NEW YORK – September is National Uterine Cancer Awareness Month. The disease mostly affects older women, but one young Harlem woman found hope helping others cope.
Amanda FItzpatrick checks in regularly with her oncologist at Mount Sinai, as she approaches three years without her uterus. At age 26, she developed the most common gynecologic cancer, which often goes undetected.
“Any abnormal bleeding needs to be looked at,” emphasized Dr. Stephanie Blank, Mount Sinai’s Director of Gynecologic Oncology.
Blank’s department works to understand and break down disparities among outcomes in race and age.
“The guidelines from our national society say that you shouldn’t do biopsies in people under the age of 45 unless they have strong risk factors such as obesity or genetic predisposition to cancer,” Blank said. “If you follow guidelines, you might miss a diagnosis like that.”
Fitzpatrick went to the emergency room when she began bleeding uncontrollably. A doctor prescribed her pills, but Fitzpatrick followed up with a biopsy.
“That’s so important that she advocated for herself,” said Blank. “She knew something wasn’t right.”
While thought to be among the most treatable cancers, CDC reports show the number of uterine cancer cases and deaths across the country continue to climb. New York has the second-highest case rate and fourth-highest death rate.
Black women die twice as frequently as white women.
“This is even when people are seeing the right doctors, they’re still not getting the right care,” Blank clarified. “So there’s all these underlying structural issues that are getting in the way of people really getting the best outcomes possible.”
Through a dedicated plan, all traces of Fitzpatrick’s cancer disappeared within the first year of her diagnosis. The cancer returned five years later.
“She’s like, we had to do a hysterectomy, like, this is really serious,” Fitzpatrick remembered hearing over the phone.
Sonograms showed the progression as cancer ate away at her uterus. Single and without children, Fitzpatrick felt her world shift.
“I have to do this new life and this new journey with no uterus and hot flashes and menopause and everything, and how am I going to live?” Fitzpatrick asked herself. “And it took a lot of accepting.”
Doctors saved and froze Fitzpatrick’s eggs for an insured future and referred her to Mount Sinai’s Woman To Woman support group for gynecologic cancer patients.
“Everybody in here seem like they’re retirement age and I don’t fit,” Fitzpatrick recalled thinking.
Fitzpatrick created her own group, “You’re Too Young For This,” hosting beauty days and pizza parties for those with gynecologic cancer in her age group.
“I love them,” Fitzpatrick said of her new friends. “I can speak because this group.”
Speaking and de-stigmatizing the symptoms offer a solution to some of the systemic barriers to care. Mount Sinai makes an effort to reach out to its neighbors in Harlem, and Blank encourages researchers to intentionally diversify clinical trials.
“When you work in a community that does have a lot of Black people in it, you really need to think about what the community needs,” Blank said.
Causes for uterine cancer remain unknown. Research aims to advance, while statistics slide. The human factor may make the biggest difference.
For support and resources related to gynecologic cancer, click here.
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