Sweet 16

It’s my cancerversary. My “Sweet 16th” to be exact. I remember my own 16th birthday. Sixteen is the birthday and party every young girl looks forward to. I remember mine and just how wonderful it was. It was in my parent’s backyard and it was a big cookout and my first official co-ed birthday party. It was a big deal! I remember the decor — pink and purple everything. There is a VHS tape somewhere with all of its epicness.

So much has changed in my life since 1991. It seems like a lifetime ago. In between all of the wonderful and amazing things, I moved away from my home state, lost both of my parents, survived cancer at 25. and launched a movement to get women talking about cervical cancer.

This morning when I woke up, I gave thanks for still being here. I know it is a blessing. There are so many people who are not lucky enough to still be here or who are fighting for just another day. I don’t take these sixteen years lightly. Whether cancer-related or not, tomorrow is not promised. That’s the very reason I live my life with no regrets and on my own terms.

Life is meant to be lived. Today I’ll be adding to my “wishes, hopes & dreams” list. And thinking about how I will make it all happen. I’m a visual person and I like to look at my list and map out a plan. If there is one thing cancer taught me it’s that the perfect time is now. I don’t do a big five-year plan. My plans are all “now”. It’s okay if some of them don’t happen until five years or more. What’s important is that I know what they are and I have a plan to cross them off of my list. And it’s a bold list!

Photo: Captured Moments by Kisha

I’m happy. When I think back to 2001, sitting in the doctor’s office and hearing those words, “You have cancer,” I never thought I would feel this alive and happy. Cancer comes into your life and consumes every single aspect of your world. At times, even when you physically feel good, the mental anguish of a cancer diagnosis can feel overwhelming and inescapable. It’s a feeling of suffocation, like you will never be able to catch your breath. It’s a feeling that others who haven’t experienced cancer, just don’t understand. They don’t get why it takes so long to bounce back. Even now, it’s still hard to put into words. But, here I am 16 years later, cancer free and happy. I don’t need a big fancy party (but I’m always up for one!); today for me is about knowing I am alive. I used to think these extra years were bonus years, on borrowed time. I realized about three years ago that I had it all wrong. It’s not borrowed time. It’s my time to live my life, and that is exactly what I am doing. Life is sweet. Happy 16 to me!

Tamika Felder is the Founder and Chief Visionary at Cervivor. She is currently raising funds to bring a South African Cervivor to Cervivor School. You can donate here.  

Survivors Guilt is Real

Survivor guilt (or survivor’s guilt; also called survivor syndrome or survivor’s syndrome) is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.  – via Wikipedia  

We’ve all lost people in our lives, family members and friends who we’ve loved dearly. But when you’re a cancer survivor, the loss of a friend you’ve met from your cancer journey stirs up a different kind of grief. It’s called survivor’s guilt, and it often has a different meaning for everyone.

In the summer of 2014, when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, I joined a Facebook support group because I didn’t know anyone who’d ever gone through this type of cancer. I felt the need to find women I could talk to and who were feeling or had felt similar fears and anxieties as I was. The women I met were remarkable and supportive and from that online community I gained a small, but very close group of girlfriends. Women I talked to online every day as I went through surgeries and treatments. Women I shared stories of my life with because our bond became so much more than our cancer.

Just over a year ago, one of my beautiful teal sisters passed away after battling a recurrence. She was an amazing friend who shined brighter than anyone I’d ever met. She lived a few hours away and I had been lucky enough to visit her twice. The first time was for a benefit to help raise money to help her as she underwent treatment. She surprised us all as it turned into a wedding and she stood before us and married the man of her dreams. The second visit was full of sadness as she’d been placed on hospice. It was a difficult visit, but to hug her and hold her hand one more time and share our loving friendship was touching. A few weeks later she passed with her husband by her side.

I think of my friend daily. Cancer brought us together, gave us a friendship that will forever be engraved in my soul. But cancer took her from me, took her from her family. It makes me sad and angry at the same time. As a survivor when you lose someone to cancer, so many questions run through your mind. Why was her cancer worse than mine? Why did cancer take her away? Why am I still here?

Survivor’s guilt makes you wonder what made your diagnosis and treatment different from that of someone whose cancer took them away. You feel guilty because you’re still here to love and be loved, and they have left this world, leaving their loved ones much too soon.

Amanda’s friend Melissa

I’m reminded of my friend through old Facebook posts and text messages I refuse to delete. Though I only knew her for a little more than a year, she touched my life in so many beautiful ways. And when I feel that guilt rising up, she somehow brings me strength and lends me some of her shine. She is one of the reasons I became an advocate. The world should not have lost Melissa’s shine because of cancer. I’m lucky to have known her, lucky to feel her love inside me to help me push forward and tell other women about cervical cancer prevention.

Amanda Tanay is a Cervivor Ambassador and is raising funds to help get her to Cervivor School Florida. You can help make that a reality by donating to her fund.