By Cervivor Ambassador Melissa B.
Three years ago I was diagnosed with stage 3B cervical cancer. At 32 years old, I was completely caught off guard. Being diagnosed changed my world. I was confused, scared, shocked, and angry to say the least. What went wrong? What did I do wrong? Why was I thinking I did anything wrong?
I was told my cancer was caused by a virus, HPV. Did I know what HPV was? No, not entirely. I knew it had something to do with causing cervical cancer. What I did not know was how common it was, how many diseases and complications it causes, and just how scary it really is. I was so uninformed. As time passed after diagnosis, I found myself researching more and realizing that I was not alone in being uninformed. Cervical cancer is just not one that is commonly discussed. Everyone is bombarded with pink ribbons, but how many even know what the color is for cervical cancer? I sure didn’t until I was diagnosed.
There is also little being said about what a woman truly experiences when she receives a diagnosis of cervical cancer. There is the physical aspect of surgery and treatments, but there is also a more important piece that I believe needs attention, and that is what a woman’s soul experiences from a diagnosis.
I felt broken and ashamed.
Broken: I could no longer have children. My belly was scarred. My vagina was scarred. I lost my hair from chemo. I was weak during treatment and struggled at times to perform daily tasks. I felt like less of a woman. What if I died?
Ashamed: my cancer was caused by a sexually transmitted virus. Like an STD? No, STV but would anyone realize the difference? I didn’t want anyone thinking I was a “dirty girl” or “slutty.” What would my friends and family think? What would I tell everyone?
I stayed to myself for the most part during my treatment. It wasn’t until I was finished that I started discussing HPV and my cancer with others. My doctor’s office asked if I was willing to interview with a local news station for a piece that was airing for cervical cancer awareness month. They were wanting a survivor’s story to share. This was great opportunity to reach many. I agreed, and after getting such positive feedback from my peers and family I saw that I should start seeking other avenues to share my story.
I was finished with treatment, and I had survived. Being a cancer survivor is such a great accomplishment, but there is also survivor’s guilt. Not everyone gets to where I am. Not everyone gets the second chance at life. I have been given that second chance, and I must do something with it. I believe I survived for many reasons, and one of those is to advocate.
I must tell my story. I must reach out and offer a listening ear or shoulder to cry on. I know how hard a diagnosis is to wrap your mind and life around. I must be a voice to help break down the stigma of being a “dirty girl” or “slutty” because I know what it feels like to think of your cancer in this way, and I don’t want others to ever have to feel like I did. I also know what it feels like to be alone in your cancer journey, and I think no one should ever feel alone in any aspect during a time like that. I must help to educate about HPV. I must stress the importance of screenings. Everyone needs to be talking about HPV and cervical cancer, who better than someone who has experienced it first hand? I advocate because I have a story, and it can help others.