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Ciara: Black women can rewrite the narrative around cervical cancer

We need to address disparities in treatment and prevention to help create better health equity for the next generation.

The common narrative around Black women and cervical cancer is that we are “disproportionately” affected by it. Astonishingly, Black women are twice as likely to die from cervical cancer than white women, but it’s not because of biology — it’s because of health care disparities, systemic racism and long-held inequities.This must change.

When we know that we are doing everything we can to remain healthy, we are also building confidence in ourselves and our futures.

It’s time for us to champion a new narrative — one driven by confidence and strength that extends, rather than ends, a healthy and joyful life.

Out of necessity, Black women have traditionally led the way when it comes to prioritizing self-care, and cervical health is no different. I know this because I witnessed it firsthand when a member of my team was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The good news is that she prioritized her self-care and got screened. The even better news is that because of early detection, her cancer was treatable, and today she is thriving.

Like her, we can all begin to rewrite the narrative by making sure that self-care includes cervical care.

Self-care is about more than just spa days, me-time and trips to the makeup counter; it’s also about taking care of our physical and mental health. We can’t be our best for those we love if we aren’t honoring ourselves from the inside out. The truth is self-care is the best care.

As we conclude Cervical Health Awareness Month and enter Black History Month, we should use this moment to prioritize our self-care by taking action to protect our health and encouraging others to do the same.

It starts with knowing the facts. And the fact is, cervical cancer is among the most preventable of all cancers and, when diagnosed early enough — as in the case of my team member — it is among the most treatable. There is no reason we can’t dramatically decrease the rate of 14,000 women in the U.S. diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, or the almost one-third as many who die of it.

That’s why having the knowledge and following through with cervical cancer screenings are so important. This means visiting your OB/GYN for a regular Pap test from ages 21-29, and both a Pap test and HPV test together starting at 30. The Pap test finds changes to the cervix that can be addressed before they lead to cervical cancer. The HPV test identifies the presence of the human papillomavirus, which can also lead to cancer.

Testing is done as part of your well-woman exam — it’s that easy. That’s what self-care is all about, and it’s how we begin to take control and change the narrative.

But there’s more. When we know that we are doing everything we can to remain healthy, we are also building confidence in ourselves and our futures. By getting screened, we not only are acting with our best interests in mind, but showing our daughters how to take care of themselves as they grow to become fierce Black women (like their mothers!).

As a mom of three, my health has become an even bigger priority for me. Life is so precious, and I cherish all of the priceless moments with family and friends. It’s important to take charge of our health to make sure we are around for them. We need to “level up” our conversations about health and address disparities to help create better health equity for the next generation for whom we are role models. That’s the world I want to help create for my daughter.

We have it within us to help protect ourselves from cervical cancer. And when we do, we can embrace the fullness of who we are. We can actualize the purest form of self-love and reflect our truth: As Black women, we are in charge of our stories.

Now that you know the reality, check in, share a stat, lend an ear, hold a hand, give a ride — whatever it takes to get you and yours on the right side of health. By reaching out, you could be extending a lifeline.