The heartbreaking loss of journalist Gwen Ifill took us by surprise. Brilliant, unflappable and at the top of her craft, she was also warm and loved by so many. We certainly did not expect to have this beautiful sister taken from us so soon.
As one of America’s most successful African-American journalists, Ifill was the first black female journalist to moderate a vice presidential debate (Edwards/Cheney and Biden/Palin). A celebrated journalist, Ifill was awarded 15 honorary degrees and published the book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.
Sadly, Ifill is still telling us an important story in the way she left us far before her time. Endometrial (uterine) cancer — the disease that took her life — is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system, though we are more likely to hear about cervical cancer. Rates of uterine cancer are only slightly higher in African-American women, but we are twice as likely to die from the disease than women of all other ethnic groups.
There is no easy, preventive test for uterine cancer. That’s why it so important to learn the symptoms — unexplained vaginal bleeding, spotting or another type of discharge. Other key indicators include unexplained weight loss, pain in the pelvic region or a mass. (Go to the doctor even if you think it’s just a fibroid.)
Once you report the symptom, to your doctor (preferably a gynecologist), she or he will conduct an ultrasound or take a tissue sample (biopsy) to test for the disease. Getting tested can save your life. Ninety percent of women survive uterine cancer when it is caught in its earliest stage.
Scientists are not sure about all of the risk factors for uterine cancer, but obesity, exposure to estrogens (environmental and natural), diabetes and genetic issues (is it in your family?) top the list. Pregnancy and breast feeding, combination oral contraceptives (they may reduce your exposure to estrogen), avoiding cigarette smoking and staying physically active may reduce your risk.
PBS — and journalism — will never be the same without Ifill’s incisive reporting, exceptional professionalism, gracious smile and delightful personality. Still, in leaving us this way, she continues reporting an important story. Honor her memory by using that lesson to take of your health.
Learn more about uterine cancer.