After more than 20 years with the New York Police Department, Patti Murrillo-Casa couldn’t wait to retire in 2008. She was finally going to join her husband, Freddie Casa, who had retired from the NYPD in 2007.

The plan was to take an extended vacation. “I wanted to go to London, and many other places,” Patti says. “I was ready. Really ready.” Patti may have been ready emotionally, but not at all physically.

A few months before her retirement, Patti started spotting blood between menstrual periods. “I ignored my regular pap smears for four years, because I felt fine,” she now admits.

Then, Patti suddently felt bloated and very tired. “I was bleeding constantly, I felt rundown,” she says. “That’s when the light went off in my head, and I told my husband something is wrong.”

Patti finally went to see her doctor in October 2008. She says “I remember looking at her face, and I knew the news was not going to be good.”

Her doctor told Patti that she had cervical cancer. “My husband and I were just numb,” Patti remembers. “We couldn’t believe it. We drove home and did not say one word to each other. Tears were flowing down my face. We were scared.” When they got home they both broke down in tears and held each other for hours. “I’m thinking I’m dying, and he’s saying, ‘It’s going to be okay.”

Patti’s doctor sent her to an oncologist. He determined that she had stage two cervical cancer. Patti was only 42 at the time, leaving her husband wondering what could have caused it. “The doctor told us it was from HPV,” she says. “We knew it was a sexually transmitted infection. I felt ashamed, because I thought my husband would think I cheated on him.”

HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are currently 20 million Americans infected with HPV, many of them unaware they have it because most of the time HPV has no symptoms. Some types of HPV cause cervical cancer in women and other kinds of cancer in men. An HPV vaccine helps prevent cervical cancer.

Patti and Freddie had been married for 10 years, but she knew they had been faithful to each other. “The doctor told us HPV can lay dormant in your body for 15 years,” Patti says.

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Patti had to undergo seven weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, including two treatments of internal radiation. “I’d go to the hospital and they’d put rods in my cervix for the internal radiation,” she says. “I would lay in the hospital bed with this thing inside of me wondering what did I do wrong to deserve this, and what purpose did I have in life.”

In May 2009, Patti received some wonderful news: The chemo and radiation had worked. “My tumor was gone, and there were no visible cancer cells.”

Though Patti was now a cancer survivor, she knew Latinas needed her help. In addition to her personal experience, she was now armed with tons of research information. “We know that 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year,” she says. “More than 4,000 women die from this disease, and a large percentage of them are Latinas. ”

The Center for Disease Control’s website confirms Patti’s statement. African American women have the highest death rate of cervical cancer, followed by Latinas, according to the CDC.

Former NYPD Cop-Photo3Her blog offers lots of information on cervical cancer, posts by guest bloggers, usually other women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, and where Patti shares her personal insights. “I’m trying to let women know not to be ashamed if they have HPV. It is not a disease because of promiscuous sexual behavior,” she says. “HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.”Today, Patti regularly speaks to Latinas, Latina organizations and has taken her public awareness to the web. She and a friend launched the The Voices of Two Mujeres blog to, as their blog states, give cervical cancer “a voice.” Patti is passionate about spreading awareness of this deadly disease. “This is a preventable disease because we know where it comes from, a virus called HPV, and we have the tools to prevent it,” she says.

Now 45, Patti is a changed woman, one who no longer takes her life for granted. She believes she now has a stronger relationship with God and a stronger bond with her husband.

“I’m finding myself, it’s a new me.”

If you’re 9 to 26 years of age, get the HPV vaccination.

Patti’s advice to protect yourself from cervical cancer:

  • Start getting pap examinations at the age of 21.
  • After the age of 30, an HPV test is recommended for all women with their annual pelvic exams.
  • Do not skip your annual pap smears.
  • Call your doctor if you have continuous spotting or bleeding between menstrual periods.