As a single mother of two with a full-time job working in special education, Ana Reyes’ life was busy as could be.
Then she got a call at work from her OB-GYN that changed her life forever.
“She said 'You have cancer,’” Reyes said. It was cervical cancer.
“I got in my car and drove three blocks then I pulled over and just started sobbing,” she said.
Reyes would later learn that cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). She now realizes HPV was likely the reason for a decade-worth of abnormal pap smears she had experienced. Her follow-ups had always been clear but this time was different.
Reyes would endure three years of difficult treatments, surgeries, and complications. What kept her strong throughout all of it, Reyes said, was her two children.
“There were many many nights that I would cry to my own mom, 'If I didn't have these kids I'd give up’,” said Reyes.
With the help of Grand Rounds, a San Francisco-based company, Reyes was able to access the opinion of an oncologist at Duke University who was able to help guide the direction of Reyes’ ultimately successful treatment.
Now cancer-free, Reyes has become an advocate for preventing the virus from manifesting in the first place.
With the vaccine, she said, seven different types of cancer, including cervical, can be prevented. The vaccine is recommended for girls and boy starting at the age of 11.
“It was awful and knowing that we have a way to prevent this from happening to other women and other girls,” she said. “To me, how could I not stand up and say this is really important?”
Now 40, Reyes said that though she has not seen any recent signs that the cancer is returning, she will continue to do advocacy work with Cervivor.
She said it is important to remember that while taking care of your family and career is important, ultimately, you won’t be able to care for anything if you do not care for yourself.
“I want women to know that you need to put your mask on first, you have to take care of yourself because if you don't, you won't be around to take care of your kids or anyone else,” said Reyes.