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London, Ont., woman advocating for changes to cervical cancer screening dies at 43

Karla Van Kessel pictured with her husband and children.
Karla Van Kessel pictured with her husband and children. Lindsay Davis

A London, Ont., woman who shared her tragic story of cancer in hopes of preventing others from befalling the same fate has died.

Karla Van Kessel passed away Feb. 17, 2020, at the age of 43. She’s remembered as a determined, driven and disciplined woman who “loved to set goals and then crush them” and loved to read, paint and write, according to an obituary.

READ MORE: Want to reduce your chances of cervical cancer? Here’s what you need to know

Van Kessel was diagnosed with Stage 4 cervical cancer in March 2018.

“I thought it was impossible for me to be diagnosed with this type of disease because I was so compliant with Pap smears,” she previously told Global News.

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“I did everything right and still ended up in a really terrible situation.”

In the months prior to her diagnosis, she had what are known symptoms of cervical cancer but a pelvic ultrasound came back normal and no pelvic exam was conducted. As well, she told the CBC last year that her next scheduled Pap smear in July 2017 was said to have come back normal, but a cancer specialist friend who reviewed her medical records after her cancer diagnosis found that the 2017 Pap smear results were not normal.

READ MORE: Cervical cancer could be eliminated in Canada in just 20 years, studies find

Van Kessel’s obituary notes that after her diagnosis she began advocating for more accurate screening tests for cervical cancer, including Pap testing and HPV testing, as the virus can cause cervical cancer. She also advocated for Cancer Care Ontario to share the results of Pap testing directly to patients.

The family will be establishing the Karla Van Kessel HPV Testing and Vaccination Fund in her honour “to prevent cervical cancer by providing testing and [HPV] vaccinations to anyone without coverage.”

The obituary says Van Kessel is survived by her “devoted husband, Rob Whitmill, and her two children, Ben and Tom.”

“Karla and Rob wish to extend their thanks to the staff at the London Regional Cancer Program, Karmanos Cancer Clinic and the Parkwood Palliative Care team for the excellent care and compassion she received until her passing,” it read.

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In lieu of flowers, the family is suggesting donations to the Colposcopy Unit at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation of London.

Click to play video 'Black woman at higher risk of dying from cervical cancer' Black woman at higher risk of dying from cervical cancer
Black woman at higher risk of dying from cervical cancer

— with files from Global News’ Olivia Bowden.