Harlem woman starts group for young women with gynecological cancer to raise awareness

NEWYORK September is National Uterine Cancer Awareness Month. The disease mainly affects older women, but a young woman in Harlem has found hope in helping others recover from the disease.

Amanda FItzpatrick checked in regularly with her oncologist at Mount Sinai, as she approached three years without a uterus. At the age of 26, she developed the most common gynecological cancer that often goes undetected.

Dr. Stephanie Blank, Director of Gynecological Oncology at Mount Sinai, stresses: “Any abnormal bleeding should be considered.

Blank’s division worked to understand and break down disparities between race and age outcomes.

“Guidelines from our national society say you shouldn’t have biopsies in people under 45 unless they have strong risk factors like obesity or a genetic predisposition to cancer.” Blank said. “If you follow the guidelines, you could miss such a diagnosis.”

Fitzpatrick went to the emergency room when she started bleeding uncontrollably. A doctor prescribed her pills, but Fitzpatrick performed a biopsy.

“It was so important that she had to advocate for herself,” says Blank. “She knew something was wrong.”

Although thought to be one of the most treatable cancers, CDC reports show that the number of cases and deaths from uterine cancer nationwide continues to rise. New York has the second highest case rate and fourth highest death rate.

Black women die twice as often as white women.

“This happens even when people are seeing the right doctor, they are still not getting the right care,” explains Blank. “So there’s all these fundamental structural problems that are holding people back from really achieving the best possible outcome.”

Through a dedicated plan, all traces of Fitzpatrick’s cancer disappeared within the first year she was diagnosed. The cancer recurred 5 years later.

“She was like, we had to have a hysterectomy, like, this is really serious,” Fitzpatrick recalls hearing over the phone.

The ultrasound image shows the progression as the cancer eats away at her uterus. Single and childless, Fitzpatrick felt her world change.

“I have to make this new life and this new journey without the uterus and hot flashes and menopause and everything, and how am I going to live?” Fitzpatrick asked himself. “And it had to accept a lot.”

Doctors saved and frozen Fitzpatrick’s eggs for an insured future and referred her to Mount Sinai’s Woman To Woman support group for gynecological cancer patients.

“Everybody here looks like they’ve reached retirement age and I don’t fit,” Fitzpatrick recalls thinking.

Fitzpatrick created her own group, “You’re Too Young For This,” which organizes beauty days and pizza parties for gynecological cancer sufferers her age.

“I love them,” Fitzpatrick said of her new friends. “I can tell because of this group.”

Speaking and not stigmatizing symptoms offers solutions to some systemic barriers to care. Mount Sinai tries to reach out to neighboring countries in Harlem, and Blank encourages researchers to intentionally diversify clinical trials.

“When you work in a community that has a lot of black people in it, you really need to think about what that community needs,” Blank said.

The cause of uterine cancer is still unknown. The study aimed to raise, while the statistics slipped. The human factor can make the biggest difference.

For support and resources related to gynecologic oncology, click here.

Have an idea for a story or tip in Harlem? Email Jessi using HUMANITY HERE.

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