Cancer survivor Sue Armato felt like a queen for a day, thanks to the special efforts of the staff at JCPenney’s in Calumet City that wanted to draw attention to January as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
Sommer Crawford, the store’s salon manager, planned to do something wonderful for a cervical cancer survivor in the memory of her sister, Darnella Crawford, who was 45 when she died from the disease in 2010.
Crawford got her team at the store to volunteer their time. She set about finding a special recipient who they would pamper. She sent a note to the Cancer Support Center in Homewood asking them to find the right woman, and the staff selected Armato, their boss and the center’s executive director, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer five years ago.
As one nomination letter said, Armato’s “compassion, caring spirit and ability to relate to others makes her an inspirational force that drives the mission at the center and a beacon of hope for others who are on a journey she knows all too well.”
On a special day in December, Armato met Crawford, and her team: a master hair designer, makeup artist, manicure/pedicure technician, and a wardrobe specialist. Each gave Armato special attention that made her feel beautiful.
“It was amazing. It was a wonderful thing to be pampered and taken care of. It was so lovely,” Armato said.
“Providing a beauty and fashion makeover was an honor for me and my team to give back to a wonderful cause,” Crawford said.
Everyone at the salon wore a teal ribbon, teal being the color representing cervical cancer. The salon was decked out in teal balloons, and the cake was decorated with teal colored frosting.
Crawford said she chose this time for her gift to Armato knowing January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
“Cervical cancer is an overlooked and under funded disease that’s on the rise and truly lacks awareness,” Crawford said. “According to the U.S. Department of Health, each year over 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer. The incidence and death rates are extremely high, due in large part to limited access to cervical cancer screening. All women are at risk.”
In Armato’s case, it took doctors weeks to figure out what was causing her pain and vaginal discharge because her last pap exam was normal. Once she got a diagnosis, she underwent six weeks of radiation therapy followed by three reconstructive surgeries. She had intravenous nutrition for 16 weeks.
Her body was so damaged that it took her months to heal and regroup. She’d quit her job because of her illness. It was a doctor at Loyola who suggested she might be interested in the open position at the Cancer Support Center. She was named executive director in 2013.
Armato says she accepted the position “because I wanted to make sense out of the nonsense. I’m using my personal experience on how it impacted me as an individual and my family, husband and two teenage daughters.
“I take that experience into the center and try and make even better programming so that we provide comprehensive care in a thoughtful way,” she said.
Armato wishes there was a celebrity who was the face of cervical cancer: someone women would recognize and be able to draw women to the message to get a pap exam every year.
“I wish that we were as comfortable talking about cervical and ovarian cancer as we are about breast cancer. Maybe that day will come,” she said.
“The sooner you catch it (cervical cancer), it won’t be as destructive an experience as mine was. If I can help someone to not have to go through what I went through, that would be incredible,” Armato added.