Before I have to refocus on my house and family and the work that I’m going back to, I just want to reflect on all the things I experienced this weekend. There was so much. It would be impossible…but I’ll try to summarize what is laying on my heart…
I was naïve to think that this was “just” a speaking opportunity my friend and colleague, had invited me to. I was supremely naïve to think that there was not anything more for me to learn or feel. I mean, I’ve been doing this 13 years now. What more could I learn?
I’m an advocate for people impacted by lung cancer. And in everything I do I focus on others- their health, their healing, and their survivorship. I’m a cheerleader and navigator. I’m a care and hope-giver. I created support programs and I manage them; I create conferences and am a conduit and connector in the cancer community. It’s a hard job- and I think I do it well. What more could I learn?
I am a cervical cancer survivor. Diagnosed at age 22 in 1995. My treating physician treated me poorly. I was not educated or informed about my diagnosis or treatment options. I was made to feel shame and guilt when there should have been none. I didn’t talk about it. My upbringing and our culture taught us not to talk about gynecological cancers. I tried like hell to forget about it.
20 years ago the Internet was a baby. There wasn’t a lot of information at my fingertips like there is today. No support systems or advocates. Because I was “ok”- I didn’t share my story. I didn’t advocate for people with cervical cancer. Because I was “ok” I didn’t even know I was a survivor until almost a decade later.
This weekend I met a lot of young women who were not “ok”. They were fighting for their lives and for a new normal. They had lost parts and pieces of themselves and were trying to find strength in themselves, each other, and their new normal.
We heard from a couple of experts about HPV. Everyone who has ever had sex has had the HPV virus. You can even get it from simply touching another person. It’s like the common cold. Unless they live in a bubble, everyone will have it in his or her lives. Most people’s immune system clears the virus on it’s own; but some people don’t and it develops into cervical cancer. (Some HPVs cause head and neck cancers too)
After an entire year of my own personal research and talking to experts I know the vaccine is completely safe. It has NOT killed or injured anyone. The propaganda surrounding this vaccine is so ridiculous. The same people against this vaccine most likely gave their children the HEP vaccine as a baby… Do me a favor and Google that (and all the vaccines you gave your newborn baby) and see how those diseases are transmitted. That kind of makes the argument against the vaccine seem stupid, huh?
I gave the HPV vaccine to my own daughter. She knows it’s a vaccine- like the ones she got as a baby. No more no less. And its something that protects her. Now I know that she will be protected against cervical cancer. She will never go thru what I went thru. Never. Ever.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The HPV virus can lie dormant for decades. DECADE’s people. And this is the only vaccine in the world that can prevent this kind of cancer.
Why wouldn’t I speak out now that I know that? I would give my right arm to have had this when I was growing up. I would give anything to have a vaccine that would prevent lung cancer- or any other cancers out there.
This weekend was about living and feeling all the things we had been thru- loss of self, pain, fear, sadness, treatment, surgeries, loss of fertility, loss of relationships, loss of everything normal…and it was about finding strength, feeling empowered and making a commitment that no one who comes behind us ever goes thru what we have.
I can celebrate being a survivor and I can be my own advocate.
And I can love myself enough to let others help me when I need it. Wow.
After 20 years I’m still learning what it means to be a survivor. First thing I’m going to do is try to find that doctor (who most likely is no longer alive) and see if there were any medical records…what was my official dx and what exactly were those two surgeries after the LEEP and the cone? The next thing I’m going to do? Be a source of information for those of you who want to learn about HPV.
We have an amazing opportunity, in our lifetime, to wipe out cervical cancer for good.
Let that sink in for a moment.
I am Cervivor.