Cervivor School Louisville Changed My Life

Diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014, at the age of 33, I went through a wide array of struggles, both physical and mental. I underwent a hysterectomy, five rounds of chemotherapy, and 28 rounds of external radiation. It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever endured. I felt like I’d lost so much of myself and was so frail, no matter how much support surrounded me. Cervical cancer took my fertility, threw me into menopause, and caused anxiety issues and fears that I still deal with to this day.

Amanda Arm At Cervivor School LouisvilleI learned about Cervivor while undergoing treatment. I started following the organization on Facebook and reading information on their website. But it wasn’t until this year that I felt like I was truly ready to be part of what they represented. I watched as they hosted various Cervivor Schools, hoping that eventually, one would be in my home state of New Jersey so I could attend. But when they put out an announcement saying they’d be awarding a few scholarships to Cervivor School Louisville, I jumped on the possible opportunity and sent in my story immediately. When I found out I was chosen I almost started to cry, this was a new journey I was being led toward.

When I landed in Louisville I ran into my roommate while getting off the plane (we were on the same plane and didn’t even know it). We’d never met, but we connected so quickly because there was so much we could relate to. That’s how it felt the moment I met each one of the amazing women who attended the Amanda and new Cervivor Friendsweekend event. Throughout the weekend we spent time together both during and outside of our “classroom” time. (My favorite highlights on our downtime included spending time with some of my newfound friends having dinner at the Hard Rock Café, drinks at Howl at the Moon, and taking a stroll back and forth on the walking bridge across the Ohio River.) Through Cervivor School we took a step together to move past what we had dealt with and learn how we could help others.

One of the hardest things I faced with my own cancer diagnosis was knowing I got it because of a virus. There’s always been this stigma surrounding HPV because it’s known to be a sexually transmitted virus. But what people don’t understand is that the virus is not only transferred through sexual intercourse, it’s transferred through skin to skin contact. HPV doesn’t care if you haven’t had intercourse, it doesn’t care if you’ve used condoms or stayed a virgin until you were in your 20s. This is why it is presumed that approximately 80% of women have some form of HPV, and many of them don’t even know it. And today, after much advancement, there’s even a vaccine to help prevent against the virus.

Cervivor School offered me knowledge I need to help others. I didn’t want my story to end with me moving past my cancer, because it will always be a part of me in some way. I wanted my journey to give me the strength to help other women understand HPV and understand how they can prevent having to go through what I did.

You see, in my case, I had known I had HPV since 2009 when a test came back positive for the virus. My HPV went dormant for a few years and then came back. In 2013 I started having symptoms and knew something wasn’t quite right so I went to my doctor. She told me she felt I was going through hormonal changes, but ran some tests just in case. It wasn’t until I returned to see her in 2014, my symptoms worsening, that I found out she hadn’t done a Pap during my previous visit because I’d had two years of clear Pap tests before that. She did other tests to check for infections, but not a Pap. With all the swabs she took I only assumed she had done one. This time, when she did an internal exam, it couldn’t have been clearer that something was severely wrong. By the following week the results were in that I had cervical cancer. If the proper tests had been done earlier, my story could have been completely different.

Cervivor School gave me the tools and helped raise my voice so I could be Amanda raising up the Cervivor Signempowered enough to tell my story. To help me inform others that they don’t have to go through an HPV-related cancer. To be their own best advocates by going to their annual well-woman visits and making sure to get the tests they need. And to listen to their bodies, because each of us knows our body better than anyone else ever will.

At the end of Cervivor School Louisville, I left with knowledge, courage and strength. I’ve gained friendships that will forever flourish as we grow and move past cancer and toward advocacy. I never thought that such a heart wrenching and terrifying period of my life could bring about something so amazing.

Today, I’m already working towards being the advocate I am choosing to be. I’m planning a Cervivor Meet-Up in my area to happen this October and hoping to eventually work to bring about Cervivor School New Jersey. I’m constantly reminding women I know through social media about getting their well woman visits as well as offering information on HPV-related cancers and the HPV vaccine. I feel like if I can inform just one woman by sharing my story and remind her how important it is to see her doctor, that’s one less woman who may have to hear the words, “You have cancer.”

Amanda Tanay resides in New Jersey with her loving and supportive family. She works as a Copy Editor and Social Media Coordinator for the Monmouth County Park System and is an aspiring writer. 

