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26-year-old battling cancer urges getting life-saving tests

Cervical cancer strikes more than 12,000 women each year in the U.S., yet many are still slow to get life saving screenings.

Health experts say the simple pap smear that is typically done during an annual gynecological exam can detect the disease while it’s still in a treatable stage.

Cervical cancer is often caused by the contagious human papilloma virus.

A vaccine is now available and recommended for girls as young as age twelve.

At only 26, Stephanie Madsen is fighting cervical cancer, for the second time. Surgeons were able to remove the cancerous cells during a partial hysterectomy last year but the disease returned.

Stephanie is undergoing chemo therapy treatments at Swedish Medical Center and says, “I  have less energy sometimes because of my treatments but my desires to live and be a functioning person in society has not changed.”

The hysterectomy left Stephanie, who is newly married, unable to have a child, but she says she and her husband Matt plan to adopt, “Everything was put on hold but it’s not that our dreams and passions went away.”

Stephanie says Matt has been her rock and supported her every step of the way, even shaving his head when she lost her hair during chemo treatments.

She says she relies on her faith and positive spirit to help navigate this difficult challenge, “(the cancer) grows fast, it plays dirty, you have to fight it with everything in you.”

Stephanie wants other women to be aware of the importance of early screening and vaccinations against HPV.

She started a blog that chronicles her battle with cancer,  www.derailingmydiagnosis.com. In less than a year the site has received more than 47,000 hits.

Swedish Medical Center registered nurse practioner Tamara Burdi says cervical cancer has no symptoms, that’s why screenings are crucial and adds, “Most women who develop cervical cancer have either never been screened or haven’t been screened in the past five years.” 

There has been a 50 percent drop in cervical cancer cases since screenings have become more widespread.

Stephanie says that is evidence that public education about cervical cancer can make a difference.

When she isn’t receiving chemo treatments or working on her blog, Stephanie says she still tries to enjoy all life has to offer and runs a fundraising project which you can find at this link: www.gofundme.com/stephaniemadsenfund.

It’s all part of having what she calls a winning attitude, “I still laugh I still have fun, cancer will not take that away from me.”