Early detection essential in fighting cervical cancer

Heather Banks
Published: .
Updated: .

Anne Marie Tiernon/Eyewitness News

Carmel - In January, the focus was on cervical cancer.

Heather Banks, 34, is a fifth grade teacher in Carmel. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer two years ago. She's had surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

She is the married mother of two young children, and is grateful this cancer, which often presents without symptoms, was found early

"I've been teaching for 12 years - only fifth grade," she said.

A teacher at Town Meadow School, Banks remembers well when illness kept her from her Carmel classroom for an entire semester.

"I had my son in April of 2008 and then I was officially diagnosed with cervical cancer in August," she said. "When I was diagnosed I had a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter and three-and-a-half-month-old son. At first you think, oh my goodness, are they going to have to grow up without me?"

The cancer cells, which can develop into a cauliflower appearance, were found in routine screening.

"My OB actually said to me, she said if you can get this, anybody can. I had no risk factors. I had never had any previous to that. I had never had any abnormal tests come back," she said.

Heather's doctor, Michael Callahan at St. Vincent, recommended a hysterectomy.

"During my hysterectomy, they took out 20 lymph nodes and they found cancer a little bit in one of those lymph nodes and because of that I then had to do radiation and chemo," she said.

"The vast majority of cervical cancers are linked to HPV," said Dr. Callahan.

"In young women, it's very prevalent in women in their teens and early twenties, maybe upwards of 70 to 75 percent will be infected with the HPV virus," he said.

Callahan says Heather's prognosis is good.

"It gives me peace of mind that you know I did what I could and I was aggressive as I could and it's gone and things are good now," she said.

Now this survivor hopes to spare her daughter.

"My daughter will definitely have that Gardasil vaccine as soon as she can get it. I wish it could have been around for me to have it as well," she said. "It's cancer we're dealing with and if you can prevent it I think it's a huge thing that as a mother you can do for your daughter."