“Last year, I was diagnosed with cervical dysplasia. As my doctor informed me of the news, all I could think was “why?” I am young and healthy-I should be invincible-yet, that’s where I was wrong. I had no idea that cervical cancer can happen to any woman, regardless of their age or health.”
It’s hard to talk about cancer. Even harder when the topic involves gynecologic cancer. There are plenty of reasons women don’t go for regular cervical cancer check-ups (Pap tests and, for women 30 and older, the Pap/HPV co-test): sometimes it’s just a matter of putting it off in the face of busy schedules and endless days of devoting more time and energy to caring for others for than themselves. For many women, though, fear about going to a medical clinic and being examined is also a huge barrier. And some women just may not be aware they’re at risk to begin with and sorely need these important tests.
Rachel Dyckman is having none of it.
Spurred by her own diagnosis with cervical pre-cancer in 2013, she plans to use her year of service as the reigning Miss Tucson Desert Rose (a prelude to her appearance in the Miss Arizona pageant later in 2014) to educate, motivate, and – just as important- actively support women to protect their health: to accomplish that, the University of Arizona Honors graduate has chosen as her platform Cervical Cancer: Awareness, Education and Early Detection. While sharing the experiences and lessons learned with her own diagnosis, Ms. Dyckman plans to partner with NCCC to drive home a simple message: no matter your age or background, you owe it to yourself to take care of your health and don’t let anything keep you from asking questions and getting the care you need.
NCCC: Congratulations on winning the title of Miss Tucson Desert Rose in January! Tell us about your duties and responsibilities as title holder.
Rachel Dyckman: I am so excited to be able to represent and serve my hometown of Tucson, Arizona this year as the 2014 Miss Tucson Desert Rose. During my year of service as Miss Tucson Desert Rose, I will be supporting my platform of Cervical Cancer: Awareness, Education, and Early Detection. In addition to working with the NCCC AZ Chapter, I plan to discuss HPV and cervical cancer prevention with students in public high school health classes in order to raise awareness about the disease.
Why did you decide to focus on cervical cancer prevention and awareness during your year of service?
In April 2013, I was diagnosed with cervical dysplasia. As my doctor informed me of the news, all I could think was “why?” I am young and healthy—I should be invincible—yet, that is where I was wrong. I had no idea that cervical cancer could affect any woman, regardless of their age or health. Consequently, I could not think of a better issue to support as my platform during my year of service. As Miss Tucson Desert Rose 2014, I endeavor to share my experience with other women so that we can increase awareness, and ensure that the common mindset of “I should be invincible” does not affect their health.
Did you know anything about cervical cancer/pre-cancer when you were diagnosed with cervical dysplasia?
I had absolutely no idea about cervical cancer when I was diagnosed–it all came as a huge shock to me. I thought back to all the health and sexual education classes that I took throughout grade school, and did not recall one class discussing cervical cancer.
Where did you go for information?
We are so fortunate to live in an age where you can Google basically anything and get numerous results; and that is exactly what I did after being diagnosed and talking to my doctor. I started looking at medical websites, the CDC’s website, anywhere that I could get more information from. It wasn’t until I started searching for support groups and ways to help bring awareness to this disease that I found the NCCC.
Talk a bit about the need for support: what do women need from their 1) healthcare professionals, 2) family members, and 3) partners when they have an abnormal Pap test?
Upon receiving news of an abnormal Pap test, there first needs to be ample support from a woman’s health care professional. In my experience, I feel that simply sitting down one-on-one with the patient to answer all of her questions, explain the test results, and what needs to be the next step in the process will help relieve any anxiety and nervousness. After the appointment, most of us like to do our own research to gain even more information, so I feel that a simple follow-up phone call the next day to answer any lingering questions would immensely help the situation as well. Most important though, I believe that family members and partners should be involved throughout the whole process. Although it may feel awkward to discuss our gynecological health with someone, I believe that talking to someone and letting out our feelings not only helps us overcome tough situations, it provides us with someone else to lean on.
How can people connect with you and support your work?
I would love to be able to connect with more individuals and groups to bring more awareness to this disease. With the “power of the crown,” I know we can make a difference in our community. I can be reached through our pageant’s Facebook page: Miss Tucson Desert Rose, Old Pueblo & Del Sol Scholarship Pageant, or directly by email.