It is day one of Cervivor School. I look around the room at 25 women who have all had the same diagnosis; cervical cancer. It feels like a family, but do I belong in this family? I mean, sure I was diagnosed with cervical cancer too; but mine was found early. I was easily treated with a hysterectomy. I didn’t endure chemotherapy or radiation. I haven’t gone into early menopause. I was lucky to have children before I had my fertility taken from me. This is a room of survivors. Women who have been through or are going through the real battle. Women who have lost their hair. Women who will never be able to have children. Women who are going into menopause in their 20’s. Do I belong in this room, with these women who I look at as warriors? I am no warrior. I was one of the lucky ones. This is not my place. I feel like a fraud.
Tamika, the founder of Cervivor, shows us women who have been in this room before us, some who were supposed to be here today; but cannot be because they are no longer with us. It brings me to tears. She tells us her story and it is heartbreaking. Tamika talks about our stories, and how every single one matters. We have all been through a cervical cancer diagnosis. We have all had different treatments. We have all made it to this room. She asks if anyone feels like they don’t belong here. I feel like I should raise my hand, but I don’t. I don’t want to call attention to the fact that I haven’t been through what all these women have been through. Maybe I can make it through the weekend without anyone figuring me out.
Now we take a break and reflect on what has just been said. We break into groups of four. I timidly walk around the room to find a group that doesn’t have four yet. I find a group with two women who are older than me and one much younger. I will let them do all the talking. Their stories matter, not mine. One of the older women starts to tell her story. It sounds familiar. Abnormal Pap, cervical cancer, hysterectomy, recovery. Wait, what? That is my story. The other woman begins to tell her story and again, it sounds familiar. Abnormal Pap, cervical cancer, hysterectomy, recovery. This can’t be right? These women’s stories are too similar to mine. And yet, as each of them tell their stories I feel connected. My heart breaks as they talk about being diagnosed. As they talk about all the time waiting between appointments, and all of the unknowns. These are all of the things that I went through. The pains and anxiety that I went through. The same surgeries that I went through, and the same guilt that I carry with me, as I feel unworthy of being called a survivor. Then there is the younger woman sitting across from me, I know her story is not like ours. I was with her the day before as she took off her wig and revealed her short hair that is growing back from her last rounds of chemotherapy. I do not know her story, but I know that it is not like mine. But here she is, sitting with the three of us. Listening to our stories and encouraging us to tell them. Asking questions about what we have been through and relating. She doesn’t tell us her story, and focuses on us. She is understanding and informative. She is passionate about what we have to say. I begin to feel like maybe I do belong here. Maybe this corner of the room with these 3 other women is exactly where I am supposed to be. Maybe this is precisely what I have been looking for over the last two years. Maybe my story is important, and powerful. Maybe my story can touch people’s hearts the same way these women’s stories just touched mine. And now our time is up. I walk back to my seat and a feeling of relief washes over me. I know that a shift has just been made. Something inside me has changed in these last 20 minutes with these 3 women.
Laura, the young woman who was just in our group walks to the front of the room to present her story to us. She is in her early 20’s. She is vibrant, and her smile lights up the room. Her story begins the same as many of ours. Cervical cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, no evidence of disease. But then her story changes. Recurrence, chemotherapy, terminal. My heart sinks. This woman is standing in front of us fighting a cancer that she knows is going to kill her. And I think, “What is her message to me?” That my fight is not as hard as hers? That I don’t belong here because I didn’t have to go through chemotherapy or radiation? No. Her message is that I need to tell my story. The world needs to hear my story. No one should have to die from this cancer, and the way to help make sure that happens is through my story. I do belong here in this room with these warriors, with these survivors. Not as an outsider, but as one of them. Chemotherapy and radiation are not what makes us a survivor. Cancer is what makes us a survivor. The fraud that was sitting in this same chair 20 minutes ago is gone. I am now sitting here as a Cervivor with a story to tell.
Keziah Corry is a 2-year Cervical Cancer Survivor. She lives in Seattle WA, with her incredibly handsome husband, two of the cutest kids the world has to offer and her sweet little pug. She spends most of her free time, with her feet in the sand and a glass of wine in her hand. Read Keziah’s Cervivor story here.