I recently learned that April 8-14 is Minority Cancer Week. It’s funny how just over a year ago, finding this out wouldn’t have meant much to me. I mean come on, there is a week, a month, or a day for every cause you can imagine. There is even National Hot Dog Day! However, as an African American woman who has fought the battle, having an awareness means more to me than I ever thought it would! Cancer has attacked six of my close family members and taken the lives of four of them…most under the age of 65.
In January of 2017, at the age of 33, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer…the youngest of my family with a cancer diagnosis. When preparing for treatment, the standard family medical history questions came up. That made me realize just how devastating cancer had been to my family. Once treatment was over, I decided to share my diagnosis with the general population. It was crazy and scary to me how many other women had dealt with this same disease. Since my diagnosis, I have met several other women of my ethnicity who have also been diagnosed with cervical cancer at some point in their lives. Once I began to research, I saw that statistics show that African American women are diagnosed more, are at higher risk, and even die more often. I knew that I had to do something in my community to make women like myself more aware!
After sharing my story time and time again in my salon, I realized just how little most women know about the causes of cervical cancer. Many women do not even know the difference between a pap test and a well-woman exam, or that we can have pre-cancer before actually having invasive cancer, or how the recommended screenings are part of cervical cancer prevention! In my case, I missed one year…just one visit with my gynecologist. That was just enough time for my cancer to advance to stage 2b. What if I had not skipped a year of screening? What if I had known the symptoms and had gone to the doctor when I first experienced simple symptoms? What if I knew more to begin with? I want to stop the “what if’s” in my community…..that is what fuels my advocacy for cervical cancer awareness and prevention!
Angeline is a Cervivor from Lake Charles, LA. She will be attending her first Cervivor School in Cape Cod, MA in September and has submitted her Cervivor story to be added to our site.
Today marks 17 years since I heard those words, “You have cancer“. It has taken a lot for me to not be held hostage by cancer. You spend so much time fighting to survive and then the rest hoping, wishing and praying that it won’t come back. It’s like constantly living on the edge of a nonstop roller coaster. I got off of the roller coaster a few years ago and have been living my life beyond my cancer. I know that is not easy, but it is something that I truly strive for in my life. But, recently, I was taken right back to that moment in time when I was a scared 25-year-old.
Two weeks ago I went for my annual well woman’s visit. You know, the one I constantly talk about because I’m a cervical cancer survivor. I honestly probably would have taken longer to make the appointment, but there was this issue with blood and it made me nervous. Anytime there is blood, is a reason to be seen. Especially, given my history and that my father died of colon cancer. So, I called and made an appointment and asked for their first available. My primary care physician recently retired and I also needed a new OB/GYN. So there was the added stress of not having a prior relationship. Oh, the excuses we will make… But this is not what I had in mind. I didn’t even do any research. I just needed to see someone. I was lucky that they saw me pretty quickly. During my exam, with my feet in the stirrups; the Nurse Practitioner saw something. She called for a physician to come and take another look. As if I wasn’t anxious enough. There was a nodule of some sort and even though they didn’t think that it was cancerous, they needed to know for sure — given my history of course. So, I needed a biopsy. Nodule. Biopsy. Suspicious. All words that reminded me of when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I’d be lying if I said, “I was fine and took the news like a champ”. In that moment, I was terrified that the cancer had returned. In my head, “to finish what it had started“. I found myself overcome with fear and my faith nowhere in sight. This is a very human response. PTSD. It is cancer trauma. I haven’t been put under since my diagnosis and that triggered so many emotions for me. I wasn’t prepared for that. Let alone the emotions that ran through me as I was wheeled in the operating room. I was scared.
Cancer is scary. So much so that my blood pressure was through the roof. Just the thought of having to deal with cancer again was enough to have me in the fetal position. But just as I had done 17 years prior, I reminded myself that I wasn’t done yet. That if it were cancer, that I would fight to rid it again with everything that I had. Because I am not built to quit. Thank you cancer scare for that reminder.
So here I am less than a week post-op. My coochie feels like 2 bees are taking turns stinging it. But it could be worse. 17 years ago it felt like a hammer. The waiting sucks. I have no patience at all, and I want to know my pathology reports now. But I have to wait. So, I’m healing and slowly easing back into what I do best. Living my best life beyond cancer.
My sister recently reminded me, “Faith Over Fear“. When I find myself feeling overwhelmed I remind myself of that. I don’t want to let cancer, or even the possiblity of it control me. Here’s to celebrating 17 years cancer free and 17 more. FU cancer!
Also, let this serve as your reminder to schedule your well woman exam, vaccinate those under 26 (especially 11 & 12 year olds). Check your boobies, booty and skin too. Check everything. You’re welcome! 🙂
Tamika Felder is is the Chief Visionary at Cervivor. Newsweek Magazine featured her on the cover and named her a “Cancer Rebel”. Tamika is a highly sought-after speaker and is the author of “Seriously, What Are You Waiting For? 13 Actions To Ignite Your Life & Achieve The Ultimate Comeback“. Tamika’s inspiring story has been featured in numerous media outlets around the globe. Tamika has served as a community representative for the President’s Cancer Panel (2003), and is a former board member of the Ulman Cancer Foundation for Young Adults. She served as a patient advocate member of the Gynecological Oncology Group and the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Cancer Steering Committee- Cervical Task Force. She is also a former member of the District of Columbia’s Cancer Plan’s Gynecological Cancer Committee and the Maryland Cancer Plan’s Cervical Cancer Committee. Tamika currently serves on the board of the Global Coalition Against Cervical Cancer, the advisory council for the Alliance for Fertility Preservation, and as an expert panel member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Stratified Cervical Cancer Primary Prevention Guideline Panel. She was recently appointed to the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable’s Steering Committee. Tamika is making her survivorship count.