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.

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.