Mother’s Day and Survivorship

Life after cancer can easily be compared to a snow globe.  One that has been shaken vigorously. It can feel like we are plopped down, left to figure out every aspect of life. The cancer community regularly refers to post-cancer life or living life with cancer, as “survivorship.” It certainly is a process and one that comes with some amazing days and moments, but also extremely dark and lonely ones as we adjust to this new life and grieve our old one.

For gynecological cancer survivors, especially survivors of cervical cancer, Mother’s Day can come with an array of feelings. It can be one of the harder days for us, where we find ourselves digging deep for joy. Cervical cancer treatment, more often than not, steals reproductive ability leaving the patient with the decision to pursue fertility preservation or to begin treatment right away. This decision alone can be extremely overwhelming and is one of the first ones the patient must make. Unfortunately, not all patients are given the option, and if they are, not all can afford the cost, leaving the patient to decide….life or death.

Cervivor Dusty & her mom

We recently asked the Cervivor community how they were feeling about the upcoming holiday. As expected, we received a wide range of responses. Prior to asking our community, we thought that perhaps it all depends on where you are in your survivorship. However, most all responses conveyed loss. Even those who had chosen not to be mothers prior to their diagnosis and those who were already moms acknowledged that there is loss and pain in our community that centers around this choice that is often snatched from our hands. For many women in our community, they choose to focus on their own moms and find joy in those relationships. Dusty and her husband chose not to have children prior to cancer, but she recalls her mother’s loving kindness on this day, “My mom spent Mother’s Day the year I had cancer with me, taking care of me as the painful side effects of my treatment became too much. It’s a bittersweet memory that reminds me just how wonderful my mom really is.

Paulette and her husband (far right) with her mother and extended family.

Paulette is another cervical cancer survivor who made the decision long before cancer, that she did not want to be a mother. Her approach to the holiday is to honor her own mom,” I chose to not have children, so I’ve never felt the loss of never being able to be a mom. I have a difficult at times relationship with my mom, but I do respect her and celebrate that day with her.”

Sadly, there are also women in our community who have both lost their mother’s and their own ability to have children, making Mother’s Day doubly difficult. Heidi lost her mom nearly eight years ago, but the grief is still vivid, “Mother’s day is very difficult. I lost my own mom in 2000. And because of the cervical and uterine cancer, I lost the chance to get to have kids of my own that I really wanted.”

Being a mother prior to cancer doesn’t exempt you from the pain of losing fertility. These women can be overlooked in the discussion.

Cervivor Ana and her two children.

Ana, who was a mom at the time of her diagnosis confesses, “I grapple with being grateful for what I have and sad for the loss of not being able to have more children.”

Mary and family.

Mary is another survivor who had children prior to her treatment. She admits that having that decision taken out of her hands feels unfair,” I am grateful for the two I have and, I considered myself done so I’m at peace with what it is. I hated that the option was taken off the table for me, but I had to live for the ones I have.”

Like all other aspects of survivorship, grieving fertility and/or motherhood looks different for everyone. It’s not linear. Some days are just better than others. For some women, like Tina who never had the opportunity, reminders are always there but it can hit harder and out of the blue like in this conversation with her neighbor.  “When I first moved into my neighborhood one of the moms said to me ‘my daughter can’t wait for you to have kids so she can babysit.’ I was at a loss for words. I love celebrating my mom, but I find it to be a hard reminder of what was taken from me.”  There are many Cervivors like Lauren. Lauren lost her fertility at a very young age. She chose treatment to save her life, but not without costs that she lives with daily. Mother’s Day hits hard for me. As do pregnancy announcements and baby showers. Lost my fertility due to cervical cancer at 23. Knowing I won’t ever be pregnant is hard sometimes.” 

Tina and her fur babies

Cancer is just unfair. The diagnosis, the treatment, and the life you’re left with after can feel like a shell of who you were before. Survivorship is hard, and many days can feel harder than cancer itself. Like all other aspects of our new life, we must find ways to process, heal, and exist in our new bodies and minds. Often it comes down to choosing how we will approach Mother’s Day and what is best for us. It’s not a one size fits all. Some of us will find it is best to avoid certain places, while others are able to lean into celebrations of mothers in our lives. Some Cervivors will go about their day as any other day, while some will find healing in the shear acknowledgment that they are alive. Cervivors like Danielle will hold their children just a little closer that day, “I got my first all clear of stage 3b March 20th. I am a mother of 3, not only is this the most beautiful Spring I have ever seen, but the most precious Mother’s Day I will ever know.

Wherever you find yourself this Mother’s Day and however you are choosing to spend it, Cervivor wishes you a day of peace and joy! We are Cervivor.

Never In My Wildest Dreams

The day is almost over here on the East coast, but there is no way that I could let this day (January 25th) end with acknowledging how special it is to me and so many others out there. 13 years ago today, Cervivor was founded (as Tamika and Friends, Inc.). This organization was founded out of my own cervical cancer diagnosis 16 years ago. My experience with cervical cancer not only changed my life but also, everyone around me. I made a promise that if I survived this experience that I would make my survivorship count. I honor that promise with every single breath I take.

WNBA Champions Cause to Eliminate Cervical Cancer 2005

When I created this organization I had no idea that January was Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, or that teal and white were the official colors for cervical cancer — there was a lot of orange!

All I knew is that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. I didn’t know how or where to start. I just knew that I had to do something.

Washington Post 2011

As most nonprofits, we started small — very grassroots. Sometimes I sit back and think of our first official meeting  — the binders that I created with orange butterfly stickers. They were hideous, but filled with an action plan that has brought us to where we are today. I sit and think of all of the things we’ve done since then, and it just seems surreal.

NYC Walk 2011

We held so many events over the years, but what I’m most proud of is the community that we’ve created. A community of not just women diagnosed with cervical cancer, but a community filled with caregivers, clinicians, researchers, health educations, social workers and so much more. I am proud of the industry partnerships and their support of our much-needed work. A lot of work that goes unseen, but is felt around the globe.

Our first Cervivor School January 25, 2014 NYC

Today also marks 4 years since we launched Cervivor School — our advocacy training retreats. We’ve had over 100 women graduate from our Cervivor Schools. This unique event is the leading advocacy training for women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the country. Our Cervivor School speakers are some of the most sought-after experts in the cervical cancer space. Our graduates are some of the most requested cervical cancer patient advocates.

This year will mark the return of some of our original programs and events (hello Stirrup Stories!), as well as new campaigns (I can’t wait for the big reveal!). We’ll continue providing our community with support and the latest news and updates. Our work has afforded us a seat at the table, and we are thankful for that. We’ve worked hard for that.

First global advocacy trip. Beijing, China 2011

My promise to you, our community is that we will continue to be an expert in the field of patient advocacy. We’re not going anywhere! Not while there are still women not being screened. Not while the HPV vaccine is still underutilized. Not while the stigma of HPV exists. Not while women feel alone. Not while women are losing their fertility, and not while women are still dying. There is way too much work for us to still do. I’m more determined than ever. I know you are, too! You’ve shown it this month alone.

Thank you for your continued support — however small or large. Thank you for helping us spread our Cervivor footprint. Thank you for helping us end cervical cancer. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would be here. But, here we are 13 years later, dedicated to what we started, still doing what we said we would do  – working to end cervical cancer. It hasn’t been easy, but neither was cancer.

xo Tamika                                                                                                                                                                                                                     16-year cervical cancer survivor AKA Cervivor                                                                                                                                          Founder, Cervivor. org

Apply to attend our upcoming Cervivor School here.