Fashion Designer: How I Beat Cervical Cancer

The irony of Liz Lange’s situation was not lost on her.

During the summer of 2001, Lange, founder and president of Liz Lange Maternity, was told she had cervical cancer and would need a hysterectomy.

That meant she would no longer have the opportunity to wear any of the maternity designs that had graced not only her figure, but the figures of pregnant celebrities like Julia Roberts, Kelly Ripa and Vanessa Williams.

“The story has a happy ending,” Lange, 41, said in a telephone interview with “I went through the surgery, chemo and radiation. But it was a terrifying thing to face.”

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and Lange wants women to become more vigilant in their approach to the disease.

At the time of her diagnosis, Lange’s career was in full-swing. She was about to launch a maternity line for Nike and was in negotiations to sell her clothes in Target stores.

She was also married and had two small children — her son Gus was 2 1/2 and daughter Alice was 8 months.

She certainly wasn’t prepared for a routine gynecological visit that would turn her world upside-down.

“The diagnosis was picked up through a routine pap smear,” Lange said. “I was very afraid I wouldn’t be there for my children.”

Lange was able to power through the disease by keeping busy with her company and not allowing herself to wallow in self-pity.

“I didn’t share it back then, I kept it private,” said Lange, who lives in New York. “So I put it in a small black box and continued with my business . . . in the midst of still being a wife and mother.”

These days, the entrepreneur isn’t keeping quiet. She wants women to be aware of the consequences that cervical cancer can have on one’s life.

“I do think I wanted more children, or at least I didn’t want the decision to be made for me,” she said.

Routine pap smears are the best way to screen for cervical cancer, according to the American Cancer Society's Web site.

The Cancer Society estimates that in 2008, 11,070 cases of invasive cervical cancer were diagnosed in the United States, and 3,870 American women died from the disease.

The most common risk factor for developing cervical cancer is HPV, or human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted disease. HPV is the most common STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, 20 million Americans have HPV and 6.2 million people become infected each year.

There are more than 40 strains of HPV, some of which can lead to genital warts (these are not the type that cause cervical cancer).

About 90 percent of HPV cases are cleared by the body’s immune system, according to the CDC.

If the HPV infection does not go away on its own, it can linger in the body and eventually turn into abnormal cells, which, if not caught early enough, may turn cancerous.

In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil, a vaccine that protects against four strains of HPV (6, 11, 16 and 18) most likely to cause cervical cancer. The vaccine is most effective when given to females before they become sexually active. Doctors recommend it for girls as young as 9.

About two-thirds of cervical cancers are caused by HPV strains 16 and 18, according to the American Cancer Society.

“I urge women to pick up the phone and call their health care provider and get screened,” Lange said. “Know about HPV. Be proactive. Talk to your mom, your sister, your daughter.”

Learn more about Lange’s plight against cervical cancer at