January is Cervical Cancer awareness month and what better way to kick it off than an interview with Christine Baze, founder of the Yellow Umbrella organization.
At the age of 31, you were diagnosed with Cervical Cancer, underwent a hysterectomy, radiation and chemotherapy, all within four months. What do you remember most about that time?
After 13 normal pap smears, the thing I remember the most during that time was being overwhelmed with feelings of terror, disbelief, anger, sadness and pure fear – yet having to get up every day and deal with those feelings and do what was needed to be done to kick cancer’s butt. Which, I’m glad I did. 🙂
What are some common signs and symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
One of the scary things about cervical cancer is that there are few physical symptoms that a woman can identify on her own. When it becomes advanced, there can be bleeding and cramping, but early signs are rare. That is why we are SO lucky to have tools that can identify early cell changes, as well as identify the presence of HPV (human papillomavirus), which is the cause of cervical cancer.
What questions and tests should women under and over the age of 30, ask their gynecologists for?
Why do you believe there is still such a stigma attached to having HPV?
The stigma attached to HPV stems from a lack of information and understanding. When you know that 4 out of 5 people have it, it stops being a big deal. It is NOT a sign of promiscuity or infidelity, it’s a common, transient virus – kind of like a cold for your hooch. Everyone gets a cold, we pass it along and generally it goes away. But if your immune system doesn’t respond, if it doesn’t go away over years, that is when it can develop into cancer.
Are there any resources available for women who do not have health insurance and cannot afford a pap smear?
There are some organizations and clinics that provide services on a sliding scale, and/or funding for vaccines and paps in each state, but not enough. We need to work together to make sure that all women have access to the best tools, no matter where they live, with or without insurance.
Since surviving your Cervical Cancer diagnosis, you started the YELLOW UMBRELLA Organization, went on the POPSMEAR tour, have performed alongside many other talented musicians including Sheryl Crow, and you currently are on the PAINT IT YELLOW tour. What else does the future hold for you?
I held the first POP SMEAR concert in 2002, and founded the Yellow Umbrella Organization and Tour after that. I’ve been very lucky to have taken the Tour to over 100 stops across the country, and now with Paint It Yellow, I take the music and message not only to rock clubs, but to schools, and colleges and YWCA’s and rotary luncheons…. making sure EVERYone hears the message: Cervical Cancer is preventable. I have many Paint It Yellow programs booked for next year, as well as speaking gigs, and straight up music gigs. I’m also starting to work on my first book – ONE STORY – based on my one woman show I performed on my 10 year remission. It’s going to be cool because there will be a CD with the book – each chapter is a song that represents that piece of my story – from classical to covers to my originals… I’m very excited about it!
Can you tell us more about the eyeshadow palette created by celebrity makeup artist Debra Macki, and also what your “save the hooch” slogan is about?
Debra Macki created this beautifully mineral based eye shadow palette with 3 gorgeous colors to represent the 3 tools available to stop cervical cancer. The beauty and fashion events we do together allow me to reach women in another creative, fun way and I love it! The palette is available at www.the YellowUmbrella.org– it makes a GREAT gift and 80% goes to the Yellow Umbrella Organization. As far as “Save the HOOCH!” – I have always referred to my “girl parts” as my “hooch”…. my survivor sister Tamika Felder says “cooch”… tomaaaaayto…. tomaaaahhto! For me, it’s all about making it EASY to have the conversation – to be able to TALK about our bits and pieces is important – and therefore I have pins and coasters with these smiling cervixes that say SAVE THE HOOCH! And yes, it does work. It does get the conversation started.:)
What is one more thing you would like to say to women who after reading this, will still be too afraid or dismiss the need to get a HPV test?
I want women to understand that the HPV test is the gold star for truly knowing what is going on with your body. The pap is great – but it is not always accurate – I do not want anyone to have to be in my shoes. Sometimes women will think that because they’ve been married for years or because they are “older” they don’t need to be tested. What they don’t understand is that you can be exposed to HPV when you were 21 years old, it can lay low in your system, and then reek havoc in your 50’s or 60’s. It does not mean that your partner has been out and about or that you’ve done anything wrong – it’s just about YOUR immune system and how it deals with this particular virus. So my hope is that women will become more and more educated, informed and empowered to advocate for the very best for themselves, and encourage other to do the same!