On Father’s Day in 2007 — a year after the HPV vaccination hit the market — Indianapolis natives Brenda and Kirk Forbes received a call from their 22-year-old daughter, Kristen. She was experiencing swelling in her right leg and ankle area, and she was startled. Kristen was a recent IUPUI Kelley School of Business graduate and had always been healthy. Her life was filled with promise and her parents were suddenly worried as well.
After multiple medical visits, the doctors at St. Vincent Cancer Center confirmed it was stage 3C cervical cancer — an almost terminal stage. They all immediately started to cry. After the diagnosis, Brenda, Kirk and Kristen dedicated themselves to fighting the fight. “You’ll do anything you can to ensure your child will survive. Anything,” Kirk says. And they never gave up in the process. Despite months of medical interventions, including 14 surgeries, Brenda and Kirk buried Kristen 11 months after she was diagnosed. Because of her family’s positivity, Kristen has left an amazing legacy behind.
Since Kirk and Brenda lost their daughter on June 1, 2008, they have devoted countless hours sharing her story and talking about the importance of HPV vaccination to help eradicate cervical cancer. Kirk published a book, Love, Kristen: One Young Woman’s Courageous Battle Against Cancer, and has been featured on several local and national TV shows (including Dr. Oz). They are strong supporters of the American Cancer Society and started a foundation in honor of Kristen, all in hopes of eradicating cervical cancer.
When Dr. Oz asks Kirk what he wants parents to know about the HPV vaccine, he suggests that parents need to learn as much as they can about HPV and the vaccine. He also suggested being proactive in your child’s health and future. “Make sure you do consider the vaccine. Very dearly. Because you’re playing Russian Roulette with your children’s life if you don’t,” Kirk says.
The American Cancer Society recommends that girls and boys get vaccinated against HPV at age 11 or 12, to prevent six types of cancer – including cervical cancer. The vaccine can be started as early as age 9 and the series should be completed by age 13 because cancer protection decreases as age at vaccination increases.
Brenda and Kirk have had so much time to reflect on their daughter’s abrupt departure. Over and over, they’ve thought about what they could have done differently. According to Brenda Forbes, they were unaware of the HPV vaccination for their three children, as the vaccination didn’t hit the market until 2006. They shared that Kristen had a Pap smear 18 months prior to her diagnosis and the results came back fine. You just don’t know sometimes.
During the same year Kristen died, 11,150 women in the US were diagnosed with the disease. 3,700 of them died. It doesn’t have to happen. Cervical cancer has one main cause: HPV. And that means it is almost 100% preventable with the HPV vaccine. That objective became Kirk and Brenda’s goal — to make sure every parent knows that HPV vaccination is cancer prevention.
According to a recent CDC report, Indiana currently ranks 33 out of 50 states for children receiving the complete HPV vaccine series. Sixty-five percent of children between the ages of 13-17 have received the first dose of the vaccine, but only 48.9 percent have completed the series of 2 or 3 shots depending on the age of the child when he or she started the series. HPV vaccination, at the recommended ages, could prevent approximately 800 HPV-related cancers in Indiana alone this year.
For more information on HPV and the HPV vaccines, click here.
CORRECTION: The original story mistakenly had the incorrect years listed (2017 instead of 2007, 2008 instead of 2018) but is now corrected above. The (sleep-deprived) writer apologizes for this error, and promises to drink more coffee before she types next time.