By Lizzie Knothe
My name is Lizzie Knothe, and I am one of the newest additions to The Lily Project. I recently relocated from Wisconsin to León, Nicaragua with my boyfriend Alex to join Lily’s newest mobile clinic team and assist with blogging, photography, social media, and transportation. My motivations for the next year of work with Lily are personally rooted.
For as long as I can remember, the words “breast cancer” have been used regularly in my family. Talks of screenings, treatments, genes and scares were commonplace. Many women in my family have undergone invasive biopsies, single and double mastectomies, reconstructive surgeries, and cancer treatment therapy. Women in my family have lost their fight to breast cancer, and women in my family have won. My aunts, cousins and grandmother bear the scars of breast cancer, both physically and emotionally. I look at my family members, and I am
proud of their resilience and ecstatic for their victories.
In my head, however, there remains a consistent whisper; am I next?
The thought of breast cancer leaves me feeling powerless at times. It has me asking questions like “why was I born a woman?” or “why was our family cursed with these genetics?” I’ve avoided certain products apparently linked to cancer only to roll my eyes and think, “what’s the use?” But, I know now; prevention is the use. My family’s experiences have made me vigilant, their struggles have motivated me to proactivity, and as a result, I am much more likely to take preventative measures for my health. I asked doctors about mammograms and my family has undergone genetic testing before I could drive. I am much more likely to self-exam, seek out regular physicals, and start mammograms early. I may not have 100% control over breast cancer, but I am defending myself the best I can.
When I first learned about The Lily Project, I began researching cervical cancer and found many similarities between the two diseases. Both of these cancers target women in their early 40s to mid 50s, both can display few to no symptoms, and both require overt bodily awareness and professional screenings in order to prevent and detect. The major difference is cervical cancer can be totally prevented. Virtually all cases of cervical cancer start as Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and can be avoided through the use of contraceptives and receiving regular Pap exams. These actions can completely diminish the chance of contracting cervical cancer or at least help detect pre-cancerous cells early enough for removal or treatment. Despite its preventability, and although the cervical cancer death rate has dropped more than 50% in the last decade, it remains the number 1 killer of women in Nicaragua. That’s where The Lily Project comes in.
The Lily Project is an amazing, holistic model of public health. Combining cervical exams with education and counseling, The Lily Project combats cervical cancer in an informative, sustainable and economically sound way. In the few weeks I have been in Nicaragua, I have learned what efficient, culturally sensitive, women-centered health assistance looks like. I am so excited to see what The Lily Project has in store for the next year, and work with the amazing individuals here at Lily who, like me, have witnessed women in their lives struggle with female-targeted cancers.
Alex and I have the amazing opportunity of being part of the brand-new León team, and watching its impact reach communities will be truly incredible. Maybe I will not see breast cancer become truly preventable, but knowing the power of awareness and regular exams can be enough to save a life. In the mean time, it is time to band together and continue supporting The Lily Project’s efforts to stop the spread of this preventable disease and take steps to ending cervical cancer as the #1 killer of women in Nicaragua.