Healthy Life Changes
- Cervical cancer survivor Marissa Jaret Winokur—best known for her Broadway role in Hairspray—has used her fear of COVID to take control of her health after surviving cancer.
- The Tony Award-winner thanked CNN for featuring her in their COVID slim-down article because she needed a reminder to get back to her healthy habits after recently slipping up on her habits while on holiday.
- Doctors recommend avoiding certain foods like red meat and processed foods to help prevent cancer.
“Thank you @cnn for including me in this story. I also feel like I needed this today, being on holiday for the past 3 weeks I def relaxed on my work out and enjoyed alll the treats,” Winokur admitted. “It’s hard to get back in to my work out routine and hard not to be mad at myself. It’s such a process such a balance. For me it’s really all or nothing. I need to learn to live in the in between more not only the Extreme!!” She also questioned what comes first, a healthy body … or a healthy mind?
Winokur had initially posted a photo in September 2020, revealing her impressive weight loss. “Truth Covid scares me,” she expressed at the time. “I checked off all the boxes, I am HIGH RISK!”
She said she started working out at home with a trainer via Zoom classes and started eating healthy “to have a fighting chance.”
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Cervical Cancer at a Young Age
The former Dancing with the Stars contestant was diagnosed at 27 years old with stage II cervical cancer.
“I lived in a little one-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood, and I remember it seemed like the walls were caving in,” she later expressed to Coping magazine. “I felt like I was being suffocated by the room.”
Winokur was quiet about her diagnosis at the time to protect career opportunities and only let her close network know her health status. She had a hysterectomy.
“When you get a diagnosis of cancer, people assume you aren’t going to be healthy enough to do a show, so I didn’t want anyone to know about my diagnosis because I knew I was going to be able to do it,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let cancer get me down.”
Not knowing if she was going to be able to have children, she wound up having egg retrieval surgery and had a son, Zev, now 12, via a surrogate. Winokur has been married to writer Judah Miller, 47, since 2006. Luckily, the wife and mother is now confidently sharing her story to raise awareness about these important topics.
“I feel like it would be irresponsible of me not to talk about it,” she said. “My story is one of hope I want young women who are faced with a hysterectomy to know that they can have children. They do have options. There are many different ways to become a mom.”
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Cancer and Diet
Although Winokur has stated that she primarily wanted to get healthier due to her being in the high risk category for COVID, a healthier lifestyle certainly can’t hurt in helping prevent cancer.
Overcooked red meat, processed foods like bacon, and fatty meats have all been associated with an increased cancer risk, but unfortunately, there is no single food that doctors can point to with absolute certainty and say it decreases cancer risk. That doesn’t mean that healthy eating habits aren’t important. A balanced diet is a priority both during and after cancer treatment.
Dr. Marleen Meyers from NYU’s Perlmutter Cancer Center tells SurvivorNet in a previous interview that it’s important to incorporate things such as berries and leafy greens into your diet, “but there is no one food or combination that will prevent cancer or substitute for treatment for cancer,” she says. “The key element of making a food choice is making healthful, good choices.”
HPV and Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is primarily caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. The World Health Organization says that there are two strains of the virus (16 and 18) that cause 70% of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous cervical lesions. HPV, which both women and men can get, can also put you at risk for anal cancer and some head and neck cancers.
The best way to screen for cervical cancer is by getting an annual Pap smear, which is an easy procedure that removes a sample of cells from a woman’s cervix so that a doctor can determine if you have cancer or pre-cancerous cells. The virus is extremely common in sexually active people and can be prevented with a vaccine, which doctors say that children should be getting before their sexually-active years.
“The vast majority of humans in the U.S., both men and women, will eventually get infected with human papillomavirus,” says Dr. Allen Ho, a head and neck surgeon at Cedars-Sinai to SurvivorNet. “The important thing to know about HPV is that there are many different strains, and only a couple of them tend to be more cancer-inducing. Probably less than 1% of the population who get infected happen to have the cancer-causing virus that somehow their immune system fails to clear, and over 15 to 20 years [it] develops from a viral infection into a tumor, and a cancer.”
The HPV vaccine, which was recently approved in the U.S. for people up to age 45, though it’s recommended that children get it before they become sexually active, can prevent a lot of these cancers. Gardasil 9 protects against nine strains of HPV – including the strains most likely to cause cancer and genital warts. But it can’t provide protection if a person has already been exposed to HPV. That’s why doctors recommend it for children as young as 9.