Recognizing Cervical Cancer Awareness Month
“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” -John Wayne
Everyone’s battles in life are fought according to their strength and ability to persevere. For Loretta Baylos, her battle was fought on her knees, combined with faith, and the courage to take a stand saying, “Enough is enough!” On a hot summer night in July, she and her husband Jeff Baylos received the call that changed their life forever. She was diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma, a type of cervical cancer that develops in gland cells that produce cervical mucus. Loretta could hardly breathe. “I immediately associated cancer with death, and wondered, ‘am I going to die?’” When your entire world is shifted by a diagnosis that affects more than 11,000 women in the United States each year, you feel the change slowly knocking the wind out of you. Loretta glanced at Jeff, whose own mother and grandmother passed away from cancer, and saw only panic: “My husband looked at me like he lost his best friend.”
Although the second leading cancer among women, cervical cancer is still widely regarded as an afterthought. It is usually caused by HPV viruses, and if left unchecked, the final result can be devastating. Many young women lose the ability to have children, while others fight for their lives with multiple surgeries, if the cancer is not caught early enough. The key to approaching cervical cancer is not only early diagnosis, but awareness. It is extremely important for women to get yearly pap smears and have an HPV screening. Avoiding routine checkups can be deadly. “HPV doesn’t have a preference or a name; it can happen to anybody,” Loretta warns.
Struck with debilitating back pain only months after a clear pap smear, Jeff urged Loretta to get an MRI. Fear crept in her mind as she waited for results, “They found a mass in the lower area where my cervix is that appeared to be a fibroid.” She remembers the nurse giving her a very strange look. “She was taking quite a long time for my examination and I was feeling uneasy, wondering what was wrong,” explains Loretta as she thinks back on the results that changed her every move. After the exam, she anxiously waited for her doctor to call. Jeff recalls his condition, “My heart pounded while she waited for the biopsy results.” After surviving the initial news of an extremely aggressive strain of HPV, Loretta found the strength to fight.
As Jeff did his best to remain strong in front of his wife, he would often cry in the locker room of the La Habra Police Department (LHPD) where he worked. He was diligently on the phone trying to find the right doctor to assist them in the fight for their lives. They had a tough time sharing the diagnosis with their family and friends, especially their six children, but luckily, everyone banned together as a shield of protection and faith. Through much help from people like Jennifer Price, the chief’s wife at LHPD, and tons of prayer, Jeff and Loretta were not alone on the battlefield. Jennifer Price set up a meal train for the Baylos family, and everyone in the police department signed up for it. Jeff even got the station to showcase the teal and white ribbon, the nationally recognized colors for cervical cancer, on all squad cars.
Loretta’s fight for survival began seven years into her 11-year marriage to Jeff, peaking when Loretta had a radical hysterectomy. As an answer to the couple’s prayers, they were able to partner with an amazing doctor at Loma Linda University Medical Center. Loretta exclaims, “Dr. Ioffe was heaven sent. She was handpicked from God!” Her radical hysterectomy was a major five-hour surgery and very invasive. Loretta’s loss of blood was severe, and she had to undergo many blood transfusions. Yet, after all they had been through, a gleam of hope found its way to Loretta and Jeff. Several weeks later, they visited Dr. Ioffe’s office for a follow-up. As Dr. Ioffe began to wash her hands, she delivered the news that Loretta was cancer-free. Jeff couldn’t contain his joy and jumped up to give her a high five that sent soap suds of excitement in the air. Loretta was ecstatic, “I felt like I could probably jump to the top of the ceiling and back. I felt overwhelmed with love, and a warm sense of relief engulfed me. I was alive and so thankful to God for everyone who prayed for me and supported me.”
But that wasn’t the end of Loretta’s journey. Still healing physically and emotionally, Loretta realized something inside was screaming to be heard, “I could not sit home and lick my wounds; I had to take a call to action to help anyone who was suffering the way I had.” She began to pray, and her passion led Loretta to find the answer. “Realizing that there are people dying and so many living in fear and suffering set me on fire! I just felt it in my gut that I needed to go out there and spread awareness as soon as possible.” Loretta grasped hard at the reality that HPV and cervical cancer was a worldwide epidemic. She asked God to give her the knowledge and ability to reach as many as she could to truly make a difference.
Today, Loretta holds support groups for men and women tackling the same issues she faced. She advocates for awareness and reminds people to talk about their experiences. She shares with pain in her voice, “It doesn’t just go away. You get PTSD from the diagnosis because you have a high chance of its return within five years. You have a prolapse in constant pain; I suffer from lymphedema [swelling that occurs in your arms or legs as a result from cancer treatment], and there is nothing more annoying and frustrating than having pain everywhere in your body. [It] is unbearable.” Her heart continues to cry for girls as young as 20 who will never be able to bear their own children. “Through my website and my groups, I am able to comfort the people affected by these trials and pray for them. I always encourage them to be their own advocate.” Loretta is filled with an incredible magnitude of compassion and is dedicated to her involvement with the American Cancer Society as she takes part in relays and speeches, spreading worldwide awareness. Find more about her support and awareness at www.tealladiesmovemountains.com.
Loretta is constantly reminded of the importance of now. “Life is important, and I want women to be in touch with their mind, body, and spirit. Take care of your body and learn to recognize how your body feels. Be aware of when you need to seek medical attention.” She wants to see life and see women have a chance to thrive without their moments cut short. “There is not enough awareness. Life comes out of the area that is under attack; it is a beautiful thing, and it is unfair to feel conquered by a virus that can damage not only your organs, but your spirit.” Her hope for the future is to provide inspiration for thousands of others to fight for a healthy diagnosis. She revels in enjoying each moment as it comes, thankful to be a survivor and share her life with her beautiful grandchildren. Empowered, strong and supported, Loretta vows to live every day as a fighter, whose hope is in God, the significance in prayer and compassion for others.
Sabrina Short, Staff Writer