Common Ground: Cancer can strike anyone at any age

At age 12, Andreka S. Boyd was a carefree youngster who loved hanging out in the mall, riding her bike and dancing.

Her only complaint was the uncomfortable pain she sometimes felt in her stomach. On Jan. 31, 2000, the pain grew unbearable, and Boyd called her parents to excuse her from her sixth-grade history class at Prescott Middle School.

One day later, Boyd was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer.

Doctors performed emergency surgery and removed a grapefruit-size tumor and her right ovary. For several years, Boyd underwent surgeries and treatments both in Baton Rouge and at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

“I was thinking I was going to die because it was cancer,” Boyd says. Her family, she says, was supportive. “My parents did what needed to be done.”

Her illness forced her to withdraw from school.

“I was home-schooled for the rest of that year,” she says. “But I went back in my seventh-grade year.”

Now 26, Boyd is an ovarian cancer awareness advocate and a 14-year survivor.

“I do sometimes ask why I had the cancer, but I never felt like, ‘poor me.’ I’m a survivor, and I am determined to try to help others,” Boyd says.

Boyd is establishing a foundation and nonprofit, the Andreka S. Boyd Foundation, to draw attention to National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month this month and year-round.

“Ovarian cancer can strike at an early age,” she says.

Boyd, a native of Baton Rouge who lives in Bedford, Texas, is furthering the cause on Saturday, Sept. 6, with an ovarian cancer awareness event from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at London’s Accessories, 6246 Florida Blvd., Baton Rouge.

During her participation in cancer walks and related activities, other ovarian cancer survivors are often shocked to learn that Boyd was diagnosed with the disease at such a young age. She did not fit the typical ovarian cancer profile.

About half of ovarian cancer diagnosis are women over age 63, according to the American Cancer Society. And the disease is most common in white women. Boyd is black.

Statistics also show that some 21,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year and about 14,000 women will die from it.

Boyd, a Capitol High School graduate, has refused to let the grim statistics shape her future. She pursued her college plans and graduated from Southern University in 2010. Though she majored in rehabilitation, she is working as a loss mitigation law specialist.

Boyd’s message is one that resonates with all women. As a mother of a 12-year-old daughter, I, too, want my daughter to feel comfortable enough to speak up about her health and to ask questions, or yes, complain, if something does not feel right.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at chantewriter@hotmail.com.