Beauty influencer dies at 36 after publicly sharing her battle with cervical cancer

Jessica Pettway shared last year that she was misdiagnosed with a fibroid.

March 20, 2024, 2:36 PM

A fashion and beauty influencer has died at the age of 36, less than a year after publicly sharing her battle with cervical cancer.

Jessica Pettway, who leaves behind a husband and two young daughters, died March 11 at a hospice center in Georgia, according to her obituary.

Last July, Pettway opened up about her health struggles, sharing on Instagram that she had been diagnosed in February 2023 with stage 3 cervical cancer, a type of cancer that begins in the cervix, which connects the vagina to the upper part of the uterus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pettway said, however, that her symptoms had begun more than a year prior to her diagnosis.

She described initially experiencing "intense" bleeding that she said she thought, after talking with other women, was a "normal symptom" for women.

Pettway said she was later hospitalized at least three times due to more pain and heavy bleeding, noting that in each instance, she was told she had a fibroid -- a growth in the uterus -- that doctors said was causing her blood loss.

PHOTO: Jessica Pettway is pictured in this photo she shared on Instagram on July 31, 2023.
Jessica Pettway is pictured in this photo she shared on Instagram on July 31, 2023.

It was not until February of last year that she said a doctor saw a "huge mass" covering her cervix and sent her to an oncologist to perform a biopsy, which resulted in her cancer diagnosis.

Pettway's post last July was her first post on Instagram in the nearly eight months she spent pushing for a diagnosis.

She wrote at that time that she was sharing her journey publicly "in hopes that at least one person is encouraged by my story."

In the comments on her post, Pettway's followers urged women to advocate for their own health.

"Please listen to your body and if one doctor doesn't take you seriously go to another until you get an answer," wrote one commenter.

"So sorry you suffered unnecessarily," wrote another. "We must do better."

PHOTO: Jessica Pettway is pictured with her husband their two children in this photo she shared on Instagram.
Jessica Pettway is pictured with her husband their two children in this photo she shared on Instagram.

In the United States, around 4,000 women die of cervical cancer each year, and nearly 12,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to the CDC.

While anyone with a cervix is at risk, most cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in women over the age of 30.

Cervical cancer is usually caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted infection so common nearly all sexually active men and women will get the virus in their lifetime, according to the CDC.

Despite a widely available vaccine that prevents most types of HPV and available screening that allows early detection and treatment, rates of advanced cervical cancer have increased over the last two decades, according to a 2022 study from the University of California Los Angeles.

Though advanced cervical cancer is still a rare form of this disease, it has a five-year survival rate of only 17%.

To screen for cervical cancer, women are advised to start getting Pap tests annually at age 21 and continue through age 29, according to the CDC. A Pap test, also known as a Pap smear, can help identify cell changes on the cervix that could become cancer.

Beginning at age 30, women have several testing options, including a Pap test only, an HPV test only or a Pap test and an HPV test together, with the frequency of the testing depending on the testing option and the results, according to the CDC.

A positive HPV test does not indicate a diagnosis of cervical cancer, but it does mean you have "an HPV type that may be linked to cervical cancer," according to the CDC.

Treatments for cervical cancer, according to the CDC, include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Dr. Jade A Cobern, M.D., M.P.H, a licensed and practicing physician and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit, contributed to this report.