Remembering Christine

I met Christine attending my second Cervivor School in Iowa 2016. The moment we met, I knew she was supposed to be in my life. I felt an instant connection with her. Christine was facing another round of treatment and she was scared about this one. She shared with me her thoughts about going through it again and how her faith, family and friends were going to get her through it. She and I shared a lot that weekend in Iowa and remained in contact after the school. Christine didn’t know it at the time but, she had a profound impact on me and my advocacy going forward.

At Cervivor School we covered a wide range of topics and we were discussing what one person can do to start to make a change. We were talking about breast cancer awareness and how that movement all started. There was some frustration in the room as some ladies were talking about all the awareness that is brought on by the pink campaign. I happened to glance over at Christine and saw her visibly upset. What she said next changed my perspective about breast cancer awareness in general.  She showed the group photos of her coworkers supporting her. They were all dressed in pink shirts with a teal ribbon on them. She told us pink was her favorite color and she didn’t see anything but support and love from this group of who had made the shirts in her honor. She saw the ribbon, not the color of the shirt. It was in this moment, I realized how silly I had been over the pink ribbon. After all, it’s just a color that has long been associated with women. She and I talked about this particular moment and how that frustration was often misdirected. I promised her I would do what I could to change the narrative and I have tried very hard to keep my promise to her. One way was to write The Fight For Teal and White blog entry.

Christine didn’t feel the most comfortable advocating to the level some of our Cervivor school graduates do, but she did do it in her own way with her family, friends, and coworkers. She was truly a special lady who was taken from us far too soon.

Christine, my promise to you remains . . .

 

Paulette Apostolou resides in Illinois with her loving husband and two rescue Miniature Pinschers. She is the owner/designer of ThePartyDeeva.com and founder of Operation Teal; an awareness ribbon campaign she founded in 2016 after attending Cervivor School Louisville. She is the 2017 Cervivor Champion Award recipient Contact Paulette@Cervivor.org She is available for speaking/advocacy events. Read Paulette’s story here.

Dream Big and Live For Today

I was 22 when I found out I had cancer. It’s such a funny word, because automatically when I hear it, I began thinking about this thing living inside me calling itself cancer, and how it had been slowly trying to destroy me. Only, somehow I had already knew I had cervical cancer. I had been having surgeries every 6 months for 3 years to clean out my endometriosis, and it was only 4 months prior that, the doctor tried to “freeze” my abnormal cells. My uterus had been scraped of tumors in October, and it was then I begged the doctor to help me. I could feel my body retaliating against itself. I was the one that asked for the hysterectomy surgery, so when he walked in on December 23rd to wheel me into the procedure, it was of no surprise to me that I had stage 2 cervical cancer. However, it did surprise the doctor. I was 22, and according to the “norm”, I was too young to be going through such an ordeal. Perhaps, but hey, the freezing treatment was supposed to be 99.9% effective. So I guess I have always been one of the lucky ones in that 1% or less of odds playing against me.

At a time when I should be enjoying college and late night parties, I was fighting for my life. It wasn’t just physically, but at an emotional level I did not understand. The faith I was raised in held high expectations that I would be a wife and a mother, and I would naturally bear children. Only now, I was thanking my lucky stars I was alive, while many around me uttered the words, “she will never be a mom.” At least, this is what I internalized of their chatter. It was true, I could never naturally give birth, and I was too young to even be thinking about having children. I was battling these internal demons of “you won’t,” “you can’t,” “you’re broken”- while on the outside being the one that smiled and took the news in stride, knowing I would have to be the positive one because I had accepted my diagnosis.

The most detrimental thing of my diagnosis is why I had cervical cancer and what I have never spoken about until now. Most cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), something that had been gifted to me at a very young age. This was not by choice, but due to being forced to endure sexual trauma in my youth. I hid these facts and feelings, because I was told never to speak about it, or my life would be in danger or people would think I was a slut. This is a lot for a 10-year old mind to process, so I never spoke about it.

Even though I had cancer and survived, emotionally I was a mess. Not shocking to endure my first round of ovarian cancer at the age of 23 and a second round at 25. It took all of that for me to look myself in the mirror and say, “You need help.” This was when everything started to change and transformation took place. Leaving the nest I had always known, I took a job in Florida and the Bahamas, reconnecting with the ocean I fell in love at 10 years old, only months prior to my incredible trauma.

How did cancer change me? It made me re-evaluate my entire belief system. It made me question everything, and it allowed me to get out of a box and explore a wide open world. Before cancer, I had loved to travel. After cancer I reconnected with passion vowing to make it part of my life. Most importantly, cancer connected me to my body. I always credit yoga to saving my life, and nothing could ring more true. It may sound funny, but perhaps not unfamiliar that to find a yoga mat and breath-work to heal. My healing led me to wear I am today, a motivational and awareness speaker, travel/lifestyle/health writer, and yoga instructor. Most recently training in breath-work and mediation to lead healing sessions.

Since cancer I have always had the motto to dream bigger, however I think a more accurate statement is, “Live fully and passionately everyday.” Fall in love with every breath you take. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you love them. Don’t hesitate in trying or tasting something new. Enjoy the little things. Cherish the moments. Because it is in those moments and memories that we will always be connected to life and to those we love. Believe in yourself and always choose what is good for your soul.

Mandy Murry is an accredited international travel, lifestyle, health and wellness writer, with features published in Thrive Global, Bella Grace, 24Karat, Slug, NC Living, X Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Yucatán Times, Live and Invest Overseas, TravelAge West and more. Her captivating story-telling adds magic to her words and her passion for writing is as contagious as her passion for life and cloud surfing (aka flying). Mandy blogs at cloudsurfing.lifeYou can also find her on Instagram: @cloudsurfinglife