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.
Read more Cervivor Stories here
In September 2015 I was able to attend my first Cervivor School. I traveled to San Diego and I did not know what to expect. I knew I was going to meet women who had a similar experience to me, women I could relate to, women with cervical cancer experiences. I was no stranger to cervical cancer or sharing my story at this point, I had first been diagnosed in 2012 and I started sharing my story on my blog so that others could hear my story. I had the opportunity to share my story on video so that it could be shared for #CCAM 2016 to medical providers by a company. I thought I was sharing my story impactfully. What was I going to learn at Cervivor School?
I can remember sitting in Cervivor School in aww of all the women surrounding me. Amazed at the amount of women who were ready to get out there and share their personal lives and stories. It was great to see all the different ways these women were ready to advocate. It added fuel to my advocacy. It was like igniting a fire. I transitioned my blog from just a place that I could share information about my story to a place where I could share information with purpose. I started using a call to action approach whenever possible. Cervivor School gave me the tools to reach out to media and have my voice heard.
All of the tools I have learned from Cervivor have helped me to grow in my advocacy. I learned a lot about speaking to legislators and how to reach out effectively. My Cervivor story being on the the Cervivor website has been really beneficial for me because if I am working to contact someone I can easily share my story in a great format.
One year ago I was invited to go to the Indiana Statehouse and testify on behalf of House Bill 1278. This is a bill that was written so that Indiana would need to develop a strategic plan to reduce the mortality and morbidity rates of cervical cancer by December 2018. I was honored to testify in front of the Senate Health Committee as well as the House Health Committee. In each committee the HB1278 passed unanimously.
I was welcomed to be in attendance when Governor Holcomb signed the bill into law; a bill that passed unanimously through the entire Indiana Senate and Indiana House. It was such an amazing experience. It even helped check something off of my Living Life List – I was able to help pass a bill to make a difference in the cervical cancer space.
Yesterday I was invited back to the Indiana Statehouse by Representative Sharon Negele, the author of HB1278. I was invited in for a press conference where she was presented a Proclamation in honor of January being Cervical Health Awareness Month. Following the press conference I was able to go onto the floor in front of the Indiana House and share my excitement with the representatives that Indiana is placing value on cervical cancer awareness and is dedicated in reducing the mortality and morbidity rates of cervical cancer.
I am so glad that I was able to attend my first Cervivor School and become a Cervivor Ambassador. All of the tools I was given led to helping to make such a huge difference here in Indiana.
Have you shared your story on Cervivor yet? Follow this link to share your Cervivor story. It is organized into a great format with prompts that can guide you through sharing your story.
Are you interested in becoming an active advocate? Cervivor School 2018 information is available here.