Our next Cervivor School: Marion, Iowa https://www.eventbrite.com/e/cervivor-school-iowa-tickets-26834926989

May is Oncology Nursing Month


0001-248541207By Antoinette Lipani Solnik, RN, BSN, Gynecologic Oncology Nurse Navigator

When you’re a nurse, you know that every day you will touch a life or a life will touch yours – Unknown

In honor of oncology nurses appreciation month, I wanted to first thank all of the nurses who might be reading this blog. THANK YOU for your service to a very special and unique patient population.  Our oncology nurses are truly the mainstay of the hospital and gynecologic practice I work in.  We touch peoples lives everyday and more times than not, that care comes with a “thank-you” from our patients. I can’t tell you how good that makes a nurse feel to hear those two words – it goes a long way!

I would like to share my own story of how I arrived in this role as a gynecologic oncology nurse navigator because I am so grateful to be doing what I am doing today.  As  nurse navigators we are that critical link to patients, families, physicians and  resources. We are able to expedite a treatment trajectory and bolster our physician’s already amazing work. Navigators are part of an amazing team that helps a patient sift through the quagmire of a daunting cancer diagnosis. 

I work with two amazing gynecologic oncologists at Sibley Hospital in Washington, DC  – Drs. Jeffrey Lin and Mildred Chernofsky. I have been with them a little more than two years now and have learned so much in this short time about gynecologic diseases.

With about 95,000 new cases of gynecologic cancers diagnosed each year in the US, I stand with these two physicians, approximately 1,000 other gynecologic oncologists and many more nurses  at the intersection of maternal health, human rights for women, surgical burden of disease, screening and management and long term consequences of cancer and cancer treatment.  It’s incredible to be a part of all of this! We have done so much and yet there is still so much we have yet to do!

As I mentioned, I am relatively new to nurse navigation, having come from a critical care background and before that, in healthcare marketing of all things.   I say this, because as I come to know more nurse navigators I find it most interesting, the vastly different kinds of experience we bring into our practices. 

Nursing was always my calling as I am the daughter of a nurse and always wanted to be one.  I was steered away from nursing as a career though when I was 18, as I was told nurses really didn’t have the voice they needed to have (unlike today where we are an integral part of the care team).  So, out of college I went into healthcare communications and started working for a Manhattan healthcare PR firm.   Fast forward this story 18 years to me at 36, married with two kids and now attending a lunch with a lively bunch of octogenarians, that my life as I knew it changed. 

I’d sat next to a woman named Sylvia and it was fate that I told her that I was contemplating a career change.  Jokingly I said things like, “I’ll surely be the oldest person in my class. By the time I graduate I’ll be 40!” and “how on earth am I going to pull this off with 3 and 5 year boys?”  She then shared her own story about earning her MBA at 50 (which back then was very bold).  She finished looking me straight in the eye and said, “You know Antoinette, you can either be a nurse when you turn 40 or not…it’s really up to YOU!”   It was like this woman had thrown he gauntlet down to pave the way for my destiny. I decided to go for it and took one science class at a time until I’d gotten all of my requirements completed and applied to Georgetown University two years later.  The rest is history!

I started in critical care with a passion for cardiology but 5 years later was getting a little burned out and called up a dear friend who also happens to be a nurse recruiter at Sibley to bounce some ideas off of. After listening to me a while explain what I loved about nursing – the advocacy, the education, getting to spend longer periods of time with patients, she said, “Let me tell you about a new opportunity that’s opened at Sibley called nurse navigation.  Our roles as nurse navigators are so critical to the improved outcomes for patients and our experience with other nurses, physicians, “the healthcare system” in total is critical to achieving these outcomes.

Many times, I attend that initial appointment with Dr. Chernofsky –  when a patient first gets their gynecologic cancer diagnosis.  We nurses must always remember, what patients have going through their heads and pretty much only that is “I have cancer”.  It is a pretty rewarding feeling to know that when the physician leaves, I can listen to the patient,  help them process the information given, answer some questions, then help start the process of scheduling the multitude of appointments that lie ahead of them.

Sitting down with a patient to show how a mediport is placed and its function or how a CT scan works and why it’s needed over a PET scan helps a patient feel in control over the cancer they have very little control over.   Control is something we all desire and it is especially so with a cancer diagnosis.  I often tell our patients, we just need to worry about the things that are within our reach of control and turn that which we have no control over to God. And, in the meantime, let’s get organized and meet this thing head on.

I love what I do as a nurse.  I thank Sylvia for her inspiration. I thank my patients each day for theirs.  If you around a nurse this week, thank them.  It means a great deal.