Sylvia Rodriguez sits on the foot of her white-linen clad bed at the Hilario Galindo Hospital in the Western Guatemalan state of Retalhuleu, seemingly at peace with her sterile surroundings. At only 24 years old, Sylvia has gone through more physical and emotional pain than most people experience in their entire lives, but she refuses to let the negative overshadow the positive, even only an hour prior to a hysterectomy ordered by her oncologist.
Sylvia’s hysterectomy is actually part of her treatment – she has a very advanced form of cervical precancer.
These recent events have been only part of a series of loops and corkscrews in the rollercoaster of Sylvia’s life. When she was eight years old, her mother died from a similar form of cervical cancer. Left with her father, she and her brothers were mentally and physically abused until they collectively decided to save themselves by leaving their father and moving in with their grandmother. And just four months ago, Sylvia lost her husband of eight years to his battle with rectal cancer, leaving her to care for her three children by herself.
Earlier this year, Sylvia attended a WINGS-organized screening in Cotzumalguapa after hearing a WINGS Educator, Flory, deliver an informal pre-educational seminar on cervical cancer. Sylvia recalls, “I was scared that I showed many of the risk factors that I was told about – for example, my mother had cervical cancer, and I started having unprotected sex at a young age with multiple men, because I was never exposed to responsible sexual health when I was growing up.”
Sylvia went through the screening, which includes visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid and treatment of cellular abnormalities using cryotherapy (VIA/Cryo method), subsidized by WINGS. Unfortunately, the screening revealed a lesion on her cervix – far too advanced for the cryotherapy to be effective. Flory referred her to an oncologist in the area to continue testing and treatment.
An additional biopsy, colposcopy, and loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) gave Sylvia the prognosis she had been hoping to avoid: she had severe dysplasia (CIN III) on her cervix, prompting the oncologist to recommend relocation to better facilities and an emergency total hysterectomy. The lone bright spot was that preliminary tests concluded that the cancer was localized to the cervix, so a hysterectomy would theoretically leave Sylvia cancer free.
“When I found out, I felt desperately sad and alone. But if it wouldn’t have been for WINGS and their Cervical Cancer screening in Cotzumalguapa, I would have never known about my condition, and I wouldn’t have this opportunity to beat it,” she told Flory, the WINGS Educator that has stayed by her side. Flory came with Sylvia to give her the support she needed, in the absence of her late husband.
Sylvia, with her hands placed lightly in her lap and her chin held up, looked out the single window onto the adjacent wing of Hilario Galindo. “This procedure is a second chance at a healthy life with my kids."