Interview With A Cervical Cancer Survivor

images-1

At the age of 31, Christine Baze was diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer. After rounds of radiation, chemotherapy, and several surgeries, Christine was cancer-free. But her story had only just begun. She teaches others about the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer, through songs, concerts, and her contagious spirit.

Tell us about how you were diagnosed with cervical cancer?

I was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was 31 years old, after 13 normal Pap smears.

What were your first thoughts?

My first thoughts were, “Oh my god I’m going to die. This can’t be happening. No way, not me.” I was overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, and disbelief.

What was your prognosis?

At first my oncologist was hopeful that a radical hysterectomy would be all that was necessary. But, after it was done, they discovered that I had extensive lymphatic invasion on my cervix itself. Basically, that meant that the cancer could spread. This put me in the highest risk for reoccurrence and therefore I was going to need much more treatment.

What was your treatment like?

My treatment was swift and aggressive. Ten days after I was diagnosed, I had a radical hysterectomy. A month after that, I had a surgery to remove my ovaries from the area where I was going to get radiation. One week after that, I started five weeks of daily pelvic radiation and four rounds of chemotherapy, followed by three rounds of internal radiation. It was all completed within four months.

What made you decide to be an advocate for HPV and cervical cancer?

I decided to be an advocate for HPV awareness and cervical cancer prevention because I was a proactive, educated woman when I was diagnosed and yet I had never heard of HPV. I didn’t know there was a difference in Pap tests. I didn’t even know what the Pap was looking for. I learned a lot about it all and wanted to share this information with other women so they didn’t have to go through what I did, or worse, lose their life to this preventable cancer.

What are you doing to make people aware of cervical cancer?

I have tried to do as much as possible over the last eight years to make people aware of cervical cancer. I do a lot of speaking gigs all over the country (as well as internationally) for all kinds of groups. I share my story and put a face on the statistic. I created my own non-profit organization, theYellowUmbrella.org, and the Yellow Umbrella Tour, which has made more than 100 stops across the country, using music to spread the message. In addition, I collaborated with my survivor sister Tamika Felder (TamikaandFriends.org) to create Say-Something.org, a toolkit to help others educate people about HPV and cervical cancer. And, most recently, I teamed up with celebrity makeup artist Debra Macki (DebraMacki.com), who made an eye-shadow palette to benefit the organization and to get the message out to women in another creative way.

Tell us more about the Yellow Umbrella and how you use music to spread the message about cervical cancer.

The Yellow Umbrella Organization is all about working together, to educate and empower decision makers, including patients, about HPV and the tools to prevent cervical cancer. Being a musician, it was natural for me to use music as a way to reach people. My first concert Pop Smear (get it? Pop music and Pap smears!) was a huge success and led to the creation of the Tour. I asked national and local acts all around the country to help me rock this message in clubs — and it worked! And each time I speak, I generally have a piano and/or my band. I weave my songs in and out of my story and it helps bring the reality to life in a passionate way.

What are the key messages you want the public to focus on when it comes to cervical cancer awareness?

The key message I want the public to focus on is simple: cervical cancer is preventable. No matter what your age, there is something you can do. There is the HPV test with Pap for women 30 and older, the Pap test for women 21 and older, and the HPV vaccine for girls and young women ages 9-26. It is as easy as 1, 2, 3. We have the answers to this cancer — we just have to use the tools.

Do you think those messages are sinking in?

I do think these messages are sinking in, but not fast enough. Certainly there is much more awareness of HPV than when I first started talking in 2002. But there are still more than 12,000 women who will be diagnosed in this country this year and about 4,000 will die. That is unacceptable. It is our moral and ethical obligation to do whatever we can to make sure that all women have the information and access to the best technologies because we can stop this cancer. No woman needs to hear the words “I’m sorry, you have cervical cancer.” It is my mission, my goal, to be part of eliminating this cancer, because I know we can.

With all the touring and speaking engagements, what do you do to make sure you stay healthy?

With all the traveling it definitely can be tricky to find the time to take really, super, great care of myself…and yet I try! I am very into yoga and do it four to five times a week, I drink lots of water, and I try to always get at least seven hours of sleep. I also truly relish the time at home with my dog, Harold — walking and hanging with him always puts me in a good mood. I know I am a lucky woman, and I want to stay healthy and happy for a long time…I have a lot of work to do!

 

Check out Christine’s song Really Happening on YouTube.

Christine Baze is an accomplished musician and cervical cancer survivor living in Salem, MA. At age 40, she is the executive director of The Yellow Umbrella Organization. She uses her story, voice, and music to help raise awareness of HPV, cervical cancer, and opportunities to prevent this deadly disease. She has taken her Yellow Umbrella Tour to 100 stops across the USA and Canada, and is now reaching even deeper into communities with her Paint it Yellow and School Yellow programs — finding creative ways to reach out, educate, and empower women to take control of their own health.

Christine was named one of Ms. Magazine‘s “50 Women of the Year” in 2003, she received a Presidential Leadership award in 2005, and in 2007 was named one of the “Women Who Shape the World” in Shape magazine. In addition, she has shared the stage and opened for a number of national musicians including, Sheryl Crow, Ben Folds, Kaki King, and The Fray.

Learn more about Christine: