abruptly diagnosed with cervical cancer in the spring of 2004 at just 37 years old.
Pam led a busy life as a dedicated employee, wife, and mother of three. Her youngest, a boy, was in eighth grade. Her middle daughter was a sophomore in high school and her oldest was a freshman in college.
She completed her last Pap test just nine months earlier, and her results were all clear.
Up until her cervical cancer diagnosis, Pam was nearly symptom-free.
“I was just tired. I wrote that off to having just started a new job, having kids, and all of the stresses of life,” Pam said.
Although Pam followed the recommended schedule for routine screenings, she attributes her diagnosis to fate. Having recently started a job at a local clinic in rural North Dakota, it was a new coworker who prompted her to get bloodwork done.
“They came in and did the blood draw right at my desk!”
The blood work revealed she was anemic. Her provider quickly scheduled a full exam and, just three weeks later, she received her cervical cancer diagnosis. The next week, she went to Mayo Clinic to receive a partial radical hysterectomy.
“I was very lucky that surgery took care of it. Now, I’m a 17-year survivor.”
Symptom-Free Doesn’t Mean Cancer Free
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), symptoms of cervical cancer typically don’t appear until the cancer becomes larger and grows into nearby tissue.
“My doctor at Mayo told me if I had waited for signs and symptoms, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Today, Pam is North Dakota’s lead volunteer for the ACS, a Women’s Way supporter, and an advocate for cancer research and routine cancer screenings.
When to Schedule Your Screenings
For many moms, it can feel like the list of everyone else’s needs are endless, leaving very little time to focus on themselves. But cervical cancer screenings aren’t a selfish act. They’re a selfless act that benefits the family members who count them to be there for love and support, every day.
The recommendations are clear. Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years. Beginning at age 30, they recommend a Pap test along with an HPV test every five years, as long as the test results are normal.
Unfortunately, it’s common for women to postpone these screenings, stating they’re too busy and don’t have time to go to the doctor. Pam is passionate about changing this narrative.
Take Care of YOU. If not for you, do it for them.
“Taking care of you, I’ve learned over the years, is the most important part,” Pam said. “Because you can’t be there for your kids if you’re sitting in a chair getting chemo. You can’t be there for your kids if you’re laying on an operating table. It’s a blunt truth. And if you don’t catch it soon enough, you won’t be there for any of it.”
Assistance Available to Help ND Women Pay for Screenings
For many women, finances are the reason for not getting screened. Thankfully, help is available through Women’s Way, North Dakota’s breast and cervical cancer early detection program. The program is available statewide, but Kristina Kluth at Fargo Cass Public Health is here to support the women of Cass, Steele, and Traill counties in the enrollment process.
Furthermore, one in 22 women in the state may be eligible for free mammograms and Pap tests through Women’s Way. So if you’re a North Dakota woman between the ages of 21 and 64, you could be one of them!