Cancer survivor establishes foundation

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) – Allison Hicks didn’t set out to be a crusader. Cancer turned her into one.

Diagnosed with cervical cancer at 29, she underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to beat it.

Last fall, she established the nonprofit Hicks Foundation to raise money to buy vaccines, educate girls and women and help spare others from what health officials say is a prevalent – but preventable – killer.

It’s her way of turning private pain into public gain.

“Her life’s direction turned a way she wasn’t expecting, and she’s turned that into a way to help women,” said Dr. Julia Brock, a Burlington obstetrician who has worked with Hicks. “If Allison can get the message out there, that’s great.”

In Vermont, women need to hear it. The state’s rate of cervical cancer is 8.7 per 100,000 women, compared with a rate of 7.2 per 100,000 nationally. About 31 Vermonters are diagnosed with it each year, and 10 die from it, according to the state Department of Health.

“We’re very much in support of the work Allison Hicks is doing,” said acting state Health Commissioner Sharon Moffatt. “She has taken her own personal experience to help better inform women in Vermont of the critical importance of getting screened for cervical cancer, and we still have a long way to go to get women the appropriate screening.”

Hicks, 31, studied fisheries biology at the University of Vermont but didn’t go into the field after graduating. Instead, she became a doula – a birthing coach, helping women through labor and postpartum recovery – and looked forward to becoming a mother herself.

“It was the goal of my life,” she says, wistfully.

The dream began unraveling in October 2004, when she went to a doctor after experiencing bleeding. The diagnosis: an inoperable tumor on her cervix. Five days later, she underwent a radical hysterectomy, and in the ensuing months she was treated with radiation and chemotherapy. Two other operations followed that.

Hicks, who is single and has no immediate family in Vermont, relied on friends to help her during her recovery. The predicament got her to thinking about helping others who might end up in her situation.

That, in turn, led to the idea for the foundation, which raised more than $13,000 at a Vermont National Country Club fundraiser last September. The money will go toward buying the new human papillomavirus vaccine, which costs $360 for a three-shot series, for women who can’t afford it.

Hicks, who runs the nonprofit from her Burlington apartment, organized an Allison Hicks Free Cervical Cancer Screening Day that was to be held Saturday, Jan. 20. In it, free screenings were to be offered, as well as free HPV vaccines for 10 women.

Her advocacy has won praise and recognition.

On Tuesday, she was honored by the Vermont Legislature, which passed a resolution and gave her a standing ovation.

“She’s an incredibly giving woman who’s trying to save other Vermont women from going through what she went through,” said Rep. Denise Barnard, D-Richmond. “She’s not getting paid for this. She’s not getting anything for this except helping others.”

Barnard plans to introduce a bill next week that would require human papillomavirus vaccinations for girls before they enter sixth grade. It would also provide for immunizations for all 11-year-olds, with the state paying for uninsured recipients.

Hicks sees her foundation’s role as one of education, advocacy and fundraising to raise the money needed so that poor or uninsured women can get immunized.

“I’ve always been a nurturer. And this is so central in my life right now, it’s easier to move forward and make work out of it,” she said.

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On the Net:

Hicks Foundation: www.freepap.org

AP-ES-01-21-07 1300EST

BC-VT–Cancer Crusader-Box,Adv22,0048

Adv22

For release Monday, Jan. 22

Allison Hicks, survivor turned crusader

With BC-VT–Cancer Crusader

By The Associated Press

NAME: Allison Hicks

AGE: 31

OCCUPATION: birthing coach, cervical cancer activist and founder of the non-profit Hicks Foundation.

QUOTE: “In a country as wealthy as ours, we should have access to standard health care and I thought this would be the best way to go about it.”

AP-ES-01-19-07 1545EST

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