Face of state’s HPV vaccine debate dies from cervical cancer
Burcham worked to keep girls from getting cancer that killed her
08:20 AM CDT on Tuesday, July 24, 2007
AUSTIN – The 31-year-old woman who put a human face on the state debate over whether to require that schoolgirls be vaccinated against the virus that causes cervical cancer has died from the disease.
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Earlier in this year’s legislative session, Ms. Burcham spoke to reporters about the issue at Mr. Perry’s request. She also tried to testify before a House committee considering the vaccine ban, but the hearing ran so late that she was unable to stay at the Capitol.
In a news conference to announce that he would not veto the bill, Mr. Perry closed with a video of Ms. Burcham speaking from her hospice bed.
With oxygen tubes snaking out of her nose, she spoke of the pain she had endured for four years. She also mourned for the husband she’ll never meet and the children she’ll never raise. “If I could help one child, take this cancer away from one child, it would mean the world to me,” she said. “If they knew what I was going through, how incredibly painful that this was … then I feel like I’ve done my job as a human on this earth.”
The governor said that Ms. Burcham “was intent on making a difference. Her life, she said, would not be in vain.”
The strains of HPV that the vaccine prevents cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. But opponents said the vaccine was still unproven, and some objected to a state mandate involving a sexually transmitted virus. Mr. Perry’s order would have allowed parents to decline to have their daughters inoculate.
I post this notice more than a week late. A discussion at Pharyngula revealed that many people either had not learned from the Texas discussion, or had already forgotten the key points. Then Only Crook provided the link to a homeschooler’s rant against the vaccine (read, “in favor of our children getting cancer”). Dear Reader: Remember Heather Burcham, and remember the facts about HPV vaccines.
Update September 23, 2011: Lots of hits on this post today, probably because of the association of Rick Perry with this issue. Welcome, new readers. I regret that the larger version of the photograph of Heather Burcham, by Eric Schlegelman of the Dallas Morning News, is no longer available at their website, to which I linked. If you need a photo to publish, I urge you to contact the paper or Mr. Schlegelman to get a copy.