Zereana Jess-Huff, a 34-year-old mother, corporate executive and ovarian cancer survivor, was crowned Mrs. Maryland 2014 on a platform to think outside the bra. She doesn’t try to hide her treatment battle scars, and uses her position to raise awareness about women’s other lady parts.
‘We have won the war on awareness for breast cancer. You say the color pink and everybody knows what you’re talking about,” Jess-Huff points out. “But I know for a fact that it has not been won when it comes to gynecologic cancers. It is critical to get the word out about what the symptoms are, and how important it is for women to get checked if they have symptoms that persist for two weeks or more.”
Jess-Huff will serve as MC for the National Race to End Women’s Cancer in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, Nov.2. The event is the major national awareness and fundraising event for the Foundation for Women’s Cancer.
“In the same way we’ve become more comfortable talking about breast cancer, we need to start talking about our ovaries, uteruses and vaginas,” Jess-Huff says. “Because we have these other lady parts, and women are dying while no one talks about them.”
Every woman is at risk for developing a below the belt, gynecologic cancer: cervical, ovarian, uterine/endometrial, vaginal or vulvar. An estimated 95,000 American women will be diagnosed this year and approximately 29,000, or nearly a third, will die. If a woman suspects or has been diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer, she should seek care first from a gynecologic oncologists. Data shows that, especially for women with uterine or ovarian cancer, women treated first by a gynecologic oncologist experience better outcomes.
Aside from the Pap and HPV tests, which screen for cervical cancer, there are no screening tools yet for early diagnosis of other gynecologic cancers. Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
Pain or pressure in the pelvic or abdominal area
Bloating or swelling in the abdomen
Feeling full quickly while eating
Constipation or diarrhea
Jess-Huff and the Foundation for Women’s Cancer urge all women to learn the symptoms, listen to their bodies, and seek medical care if symptoms persist for more than two weeks. As a busy wife, mother, philanthropist and CEO of a health care company, Jess-Huff says she was too busy to put her own health first.
“Thinking back on my difficult journey, I really am a cautionary tale for women all over the country who are invested in their careers but let their health sit on the back burner of life. This has been life changing for me and my family because we had to re-evaluate everything in our lives, specifically my priorities and where my values are.
I’ve learned there is really only one thing that matters in this world and that’s the love of your family and their safety and the health, and if you want that, what good are you going to be to them if you’re six feet under? You have to take care of yourself. As a woman and as a mother, you have to take care of yourself.”
The National Race to End Women’s Cancer takes place Sunday, Nov. 2 in Washington, D.C. For more information and to register, visit endwomenscancer.org.
The Foundation for Women’s Cancer is dedicated to raising funds for research and training, and increasing public awareness of gynecologic cancer prevention, early detection and optimal treatment. Visit foundationforwomenscancer.org.