Reaching That First Big Milestone

Five years? How is it possible?

Five years. It seems like much longer yet it’s still so fresh in my mind. I have spent so much time processing through what happened to me – the good and the bad. Where there was darkness, there was so much beauty to equal it out. Cue the universe’s synchronicities and all the cardinal sightings.

Six years ago, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer for the first time at age 24. They found spots in my lungs after only being six months into remission. It was truly devastating! I was back in school full-time, working full-time, and trying to regain some normalcy.

But life had other plans for me.

I went through diagnostic test after diagnostic test to confirm it was cancer. Indeed, I would be facing my mortality once again. I will never forget the words my oncologist spoke to me after I received my first three treatments, “There are 7-9% of women who experience a complete interval response to treatment. You are one of those 7-9%. You don’t have any evidence of disease.”

I knew I had been given such an incredible gift and that I must not waste this second chance at life. What I didn’t expect was to find my voice as loud as I’ve made it. I stumbled across Cervivor through a hashtag on Instagram – I didn’t see this as a coincidence. I fundraised my way to Cervivor School in 2017 where I flew out to Delray Beach, Florida and learned how to use my voice in advocacy. The rest is history.

I’m still processing through many of accomplishments that I’ve experienced over the last five years including the idea that I’ve graduated three times despite my diagnosis and treatments, and that I’ve reached my first big cancerversary milestone. I’ve jumped at every Cervivor opportunity to be a part of change from cancer panel speaking opportunities to proclamation signings with Iowa’s governor for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month (January) to volunteering with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN) to protect or improve policies related to cancer care. I also serve as a leader with Above and Beyond Cancer to make the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) community visible locally. Because of this work, I’ve been given three awards from Cervivor, ACSCAN, and Above and Beyond Cancer.

I know I wouldn’t be able to do this work alone, it takes a village to make a difference – to make change happen. It is exhausting and it can take a toll but it is also truly rewarding to see our impact taking place across the globe. I’ve met so many resilient and passionate advocates (along with their family members) – some are still with us while others have succumbed to their diagnoses. As a survivor and patient advocate, I had to accept and understand that this was going to be a common occurrence in our community but it didn’t make it suck any less.

However challenging this work may be, I wouldn’t trade this personal and professional growth for anything. Here’s to 5 years cancer free!

Morgan is a metastatic recurrent cervical cancer survivor, a 3x award winning patient advocate, and our Community Manager for Cervivor. She resides in Iowa with her boyfriend, Tony, their cat, Jeezy, and dachshund, Sassy. Morgan continues to advocate tirelessly in hopes her story can help others.

AYA Week Reflections

As AYA Cancer Awareness Week draws closer, I am reflective on how much the AYA cancer community means to me. I recall how for two years after treatment, I didn’t even know this community existed and how today, I can’t imagine my life without it.

During my treatment in 2013, I didn’t want any part of the AYA cancer community because I didn’t want to be labeled as the girl with cancer. I did not want to be the youngest cancer patient in the radiation waiting room, or to be told yet again that treatment would be easy because I was young (by the way, it wasn’t), or to become more familiar with insurance deductibles and FMLA than someone twice my age. I just wanted my pre-cancer life back. I wanted to go on dates, to go to the state fair without the worry of being immunocompromised in a large crowd, and to be able to eat whatever I wanted without getting sick.

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I first met a fellow AYA cancer survivor two years after my treatment and it changed my life. I was no longer alone. Someone finally understood me. I had a community and I felt like I belonged for the first time in a long time. Alongside other AYA cancer patients and survivors, I was able to process what I had just gone through and I gained knowledge about what survivorship should look like. This growth gave me a sense of purpose as an AYA cancer survivor that I needed.

Today, I am a seven-year AYA cervical cancer survivor. I share my story with a lot less fear than I did five years ago because I want people to see that I am what an AYA cancer survivor looks like. I want people to know that a cancer diagnosis in your 20’s and 30’s is difficult to navigate, not only during treatment but as a survivor. I also share my story with medical professionals so that they can better understand the unique needs of the AYA cancer community. And I mentor AYA cancer patients and survivors, so they don’t feel the loneliness that I felt during and after treatment. No one should go through cancer alone.

I’ve watched the AYA cancer community grow since 2015 from a few scattered voices to one loud collective voice. This community’s advocacy and momentum has generated much needed attention and change that will impact not only our lives, but the lives of future AYA cancer patients and survivors. During AYA Cancer Awareness Week, we deserve to recognize and celebrate our community’s accomplishments.

Emily Hoffman is a seven-year cervical cancer survivor who was diagnosed with stage 2B cervical cancer at age 30. After cancer, Emily didn’t realize she even had an advocacy voice until she attended her first Cervivor School in 2016. Today, she is a patient advocate and active Cervivor Ambassador who shares her cancer story to raise awareness for ending cervical cancer and to educate others on the importance of cervical cancer screenings and prevention. Emily is the recipient of the 2020 Cervivor Spark Award. She is currently pursuing her certification to become a cancer registrar.