Cancer Broke My Cup

Sometimes I still can’t believe that I even have had cervical cancer, much less still dealing with the fallout from it-complications from surgery, side effects of radiation. I intellectually know that it happened, but there are moments where I look at myself and my life and go, “Wait…what?” Sometimes I actually look at and feel my radiation tattoos before getting in the shower. Yeah, I know that is weird, but there are times I need to connect with it — I need to stare at my markings, touch my port, my scars- to physically say, okay this happened and to remember just how far I have come. To have a slight even if for 20 seconds-mini celebration that I am here-that I have endured.

See, I believe we all have a choice when it comes to how we are going to look at our cancer, much how we all have choices in how we view anything in life. Are we going to be the cup half full girl? OR are we going to be the cup half empty girl? Before cancer-the answer was easy for me. I definitely was a silver linings person, taking lemons and making lemonade. I have had laugh lines since I was 10 and have always been able to find something to smile about. But enter a cancer diagnosis..enter in chemotherapy and radiation…enter in internal radiation…enter in infertility…enter in surgery…enter in (fill in the blank).Suddenly, being the cup half full chick was not as easy. I had faced some really tough things before, but never was my life on the line. Never had I been told, “You can either do treatment or live for about 3 more years.” Of course, I had thought about life after death, but NEVER had I really truly sat with it as a possibility. And what would treatment look like for me? Could I even do it? I remember sitting there with my oncologist when she was explaining to me where the cancer was, giving me my stage. She started explaining the action plan and what was going to happen to my body. Time stood still as I looked at her mouth moving. Nothing was really the same after.

Now back to that choice. I had to consciously ask myself, “How are you going to approach this?” I was scared of all of the unknowns. I had never even been in the hospital! Was I going to STILL be the cup half full girl? I remember coming home alone that day and crying one of those big cries — where you just lay and cry, and cry, and cry. The kind of cry where you get up and look at yourself in the mirror and your face is puffy and you have a sinus headache. That’s where I was. Half full? I was afraid and devastated. How could I even be a half full girl? I felt like someone had just taken my cup and shattered it on the floor. My cup was broken. Dreams were stolen. I was afraid. Cancer had come in my life like a thief.

Yet. I still had this choice to make. Cancer had broken my cup, but I was still here. Life would never ever be the same, but there was a plan forward. It was a hopeful plan-not without risks and not without pain and loss, but there was a plan.

There is a Japanese art form, in pottery called “kintsugi.” It is a process that embraces damage-where the broken vessels are not discarded, but where broken pieces are mended. The artist takes the ceramic pieces and mends them with a lacquer dust of gold, silver, or platinum. The flaws of the piece are actually highlighted and not hidden at all, often resulting in a piece that is far more beautiful than the original plan. The art form ties in the Japanese philosophy of “wabi-sabi” that embraces the flawed and imperfect, that actually emphasizes rather than hides the broken pieces.

So as I looked at the pieces of my broken cup-this vessel I had plans for, this vessel that was not operating on the original plan; I chose to start picking up the pieces. The cup does not look anything like it did before, but just like in wabi-sabi, the more I embrace instead of hide, the more beautiful it becomes. I have to constantly remind myself of these truths. Oh how I wish, it could be where I just pick it up mend it and move on. For those of us who have faced cancer-we know that it’
truly never “over.” I feel like mending my cup is a daily choice. I find myself even now, while being declared “cancer free” in October, still very much dealing with complications from a life-saving surgery-complications that will more than likely be part of my life in some way from now on. In addition to the reality of “scan-life” and other life altering side effects from treatment. So the question constantly remains for me, for us: Your cup may be broken like mine-will you leave it shattered or will you begin to piece it back together with gold and platinum, turning your brokenness into purpose and beauty? The choice is yours.

We need to talk. We need to have conversations about cervical cancer and prevention. Let my simple t-shirt design, help you begin that conversation AND help me pay both past and current medical expenses related to cervical cancer.

 Unfortunately, I am in need of another surgery due to post radiation side effects, from a life-saving hysterectomy. This surgery will repair significant damage that has been done to my bladder and will require a 6-8 week recovery. Just as with the past leaves I have I had to take, I will not be getting paid during this period. Donations through my t-shirt campaign can significantly help with expenses and you’ll look super cool! There are hoodies and t-shirts for guys and girls! https://www.bonfire.com/start-the-conversation/

The Fight for Teal and White

Every October, we are reminded to have our annual breast exam and bombarded with pink products, everything from apparel to yogurt cups! Pink is EVERYWHERE in October! Prior to my cervical cancer diagnosis, I was totally on board with pink and had relatively no issue with all the awareness although, I will admit, at times I thought it was too much

Having been diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016, I changed my perspective on awareness ribbon campaigns and it got me thinking why is pink the only one that everyone recognizes and is on board with? Why is everyone so willing to do the walks, fundraise and wear pink all month long? I mean it wasn’t always this way, was it? This ribbon had to start somewhere and while I was in Iowa attending Cervivor School, I learned some of the history of the pink ribbon and breast cancer awareness. What began the global breast cancer movement with $200 and a shoebox full of women’s names who had or were going through breast cancer turned into a global community of scientists, advocates, neighbors and friends, working together to make breast cancer a distant memory.

I wondered, can this be done with my cancer too? Why are there no big walks, fundraisers or even much awareness of the teal and white ribbon? I mean, I wear my ribbon and frequently I am asked what it represents. Is it because not enough women in this country die from cervical cancer? Surely that can’t be the reason. Or is it because not many women are willing to talk about cervical cancer? Sadly, I believe this is one of the main reasons. You see, cervical cancer has a stigma attached to it as most cases are caused by HPV (Human Papillomavirus), one of the most misunderstood viruses known to man. People do not realize just how common this virus is and how it accounts for many types of cancers as well.

Every October I hear the frustration by many women about the lack of awareness for our cancer and I too am guilty of feeling the same. Then I realized, I never even knew what cervical cancer was until I was diagnosed. How could that be? Well, for one, no one talks about it. If we want more awareness then we need to be willing to talk about cervical cancer and the HPV virus. We need to be out there sharing our stories, advocating for the HPV vaccine, and reminding women to not miss their PAP/HPV tests.

Imagine if all women who were diagnosed decided to share their story with others and kept on sharing and kept talking about cervical cancer and the HPV virus. When women are willing to put themselves out there, we too could grow in numbers and we could be the “Teal and White Brigade.” We have to put feelings of shame aside and not be afraid to talk about our cervix and our cancer. We matter ladies, and our stories need to be told!

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, let’s turn it Teal and White.

Paulette Apostolou resides in Illinois with her loving husband and two Min Pins Roxey and Zoie. She is the owner/designer of TheDeevaShop.com and founder of Operation Teal; an awareness ribbon campaign she started in 2016 after attending Cervivor School Louisville.