Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Passing of an "Angel"

It is with much sadness that I embraced the news of Farrah Fawcett's death. Her recent documentary "Farrah's Story" was difficult for me to watch having dealt with anal cancer in 1991. I wasn't right for three days afterwards having flashbacks of my own treatment. Now, only a short month later, I am dealing yet again with an invasive anal cancer and must face the pain I know is inevitable with more radiation and chemotherapy.

In listening to the news broadcasts of her death, rarely did they mention that her battle was with anal cancer, only cancer. More than likely this is the result of our squeemishness about discussing a body part we all have in common, the anus. Our ingrained teachings of this area being "dirty" only foster our avoidance of a body part we rely on every day.

Farrah's Story failed to mention any connection to HPV (the human papilloma virus) which is responsible for 90% of anal cancers. I found the documentary confusing in the sense that I felt dropped in the middle of the story. We start off with her already at a Stage 4 cancer with metastasis to her liver. There was no mention of how they came to find this cancer. What symptoms did she have? Was she aware that this was caused by HPV? Did she have any prior history of HPV? Research has shown a high correlation between women who have had cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer as also having anal dysplasia and anal cancer. With nine million people watching this documentary an opportunity was sorely missed to inform so many of this potentially killer virus and that there is a vaccine available to prevent the most common high risk strains, those most often responsible for these cancers.

Then again, because HPV is sexually transmitted it often brings with it shame and embarassment for the patient and scorn and ridicule from others, the misinformed as well as the misguided and judgmental. But HPV has also been shown to cause 25% of head and neck cancers and 25% of lung cancers so regardless of its mode of transmission, the virus does not descriminate when causing cancer within the body.

My prayers are with her friends and family while they wrestle with the void left by her passing.
I look ahead to living through what everyone else just watched in her documentary (minus the trips to Germany of course). I sincerely hope that in the sequal, they will focus on the forest and not just the tree. That they will provide more information to increase awareness of HPV, screening tests, symptoms (many times of which unfortunately there are none until it is too late) and the vaccine which can prevent it.

The time has come to bring HPV and anal cancer out of the shadows!