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Tamika Felder Talks With EmpowHER About Cervical Cancer And The HPV Test

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EmpowHER talks with Tamika Felder about her nonprofit, Tamika & Friends, Inc., and about preventing cervical cancer with the Qiagen HPV screening test.

Todd Hartley:
Hi and thank you for joining us at EmpowHER. Now did you know that cervical cancer can easily be prevented?

Its cause is known – the human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. And today, technologies are available to test for the cancer-causing types of HPV and determine if you may be at risk.

And that’s why Qiagen has joined forces with Tamika Felder, Founder of Tamika & Friends, a non-profit organization dedicated to issues of cervical cancer. Hi, Tamika!

Tamika Felder:
Hi, thank you for having me. I am excited to talk about this. It is something obviously very near and dear and is important to me.

Todd Hartley:
Tamika, before we get started with HPV tests and what options are available for women to protect themselves from cervical cancer, how did you get started with all this?

Tamika Felder:
Well I have no medical background at all. It’s very important for me to always say that. I am in the media profession and I was just a girl who didn’t get a Pap for a couple of years because I didn’t have insurance.

Then I got a job with insurance and went in, thinking that there would be nothing, I was just following up on something that I was supposed to do annually and I walked out of there with an advanced cervical cancer diagnosis and it changed my life forever.

And I didn’t go into this wanting to become an advocate. Right now there’s a lot about cervical cancer in the news, but when I was diagnosed in 2001 no one was talking about it.

So now it’s something that is still taboo but less taboo than it was when I was diagnosed. So my advocacy came out of a need for more people to talk about cervical cancer and HPV and be a support for women who are diagnosed with it.

Todd Hartley:
Tamika, it’s so preventable and yet at the same time so many women don’t have any idea and, you know, you didn’t wake up and say I want to be an advocate for cervical cancer. It woke you up, right?

Tamika Felder:
Right, right. It wasn’t something that I just said, “Hey, cervical cancer is a great call that I want to join in,” that absolutely was not the case.

It happened to me; it affected my life. It affected my family and my friends and when I sought out support I saw that unlike breast cancer, and I am not knocking breast cancer at all, there were all these resources and support for breast cancer patients and there was not the same type of support for cervical cancer. My friends kept asking me, what can we do; what can we do? And out of that, Tamika & Friends was born.

We literally just wanted a place where women could come together and feel that they can open and share and talk about whatever they wanted and not feel like they were a part of a stigma or something because the human papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted virus.

Todd Hartley:
Tamika, what should women know about the digene HPV test?

Tamika Felder:
The women need to know that the digene HPV test is for women 30 and over, most importantly though it’s a test that directly detects the human papillomavirus, the virus that causes cervical cancer.

And you can get it right along with your Pap. It’s just one extra step. You honestly wouldn’t even know that they are doing it and it’s so worth it. It’s FDA-approved for women 30.

And over and I think it’s one of the best things out there because when I was diagnosed they didn’t have this test and I am thankful that they do have it because women can get the test, find out if they have the virus, and if they do, be monitored by their healthcare practitioner.

Todd Hartley:
Tamika, one of the things that I find so interesting is you often have to ask for the tests that are going to be the most preventable or informative, is that the case when you are getting a Pap smear, do you also have to ask for the HPV test?

Tamika Felder:
In some cases, yes. Doctors are creatures of habit and sometimes when there are newer things it takes longer for them to do it.

So we really encourage the women to be proactive about their tests, about their health. So if they are 30 and older, if their doctor isn’t offering them the test or giving it to them, and the doctor maybe giving it to you and you just not know it, but it is best just to make sure and ask for the HPV test and know that if you are at risk for cervical cancer.

And the good thing is most people who get HPV, they don’t have to worry about cervical cancer. It’s the people who get HPV go undiagnosed and then it could lead to cervical cancer but it’s good to know if you have it so you can be monitored and if it is cervical cancer they catch it very early at the early stage.

For me, it was caught too late. I had to lose my fertility at age 25 and I will never be able to have a child because of it. So I want to make sure that my story isn’t someone else’s story.

Todd Hartley:
Yeah, I think that’s really admirable that you recognize that and then not only do you recognize it but you go out and make sure that other women can be luckier than you were.

I know cervical cancer is most common in women who are older than 30 but when should women start asking for the HPV test? Does age even matter?

Tamika Felder:
Age does matter. Currently it’s FDA-approved for women who are 30 and over. If you are under 30 definitely it’s a conversation that you need to have with your doctor but it’s FDA-approved for women 30 and over.

Todd Hartley:
And then who gives this test? Does that happen when a woman goes to go see her OB/GYN?

Tamika Felder:
You don’t necessarily have to see an OB/GYN, any healthcare practitioner where a primary care physician, OB/GYN or a nurse practitioner or gynecologist oncologist can give the HPV test.

Todd Hartley:
Earlier you talked about tamikaandfriends.org, which is your site devoted to patient advocacy around cervical cancer. I also know that the HPV test is a good place – thehpvtest.com is a good place to get some information. Can you talk about both of them and what they provide women?

Tamika Felder:
Well the good thing about both sites is that it not only tells you the latest technology and tests, it also gives you the latest information in the cervical cancer world.

What the statistics are, where we are lacking in cervical cancer, what we can do to get involved. Both sites have great advocacy organizations. We have links in many organizations that fight cervical cancer, not only on a patient advocacy level but also on Capitol Hill.

So it’s a great resource for women and there’s also information on there for men and on our site Tamika and Friends.

We also have a site for co-survivors, co-patients whether it’s a spouse or a partner or a mother, whoever in the family or friend’s side of the patient.

Todd Hartley:
So just to summarize, cervical cancer can be totally prevented. Women, when they go see their doctors should ask to have an HPV test but one thing we haven’t discussed is how often should a woman have that HPV test?

Tamika Felder:
Right now the guidelines are as you go to the doctor and you have a clear Pap and you don’t have to come back for three years but then there’s things that women need to keep in mind.

If they change sexual partners then you may want to go back, go to the doctor, get another Pap test but have a dialogue with your doctor, have a conversation and make sure that you tell them the things that are going on in your life and between the patient and their doctor, they can figure out the best plan for their optimized health.

Todd Hartley:
Well she is Tamika Felder. She is the founder of TamikaandFriends.org. She has joined forces with Qiagen and together they are creating awareness around cervical cancer.

For more information on Tamika go to her website tamikaandfriends.org – that’s one word tamikaandfriends.org,
or you can also find out information about the HPV test by going to thehpvtest.com.

Tamika, one last question before we say goodbye, how does it feel as an advocate when a woman comes up to you or a woman contacts you on the web and thanks you for helping them become aware of something that could have taken their life?

Tamika Felder:
It heals me. It makes me forgive the cancer that robbed me and my fertility.

Todd Hartley:

Tamika Felder:
It really does.

Todd Hartley:
It heals you.

Tamika Felder:
And when I am busy and I feel like I don’t have enough time, it’s a reminder that this woman is in crisis in that very moment and to do whatever I can to help her.

Todd Hartley:
Well it’s so beautiful to know that there are women like you out there that are helping women stay healthy, to stay alive and to continue on their path of advocating for the health of their loved ones and nobody does it better than women. At EmpowHER we call them the Chief Medical Officers of the family – the CMOs, right?

Tamika Felder:
Yes, yes.

Todd Hartley:
Well thank you for helping the CMOs stay on duty. She is Tamika Felder, or thehpvtest.com. Tamika, thank you so much for helping us empower women.

Tamika Felder:
Thank you.

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