Health & WellnessLifestyles

Femina’s party with a cause

Dr. Nina Saunders-Graham encourages women to get informed, Pap screened and vaccinated during Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Dr. Nina Saunders-Graham believes in educating women and all women and girls having access to the right knowledge about their bodies and the conditions that may affect them at any stage of their lives. And she said not many people realize that cervical cancer is preventable and curable if detected early and managed effectively.

“No one should have to die from cervical cancer,” said obstetrician/gynecologist, Saunders-Graham.

With that in mind, she is doing her part to keep women informed.

Saunders-Graham, founder and CEO of Femina, will host a series of events to raise awareness of cervical cancer, including a week-long Pap Party, January 23-28, during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week at Femina Clinic, Tedder Close, Palmdale. Women can book a Pap test for $50 or come as a group – three or more women coming together to get papped will have their test done at $45 each. There will also be an HPV vaccine education at the same time for women on the importance of the vaccine in prevention. Saunders-Graham’s goal is to get as many women as possible to know they can reduce their risk of the disease and to educate others.

“Regular Pap tests and the HPV vaccination are the only ways to eradicate cervical cancer, a UN sustainable development goal aimed to be achieved by the year 2030 by all CARICOM countries, including The Bahamas,” said Saunders-Graham.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer among women, worldwide. According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, the disease claimed the life of more than 300,000 women in 2018. And that nearly 90 percent of the deaths in 2018 occurred in low and middle-income countries where they say the burden of cervical cancer is greatest, because access to public health services is limited and screening and treatment for the disease had not been widely implemented.

In August 2020, the World Health Assembly adopted the global strategy for cervical cancer elimination. To eliminate cervical cancer, all countries must reach and maintain an incidence rate of below four per 100,000 women. Achieving that goal rests on three key pillars and their corresponding targets – vaccination (90 percent of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by the age of 15); screening (70 percent of women screened using a high-performance test by the age of 35, and again by the age of 45); and treatment (90 percent of women with pre-cancer treated and 90 percent of women with invasive cancer managed).

Each country should meet the 90-70-90 targets by 2030 to get on the path to eliminate cervical cancer within the next century.

“They want to target young people and trying to get them vaccinated, that’s one way of prevention. But you still have to deal with the adults, and the best way to do it is through screening with the Pap.”

Saunders-Graham’s Pap Party and series of events is being hosted during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, which also takes place during Cervical Cancer Awareness Month observed in January to raise awareness about cervical cancer and HPV vaccination.

Through her Pap parties, Saunders-Graham’s hope is that she encourages women to rally together and help them feel comfortable and have their Pap smear done.

Saunders-Graham said women should begin Pap screening at age 21 and continue through age 65, at which time, if for a five-year period they did not have an abnormal Pap smear, they can forgo the screening.

“We’re doing it in a fun way. I just want to make sure women do the right thing,” said Saunders-Graham who also practices at The Family Medicine Centre on Blake Road, and is a part of the GyneOncology team at Princess Margaret Hospital that focuses on prevention.

“I have seen women die.”

Saunders-Graham recalled a patient who was diagnosed with cervical cancer and at diagnosis was already at stage two.

“She said, ‘Please don’t let me die. I have young children.’ I said I would do whatever I could to help,” said the OB/GYN.

During the height of the pandemic, she recalled a young lady in her 20’s diagnosed with cervical cancer. The doctor said it breaks her heart when women receive a positive diagnosis, because of the preventative nature of the cancer.

“It’s the only preventative cancer in women. If women would just do their Pap, we wouldn’t have to do surgery.”

There are four stages to cervical cancer. At stage one, the cancer is confined to the cervix. At stage two, the cancer starts to spread in the pelvis. At stage three, the cancer spreads to surrounding structures in the pelvis – the bladder and rectum. At stage four, it is distant and spread to the lungs.

“The whole point of the Pap smear is to identify abnormal cells before it even gets to cancer,” said Saunders-Graham. “The Pap smear identifies pre-cancerous cells that can be treated. But if you don’t do the Pap, you won’t know. Once you have abnormal cells, they become cancerous and get into the bloodstream and spread locally and then distantly.”

Cervical cancer symptoms include vaginal bleeding between periods, after menopause, or after sexual intercourse; pelvic pain; pain during sexual intercourse; a change to the usual vaginal discharge; and heavier periods or periods that last longer than usual.

In addition to her Pap Party, the OB/GYN will speak at a free talk on cervical cancer and its prevention during a Cervical Cancer Edutainment Mix n’ Mingle at Fusion Superplex, Gladstone Road, on Thursday, January 19 between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. She will also host a Sip & Paint on Sunday, January 22 at a private residence in eastern New Providence at 4 p.m. for cervical cancer awareness. She said it’s all about letting the wine bring out the creative. Donation is $50.

“We’re really excited for these events and are urging women of all ages to join us,” said Saunders-Graham.

She said Pap screening is very important to women. But that, unfortunately, many women aren’t doing their Pap smears for whatever reason – whether it’s the lack of time, not having the money, or simply not being able to get over their anxiety as the screening can be a bit uncomfortable because of the process involved in the sample collection.

The one good thing she said is that during pregnancy, most women have a Pap screening because it’s a requirement. But she bemoans the fact that a lot of women don’t get Pap smears after they have given birth.

“You hear a lot of people say they haven’t had a Pap since their last child. Most of them don’t know that HPV [human papillomavirus] is caused by a virus and the importance of having a Pap smear. In the worst-case scenario, some women show up for abnormal bleeding – once you show up for that, you’ve missed the boat. It’s totally preventable – but by time you come in with bleeding, you’re at stage one or two, and at a stage where it’s inoperable.”

The doctor said the more cost-effective cervical cancer management is surgery. She said when a woman misses surgery and has to go into radiation and chemotherapy, many women die because they don’t have the finances for treatment, and the cancer progresses.

Like other cancers, cervical cancer has awareness colors – teal and white. In recognition of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, Saunders-Graham has decked out her women’s medical center in in teal and silver. Women attending the Pap Party she said are in for a treat. They will have a selfie frame which declares they have been “perfectly papped” to show their pride in having done their screening. Wine and cider will also be doled out at the party which Saunders-Graham said is her way of giving back. To reserve a spot, WhatsApp 242-804-0414 with your name and age. Appointments are available between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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