Faith Over Fear

Today marks 17 years since I heard those words, “You have cancer“.  It has taken a lot for me to not be held hostage by cancer. You spend so much time fighting to survive and then the rest hoping, wishing and praying that it won’t come back. It’s like constantly living on the edge of a nonstop roller coaster. I got off of the roller coaster a few years ago and have been living my life beyond my cancer. I know that is not easy, but it is something that I truly strive for in my life. But, recently, I was taken right back to that moment in time when I was a scared 25-year-old.

Pre Op before the waterworks.

Two weeks ago I went for my annual well woman’s visit. You know, the one I constantly talk about because I’m a cervical cancer survivor. I honestly probably would have taken longer to make the appointment, but there was this issue with blood and it made me nervous. Anytime there is blood, is a reason to be seen. Especially, given my history and that my father died of colon cancer. So, I called and made an appointment and asked for their first available. My primary care physician recently retired and I also needed a new OB/GYN. So there was the added stress of not having a prior relationship. Oh, the excuses we will make… But this is not what I had in mind. I didn’t even do any research. I just needed to see someone. I was lucky that they saw me pretty quickly.  During my exam, with my feet in the stirrups; the Nurse Practitioner saw something. She called for a physician to come and take another look. As if I wasn’t anxious enough. There was a nodule of some sort and even though they didn’t think that it was cancerous, they needed to know for sure — given my history of course. So, I needed a biopsy. Nodule. Biopsy. Suspicious. All words that reminded me of when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I’d be lying if I said, “I was fine and took the news like a champ”. In that moment, I was terrified that the cancer had returned. In my head, “to finish what it had started“. I found myself overcome with fear and my faith nowhere in sight. This is a very human response. PTSD. It is cancer trauma. I haven’t been put under since my diagnosis and that triggered so many emotions for me. I wasn’t prepared for that. Let alone the emotions that ran through me as I was wheeled in the operating room. I was scared.

Cancer is scary. So much so that my blood pressure was through the roof. Just the thought of having to deal with cancer again was enough to have me in the fetal position. But just as I had done 17 years prior, I reminded myself that I wasn’t done yet. That if it were cancer, that I would fight to rid it again with everything that I had. Because I am not built to quit. Thank you cancer scare for that reminder.

So here I am less than a week post-op. My coochie feels like 2 bees are taking turns stinging it. But it could be worse. 17 years ago it felt like a hammer.  The waiting sucks. I have no patience at all, and I want to know my pathology reports now. But I have to wait. So, I’m healing and slowly easing back into what I do best. Living my best life beyond cancer.

My sister recently reminded me, “Faith Over Fear“.  When I find myself feeling overwhelmed I remind myself of that. I don’t want to let cancer, or even the possiblity of it control me. Here’s to celebrating 17 years cancer free and 17 more. FU cancer!

Also, let this serve as your reminder to schedule your well woman exam, vaccinate those under 26 (especially 11 & 12 year olds). Check your boobies, booty and skin too. Check everything. You’re welcome! 🙂

Tamika Felder is  is the Chief Visionary at Cervivor. Newsweek Magazine featured her on the cover and named her a “Cancer Rebel”. Tamika is a highly sought-after speaker and is the author of Seriously, What Are You Waiting For? 13 Actions To Ignite Your Life & Achieve The Ultimate Comeback.  Tamika’s inspiring story has been featured in numerous media outlets around the globe. Tamika has served as a community representative for the President’s Cancer Panel (2003), and is a former board member of the Ulman Cancer Foundation for Young Adults. She served as a patient advocate member of the Gynecological Oncology Group and the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Cancer Steering Committee- Cervical Task Force. She is also a former member of the District of Columbia’s Cancer Plan’s Gynecological Cancer Committee and the Maryland Cancer Plan’s Cervical Cancer Committee. Tamika currently serves on the board of the Global Coalition Against Cervical Cancer, the advisory council for the Alliance for Fertility Preservation, and as an expert panel member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Stratified Cervical Cancer Primary Prevention Guideline Panel. She was recently appointed to the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable’s Steering Committee. Tamika is making her survivorship count.

“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.