Vicky Sullivan's Ken Caryl house party Aug. 21 featured all the standard fare: a spread of healthy treats, chilled wine and tea, and a large group of talkative friends.
Mixed in, though, was some education on cervical cancer.
The group got together to celebrate Kimberly Kopp, a South Jeffco mom known to many as the wife of state Sen. Mike Kopp. To this group of women, she's also a neighborhood friend who recently overcame a scary situation.
"This is not just a celebration of Kim's success," Sullivan said after the two dozen women had a chance to sample the refreshments and gather in the living room. "This is also a bit of education."
Kopp then took the floor, telling the story of how she became one of the more than 11,000 women diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. About one in three die from the disease.
Kopp was diagnosed with the condition April 30, nearly two weeks after going to the doctor because of pain in her abdomen. A series of tests and consultations with more than one doctor revealed that she would need a radical hysterectomy, along with the removal of the lymph nodes around her abdomen. The surgery was July 1, and her network of close friends and family swooped in to help with the day-to-day tasks that make up a mom's to-do list. They found ways to get her kids back and forth to events and activities, and to take care of the couple's youngest child. They worked out schedules among the group to provide meals for the Kopps, and they helped clean the family's home every few days.
Kopp's close friends admit they were frightened when they heard about the cancer, but they knew she would prevail.
Sullivan said she's touched by how strong Kopp was throughout the treatment and thinks she may have cried more about it than Kopp did. Sullivan was one of the women who helped out and said she wanted to host the party to show people "just how strong Kim was and how much she inspired us."
Kopp's hoping that inspiration will drive more women to get an annual Pap test instead of every two years, as some insurers recommend. Kopp was on a two-year schedule and was still a few months away from her scheduled test when the pain started. She believes an annual exam would have detected the pre-cancerous cells.
"If I would have been on the yearly schedule, this would have been nothing more than an office procedure with my doctor," Kopp said. As she told the group of women gathered in Sullivan's living room about her experience, passionate discussions on women's health and the frequency of Pap tests erupted. The women began trading stories of their testing schedules and encouraging each other to get tested annually.
Kopp told the women that they should be their own advocates and take control of their health with annual tests.
"Had I done it every year," she told them, "I never would have been where I am now."
Cervical cancer is a complex subject with many opinions on how to prevent, detect and treat it. For more information, visit these links:
• The Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov
• The Mayo Clinic: www.mayoclinic.com
• The American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org.