“35 Bracelets”? I am not referring to beautiful gold bracelets that one wears to symbolize something special, or gifts that people give to one another as a symbol of their relationship.
I am referring to 35hospital bracelets. I was given one each time I had an external radiation treatment. It has been 11 years and 2 months since I was declared cancer FREE, and I still have them.
Why? As a reminder of where I’ve been, and every step I have taken since then. As a reminder of every single treatment that I had to go through to fight cervical cancer. As a reminder that at one time I was identified by a bar code with numbers. As a reminder of coming face to face with my own mortality. As a reminder of the person I’ve become today. As a reminder to share my story to prevent other women from going through what I did.
Many cancer patients document their journeys either by writing on their journals, blogs or by taking pictures while going through treatments. Well, I have to say, I didn’t do any of those things. I didn’t write about it, talk about it, nor did I take pictures of myself while in treatment. Yet, I know it did happen. I have the memories and the scars.
I guess these 35 hospital bracelets tell part of the story, but the memories of my journey are embedded in my mind. I remember what it took for me to get out of bed every single day to go for treatment, I remember every machine used on me and I remember every needle that went through my skin. I don’t put away these hospital bracelets in a closet where I don’t see them. I have them in plain sight. They hang on the side of my refrigerator in a simple Rite Aid® plastic bag.
Perhaps I can be more sensitive and put them in a nicer bag, but I wont. That Rite Aid® bag is what I chose back then when I started collecting them one by one. They have been there all 11+ years, and will remain there as a reminder of the work I need to do as an advocate of this disease. I sometimes regret that I did not take any pictures, but at that time, it wasn’t even a thought. Pictures, journals, blogs even these 35 hospital bracelets can be destroyed or lost, but my memories will live with me for a lifetime.
Patti is a Cervivor Ambassador and Cervivor’s Wellness Instructor. She is a retired NYPD police officer and an 11 year cervical cancer survivor. She resides in NYC with her husband of 21 years where she’s a Group Fitness Instructor and a Health Advocate.
Chair of the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable, Dr. Noel Brewer has given hundreds of talks at scientific conferences and meetings across the globe. He’s advised the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization on vaccination. He’s one of the most cited researchers in the world. His credentials are impeccable, yet much of the time when he starts a talk, he defers to the experts: patients.
His solution: “Always have people speak who have had the experience. When someone speaks who has had direct experience with cancer, it clears out the mental clutter. It makes you feel. It sets the stage for the important work that will follow.”
“To hear about the diagnosis and that awful waiting period. About what they have gone through – the symptoms, the damage caused by treatments, the possible loss of fertility. These are key parts of the story that survivors can speak about in a personal way that doctors, scientists and other experts simply cannot.”
“As scientists, we often talk about cancer in abstract and technical terms. We convey a lot of important information that doesn’t connect with people’s feelings and imagination. But how can we help people grasp the importance of preventing cancer,” reflects Dr. Brewer.
Dr. Brewer regularly starts his talks with the voice of Lisa Moore. Lisa died of cervical cancer in October 2017, at age 31. Yet through her powerful Cervivor story video, she has educated and impacted thousands.
“I had data and statistics in my talks and trainings, but realized I wasn’t telling the full story. So now, I leave that to Lisa Moore. In her video, she tells the story of her fight with cervical cancer. It’s one minute. It’s powerful. It’s heartbreaking. Every time I show the video, I’m moved by it. And I’ve seen it more than 150 times.”
“At first, Lisa is sitting. She is sewing. She tells her story in very simple and concrete terms. We see her partner in the background, watching her. Every time I show it, people pause and struggle to collect themselves. We sit with Lisa. We feel her pain and her call to action. We take a deep breath together, then we get focused on the work of what we are going to do to prevent cervical cancer.”
Lisa was a true champion for prevention. She educated and advocated and was telling her story…until she could no longer. Lisa lives on in her Cevivor story and in her video, and her passion for prevention and call to action has been seen, heard and felt by researchers, healthcare providers and policy makers around the world. Not just through Dr. Brewer’s use of her video into his talks, but by many others.
“I do many ‘train the trainer’ sessions about HPV vaccination, and connections happen based on Lisa’s video. People often come up to me after, asking if they could also incorporate Lisa’s video in their own outreach. Working with Cervivor, we’ve shared the video many times and amplified the reach of Lisa’s message.”
In video or in person, “Cancer survivors speak with certain authority,” says Dr. Brewer. “You are a moral voice on cervical cancer and all of the ways it affects lives. I don’t know anyone who can speak as powerfully.”
“We’ve shared her video at Cervivor events, and it has been seen and shared many times via our social media platforms. But Dr. Brewer is the one who has really helped to get Lisa’s story to the masses and I am personally thankful to him for that,” said Tamika Felder, founder of Cervivor. “Lisa wanted her story to be shared. She wanted the world to see that not only what cervical cancer had done and taken from her; but also, that it in fact it was not an easy cancer. She wanted her story to help get people vaccinated against HPV so they would not have to suffer the same fate. Dr. Brewer has helped me keep my promise to Lisa. For that I am forever grateful.”
Are you sharing your story?
If you haven’t yet, add your story to our Cervivor Stories. Write a blog post about your experience or your advocacy or about a milestone or simply a memory or reflection and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can publish it and add it to the voice and reach of our Cervivor blog.
As Dr. Brewer reminds us, stories matter. Stories motivate. Stories change minds. Our community’s work sharing our stories is powerful.
A professor of Health Behavior at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public, Dr. Noel Brewer studies health behaviors. He examines ways to increase HPV vaccine uptake, and his research led to the development of “The Announcement Approach” to train providers to communicate more effectively about HPV vaccination and other vaccines for adolescents. Dr. Brewer chairs the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable, which brings a wide cross-section of stakeholders together to raise HPV vaccination rates and prevent HPV cancers.