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Health Matters: The risks of skipping doctor appointments

After years of skipping important health screenings, a local mother and cancer survivor now advocates for women to prioritize their health.

HOUSTON — If your goal this year is to work toward better health, doctors say scheduling your annual exam should be a part of your plan.

And if that’s not reason enough to make it a priority, Juana Espino hopes her personal story will.

Just days after giving birth to her third child, a biopsy revealed Espino had stage 4 cervical cancer.

“Before I got pregnant, it had been years since I had come in for an annual exam,” says Espino.

Espino says she had in-depth conversations with her doctor with UT Physicians before deciding on the best course of treatment: a hysterectomy, followed by chemo and radiation.

All of it happened within weeks of her delivering her baby girl.

“Sometimes I wanted to give up,” says Espino, “Especially since I was not able to hold my baby Mia, because of the radiation – it was killing me.”

Thankfully, with the support of her husband, older children and niece, Espino came out on the other side.

But she admits, that before she got pregnant with Mia, she had gone years without getting a pap smear and other screenings.

“The vast majority of the time, cervical cancer is completely preventable,” says Dr. Trisha Lenihan, an OB-GYN with UT Physicians.

Dr. Lenihan says in addition to screenings, doctors encourage everyone to get the HPV vaccine, since Human Papillomavirus is a known risk of cervical cancer.

“In the last several years, several insurance companies have expanded coverage of the HPV vaccine up to age 45,” says Dr. Lenihan.

Six years later and cancer free, Espino now spends her time advocating for women’s health, helping set up events offering free screenings for women in need.

“I understand that some people don’t have the money, or insurance,” says Espino. “But there is help out there - we just need to look for it.”

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Editor's Note: The following video was uploaded in Oct. 2021