Kim’s Story

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These aren’t parts of the body that many people, including me, are comfortable talking about!

Kim’s Story

In the summer of 2017, I was a 51-year-old single mom living in The Woodlands, Texas. A good portion of my days were spent taking care of my younger sister, Debra, who was a clinical cancer trial patient at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. At 49, Debra was in the late stages of what I had been told was colon cancer.  


Because of my sister’s diagnosis, and increased family risk, I had tried to be diligent in getting preventive screenings. During my annual gynecology visit my doctor was alarmed to discover my colonoscopy was more than a year overdue. She promptly got on the phone and scheduled the appointment for me. 


My Diagnosis, My Secret

Post-procedure, the gastroenterologist explained that she had found a cancerous tumor consistent with squamous cell carcinoma. She told me I had anal cancer. Laboratory confirmation would be needed, but she was certain that what she saw was cancer.  This was a complete shock.

I was scared and in disbelief. But above all, I felt I couldn’t tell my family. They were already strained beyond measure because of Debra’s illness, and by this time, her shift to hospice care. How could I tell them I had cancer too? My fiancé had lost his first wife to cancer, so I was concerned about him being asked to step into another difficult caregiving role. I worried about my daughter, 19, and my son, 16.  How would they cope?  How could I continue to help Debra, be a support for my family, and face my own care needs?


I shared my news with my children, fiancé, and close friends, reassuring my kids that I was going be okay. And I believed it. I stayed positive and focused on being strong for my family, which proved to be a distraction that served me well and helped me push through. My long-time girlfriends were rocks for both me and my kids. They bolstered our strength, offered emotional support, and made sure we were fed and looking toward the future. 





My Treatment

The day my doctor confirmed my anal cancer was squamous cell carcinoma Stage 1 was the same day my sister Debra died. It was horrible. My sister’s memorial service would be held in Florida, but I had begun a 6-week regimen of daily chemotherapy and pelvic radiation. This prevented me from participating in Debra’s memorial preparation. It was time to tell my parents and siblings my news. 






Learning More About HPV Cancers

Initially, I understood very little about what caused anal cancer, but I got an intensive education about HPV (Human papillomavirus). I soon learned this same virus causes almost all cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, oropharyngeal, and anal cancers. These aren’t parts of the body that all people, including me, are comfortable talking about! I quickly realized that I would need new tools and a heightened sense of humor to be able to talk about my diagnosis. 


Confronting Stigma, Embracing Support

I also learned that I shared more than I knew with my sister. A friend helped me piece together that Debra had been in the same clinical trial with his wife, and it was not for colon cancer; it was for anal cancer. Unfortunately, Debra never told us because anal cancer continues to have a stigma for many people, one that she didn’t want to bear.







Finding a New Purpose


While recovering from the chemo and radiation treatment, I made the life-altering decision to use my experience as a cancer patient as a catalyst to enter the public health world with a special focus on the prevention and treatment of HPV cancers. From that day forward, I have had a sense of purpose and passion that has only deepened as I learn more about the disease. I’ve met so many dedicated doctors, clinicians, researchers, and fellow survivors working to eliminate HPV cancers. I enrolled in The University of Texas’ School of Public Health the year following my treatment, and, in December 2021, I earned my master’s degree in Health Promotion and Education. Best of all, I recently passed the 5-year cancer-free mark – a milestone that I want to help others achieve or, more importantly, help them avoid altogether.  



My Message to Other Families about HPV and the HPV Vaccine

I lost my little sister to HPV cancer, and I could very well have suffered the same fate but for my guardian angel, Debra. If there had been a safe, effective vaccine available back in our day, the suffering my family has endured would not have happened. Today that vaccine is available, the only vaccine that prevents most HPV-related cancers.  Now, I want to dedicate my days to public health, advocating for HPV education, and immunization against HPV cancers. I believe in a future free of HPV cancers!







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