LaGrange cancer survivor advocates for screening and vaccination during Cervical Cancer Month

Published 9:06 am Thursday, January 4, 2024

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With the calendar rolling over, January means a lot of things to people. To most, it’s the start of the new year. For others, it’s the start of the dreaded tax season. But for those affected by cervical cancer, it’s a time to remind other women that the disease is preventable with proper healthcare.

For LaGrange resident and cancer survivor, Julianna Colley, advocating for screening and vaccination has become part of her life’s work.

In January 2021, when she was 27 years old, Colley was diagnosed with Stage 3C cervical cancer. The diagnosis changed her life but in some respects, it was a relief to find out what had been going on with her body.

Colley said she had been having health issues for some time, so after the initial shock wore off, there was some relief in actually having some answers.

“I was scared. I was angry, which has led to my advocacy journey today. But at the same time, I always felt a sense of relief because I had been experiencing problems for a good year,” Colley said.

She said she found out she had cancer during the pandemic when it was difficult to get into any doctor, anywhere.

“I finally pled with a doctor in Atlanta to just please see me,” Colley said. “I had my Pap smear at the very end of December 2020 and then got the diagnosis in January 2021.”

After the initial diagnosis, Colley went through four rounds of chemotherapy and 25 radiation treatments.

“Not even a year later — literally 364 days later — I ended up in the ER because I was having terrible leg pain. They did a scan and then I found out that I was recurrent metastatic and I had eight tumors that popped up in my shoulder down to my leg,” Colley said. “That was a real gut punch.”

Thankfully the subsequent treatments and chemotherapy were effective. She said she had over 30 rounds of chemo over a two-and-a-half-year period.

“The chemo, thank goodness, shrunk all of those tumors. So I am officially one year in remission,” Colley said.

The cancer diagnosis and recovery have inspired Colley to advocate for cervical cancer awareness and to teach others how to avoid going through what she went through.

“This year, 13,960 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,310 will die from this now preventable disease,” she said.

“I would absolutely recommend advocating for your own health. If you feel like something’s wrong, don’t take no for an answer. We know our bodies we know when something’s up,” she said.

Colley also encouraged every to get an annual women’s exam, which could change a cancer outcome.

“If every woman got that Pap smear every year, they wouldn’t be in the situation I was in,” she said.

Colley also noted that cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable through vaccination. The cancer is 99% preventable with the HPV vaccine.

“It’s three rounds of shots. It starts at age nine and now it goes all the way up to 46,” Colley said. “It works because cervical cancer is caused by HPV, which is human papillomavirus.”

The vaccine is 99% effective across 16 variants of HPV, she said.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. While it doesn’t have quite the notoriety of Breast Cancer Month in October when LaGrange turns pink, it’s no less important to the women affected by the disease and their loved ones. For both, Colley says to remember to get checked regularly, and consider getting the HPV vaccine if you are at risk.