“We’re In!”

I started treatment for cervical cancer in spring of 2016. One of the first things I did was start searching for those with my cancer. When I found Cervivor, I immediately knew it was special.  It was a sisterhood of survivors, but they were also advocates! Cervivor was dedicated to eradicating our cancer. It wasn’t just a group of women looking for support, but it was a group of women who had been through it and were DOING something! I like to say that joining Cervivor and being trained at Cervivor School has given me advocacy wings.  I have had many opportunities both in my community and on the national level to participate in events as a Cervivor Ambassador. Most recently I was asked to represent our organization at the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable, in Atlanta. I had interacted on the Roundtable’s Facebook page, and felt like I had working knowledge of the collaboration. They are about stopping HPV…sign me up!

The Roundtable meeting began with a lunch. I arrived alongside Tamika Felder, Cervivor’s founder. The first thing I noticed was that we could hardly get to a spot at a table because everyone was wanting to speak with Tamika. They would greet her, as lifelong friends. Many of them had questions about Cervivor and other projects Tamika has in the works. Attendees were quickly inquiring about me and my role. They were interested in me as a Cervivor Ambassador and very excited to meet an HPV cancer survivor. I began to realize what it meant to be at this meeting. These were the countries top doctors, healthcare professionals, and researchers who had worked in this space for years! These were representatives from other organizations, our (Cervivor’s) partners in eradicating HPV and HPV related cancers! Tamika and Cervivor had been part of this collaborative group since it’s inception! I was so proud to be a part of a cancer nonprofit that is so well respected in this space. It further affirmed my initial feeling that when I found Cervivor, I found something special.

“Empowering Parents and Allies” task group

The meeting was an exciting two days packed with a lot of information and a lot of work! Each organization that is part of the Roundtable sends at least one representative. Those representatives are broken into task groups of their choosing. The task groups are just that, groups with an assigned task to help advance vaccination rates in the U.S. and spread awareness, education, and facts about HPV and the vaccine. The public educator in me was drawn to the “Empowering Parents and Allies” task group, as reaching families with knowledge is at the heart of many things I do. Most of the first day was spent in our task groups, reviewing previous work and annual goals, as well as setting new goals and collaborating with other task teams that may be partner groups in reaching these milestones. Our first evening was full of dinner presentations with updates from each task group and a celebration of the hard work and victories achieved by the Roundtable throughout the year.

The second day of the meeting was just as full. Each moment was packed with presentations from medical teams who are on the front line of vaccinating in the family practice setting, to panel discussions from research scientists on how the social media statistics can work in favor of our messaging. We had a working “Jeffersonian Lunch,” ensuring that time was purposeful and well spent. Every second was full of collaboration, information, and getting to the center of how we can change the HPV vaccination narrative in our country and strive to significantly reduce HPV cancer rates.To be honest there was so much information, that I joked with one of the other attendees at our table about how absolutely full my brain was by the end of lunch on day two. It felt as though it could not hold one more piece of information, fact, or even tidbit. I had officially hit my limit and the “meeting glaze” took over. You know, the glaze you get when the presenter’s voice starts sounding like the Charlie Brown teacher?

It was an honor to work with such an amazing group of professionals. My eyes were opened and faces were given to the people who are diligently working to spread the truth about HPV and a vaccine that is cancer prevention. How exciting to see the position that Cervivor holds among the nations top scientists, doctors, and cancer organizations. We are part of that! We are on the front lines of eradicating HPV! Cervivor is right there, side by side, elbow to elbow! We are rolling up our sleeves and deep into the space of changing the narrative on this virus and educating the public on how acting now can impact generations to come! I was so proud to be a part of this National Roundtable, but I was even prouder to be representing Cervivor. We’re in!

 

Holly Lawson is a two year cervical cancer survivor. Cancer has left her with many challenges, including Chronic Kidney Disease, but she is fighting for her survivorship and currently training with the Ulman Cancer Fund in the Cancer to 5K Program. She is an active Cervivor Ambassdor, who is finding healing in advocacy and sharing her story.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Cancer & Self Image

I have learned so much from cancer. They say, “Through darkness comes light.” I really believe that’s true.

In remission for the third time, having to lose my hair due to chemotherapy was hard on me as a woman. I know most will say, “It’s just hair.” Even I say it too, just to convince myself to stay strong. But, in fact, it sucks. It truly opened my eyes to everything I once wasn’t happy with.

Having cervical cancer reminded me of how I was so hard on myself and picked myself apart. I know I’m not the only woman who’s ever felt that way. I look back and think, “Wow Jill, you were so beautiful. Why didn’t you see it? Why did you pick yourself apart and not embrace your hips that measured 44 inches, or embrace your Roman nose?” After all, it’s my personal features that give me my character. Don’t get me wrong, I had confidence, but I still found things that I thought weren’t “perfect.” Nothing is perfect!

Every now and then I like to look back on pictures of myself before cancer. Why did I complain? I was fine the way I was. Now I’m fighting something more meaningful. I’m fighting for my life. I’ve learned to embrace life’s changes, how my body has changed and how I’m Mrs. T (bald) once again. Or how going #2 is completely different from before. Because I have a colostomy bag, this is now totally different.

So my advice to other women, especially women with cancer is to love WHO YOU ARE. Be happy with how you were created; focus on what you HAVE and NOT what you DON’T. Believe me, there’s something greater out there for you, if you believe. I’m a people watcher, sounds creepy I know. I often wonder to myself whether or not the person I’m admiring knows how eccentric he or she is. Being in the city regularly due to my medical appointments, I get to see all colors of the rainbow. The culture differences, the true beauty behind just how different we may look. But internally we’re all the same.

No matter what type of cancer you have ladies, just remember, you’re beautiful inside and out. Your inner beauty will always be there. We might need time adjusting to our shiny new heads or new gadgets attached to our bodies. But, with all the hardships that come along with our new appearances and emotions due to cancer, just remember how bad ass we truly are.

I hope to inspire other women dealing with Cervical Cancer to share their stories and true emotions without fear. Tell it how it Is; don’t hold back. Our cancer is tough, but somehow being painted as “easy.” If I can reach you with my story, just imagine who you’ll inspire by sharing yours. Let’s come together, share our stories, and help one another through our battles. We can help prevent future cases of Cervical Cancer, the one cancer that can often be prevented with a vaccine.

From now on, I’m going to love every inch of me because I’m beautiful inside and out. I will also remind my friend’s how beautiful they are as well. You have one life. Live it, love it, embrace the changes, take care of yourself, and be kind to yourself and others.

Now that I’ve gained my confidence back, I’m going to rock my bald head, wear my wigs and not care who’s looking. Because they could really be thinking, “Wow, she’s so fierce.” Those stares may not have anything to do with my cancer.

So gentlemen, don’t be afraid of our appearances, we’re strong women who know how valuable life is, how anything can change but we still ride the waves. How special love truly is. If you see a friend or a loved one going through the changes of cancer, please remind them how beautiful they are.

Jillian Scalfani is a young 34-year-old mother with an incurable form of cervical cancer. She and her children have a great support system when it comes to her friend’s and family. Read more about Jillian here.