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Becky Hammon, New York Liberty Guard

A South Dakota native, Becky Hammon has been a fan-favorite and valuable player of the New York Liberty since she was signed as a free agent out of Colorado State University in 1999. The Liberty's leading scorer, Hammon led her team to the WNBA Eastern Conference Finals in 2004 after returning from a 2003 season-ending knee injury. She finished her comeback 2004 season ranked No. 1 in the league in total turnovers (118.0) and No. 5 in assists (150.0). In the off-season, Becky conducts the Becky Hammon School of Skills basketball camp in Rapid City, SD, and in Fort Collins, Colo., where she teaches children the fundamentals of basketball and the importance of teamwork.

Becky Hammon Shoots to Eliminate Cervical Cancer

As a member of the New York Liberty, I know that my job isn't just about scoring baskets and winning games - though, it is a lot of fun.  My job is also to be a role model to our millions of fans, particularly the women and young girls who cheer us on from inside the arena and in front of their television sets.

While some might say having so many eyes on you is a burden, I see it as an opportunity to teach our fans about empowerment, the magic of possibility and to raise awareness about important issues.  Fortunately, the WNBA shares this vision.

This year I was approached to participate in the league-wide "Choose to Know" cervical cancer prevention effort.  I was told that some of my favorite competitors in the WNBA had already signed up: Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks), Katie Smith (Detroit Shock), DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics), Sheri Sam (Charlotte Sting), Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) and Nikki McCray (San Antonio Silver Stars). How could I not join in?

But first I had a question: What is cervical cancer and why, of all diseases, is this one that the WNBA chose?

In the past, we've encouraged awareness about popular health topics like breast cancer and childhood fitness, so cervical cancer seemed a little off-the-radar by comparison.

Then I learned that cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that's nearly 100 percent preventable, and that women over the age of 30 (which many of my WNBA peers are) are at increased risk for the disease.

It turns out that cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, better known as HPV. 

HPV infects nearly 80 percent of sexually active people, but fortunately, most of our bodies are able to fight it off without us knowing we even have it.  For some women, however, the HPV can cause abnormal cell changes on their cervix that can lead to cancer.  The Pap test - which all women are supposed to get regularly -- is designed to detect these "bad" cells. 

But most women do not know the Pap test is not foolproof - I've learned that it can miss these precancerous cells between 15 and 50 percent of the time.

The good news is there is now a test approved for women 30 and older that detects the cancer-causing strains of HPV in a woman's body.  It's called the HPV test and when it's used with the Pap test, it makes cervical cancer nearly 100 percent preventable.

At first, I thought this disease was pretty complicated - one disease leads to another and can cause changes that lead to cancer.  Overwhelming right? 

Not really - because it all comes down to women knowing they need to get their Pap tests regularly.  And if a woman is older than 30, she needs to get an HPV test too.

I encourage everybody to pass this information along to their mothers, sisters, cousins, grandmothers and friends.  I know I have. 

As a female athlete, I take pride in my health because it allows me to have the active life I love.   I want the women around me to love and take care of their health and their bodies just the same: which is why I urge women to join this WNBA campaign and urge each other to "Choose to Know" about cervical cancer prevention. 

As part of this "Choose to Know" campaign, we have passed out numerous bright orange bracelets and T-shirts. 

And when we recently played our biggest rival, the Los Angeles Sparks, (who we beat, by the way!) we had a huge "Choose to Know" night.  Madison Square Garden was awash in orange, and it was neat to see how our fans were curious and eager to know more about what "choosing to know" was all about.

Though I was a little busy on the court, I heard that girls, boys, women and men of all ages were stopping by the information tables set up in The Garden to ask about the disease, what they could do and how cervical cancer can be prevented. I was blown away.

So as we continue with our nationwide campaign to eliminate cervical cancer, I'm hoping that our efforts will be rewarded with more women asking their doctors for the HPV test along with their Pap.  I am also hoping there will be fewer incidences of this cancer that currently affects more than 10,000 American women each year.  Worldwide, it's the second leading causing death among women.

Eliminating cervical cancer may seem like an impossible dream to some.  But in my experience, impossibility is just not a possibility.  After all, I'm a girl who grew up in South Dakota, which is not exactly known as a hot spot for women's athletics.  On top of that, I only grew up to be five feet six inches - an unlikely combination for a professional basketball player who is now playing in one of the biggest and best cities in the world.

Yet, I'm making it and living my dream.  This is why I will keep saying that eliminating cervical cancer is achievable, but only if women get all the facts and talk to their doctors.

For more information about cervical cancer, click here.

Created: 8/30/2005  -  Becky Hammon
Reviewed: 8/30/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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