The Power of Setting Boundaries

This past Fall I was a keynote speaker for the Cervical Cancer Summit and spoke about the development of my three word “Why” statement. Why I keep fighting each day, educating and advocating about cervical cancer so that no other woman has to go through what I am going through. Why I speak up, research, question and give it my all. For me, my why statement is “Know Your Existence.”

I want women – and mothers especially – to know that their health and their checkups are equally as important  as their families’. I want minority women, especially in the Asian culture where  below-the-belt subjects are rarely discussed, to know how important their annual women’s health checkups are. I want women to Know Their Existence matters.

For me, part of Know Your Existence also means know what you need, physically and spiritually.  During my talk, I spoke about boundaries and how important it is to set boundaries with friends and loved ones during your cancer journey. Wherever you are in your cancer journey – initial diagnosis, surgery, chemo, radiation, etc. –  boundaries are extremely important. I did not set up boundaries the first time I was diagnosed and, as a result, I often cared too much about how others around me were feeling and dealing with MY diagnosis.

With my recurrence, it was a whole new ball game. For my own health and my own sanity, I put boundaries in place. It was no longer about how others were dealing with what I was going through. It was no longer making sure everybody else was okay. It was no longer about getting together with friends because I would feel bad or felt obligated. It was now about me and what my soul needed.

Everyone has good intentions. They want to be supportive and helpful, but it’s up to you to let your support system know exactly what you need from them.

Becky with members of her “squad” of support.

I do want to stress the importance of a solid support system. But, it’s important to really be in control of who is in your squad. Overall, I have been extremely blessed to have an amazing support system. They listen to what my needs are. They respect me when it takes me days to respond to a text or call because I am not always in the mood to talk. At the end of the day, they know what boundaries I have set in place and they honor them.

Unfortunately, we all have some people in our lives that I like to call “energy vampires.” These are the folks that, though they may mean well, leave you emotionally drained after a conversation because they have literally sucked out the little energy that you do have. When dealing with the trauma and hell that cancer brings into your life, there is no better time to draw some strict boundaries around these folks and the access they have to you.

Unfortunately, I’ve come to learn that some people are just drawn to other people’s suffering and pain and only “show up” because at the end of the day, it really is about them and not you. These are people who might show up for a visit, but at the end of the day leave you feeling like the visit was only to make themselves feel better rather than to make you feel better.

I learned this first-hand when I had a few people who wanted to be there for me only on my chemo days. Almost like they wanted some sort of credit for showing up and sitting with me. Sorry folks, this isn’t school and you don’t get credit for just “showing up.” It is wonderful to have your solid support come visit and sit during those long chemo days, but make sure the people visiting are there for the right reason: YOU. If you want to take a nap while someone is visiting, take a nap. Don’t feel the need to entertain someone. Boundaries people, boundaries. There is no better advocate for yourself than yourself, remember that.

At the end of the day, I just want everyone, not just those who are going through trauma to truly understand how important boundaries are in our lives. I want people to know that it is okay to set boundaries for yourself and to not feel guilty about it. Know that you matter. Know that your voice matters. Know Your Existence.

Becky was originally diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018, at age 35, and quickly became an active member of the Cervivor community, joining Facebook Group discussions, attending Meet Ups, participating in the September 2019 Cervivor School and becoming a Cervivor Ambassador. Read her Cervivor story and learn how she brings her passion and Cervivor Spark to help stop cervical cancer.

A Decade of Advocacy

It is surreal for me to think that I have been an advocate and sharing my story of cervical cancer for ten years.  I say this because after treatment, I just wanted to stay quiet.  Not talk about the whole ordeal and just move forward.

I am sure many survivors feel this way after treatment, but I have also met many that are very vocal about every single step of their journey.  I was not one of them.  I do not have any documentation about my journey.  The only thing I have are 35 hospital bracelets for each time I had a radiation treatment.  

It wasn’t until four months after treatment that my brother insisted on doing a cervical cancer walk. A coincidence? Perhaps. I will never know.  At first, I did not want to do it, but he insisted so much that I gave in. 

Walk to Beat the Clock – NYC

On September 19, 2009, at the Walk to Beat the Clock, I met Tamika Felder, a cervical cancer survivor and the founder of Tamika and Friends, which later rebranded to Cervivor.  That day I met other survivors as well.  They were sharing their cervical cancer stories.  These stories were similar to mine and told with such heart, passion and confidence.

First time meeting Tamika

I was in awe.  I was inspired and motivated but most importantly I did not feel alone anymore.  At that moment, I made a decision that I wanted to join the cause and the movement. I wanted to share my own story and let other women know that my journey did not have to be theirs and that they were not alone. 

My mission became even clearer when Tamika invited me to a Latino Summit in Washington D.C. It was there that I learned the statistics between cervical cancer and Latinas

To be able to share my own story I needed to be authentic, open and be able to deliver it with an open heart.  Tamika said to me at the very beginning “always tell your story from your heart, because when it comes from the heart people listen.” I have applied this statement to the hundreds of times I have told my story and I still do.  

First radio interview

I still remember the first time I told my story. It was March 28, 2010 and it was a radio interview in Spanish for 95.9 FM El Poder Latino (The Latino Power).  I was so nervous, my heart was pounding, but I remembered what Tamika had told me to do and I spoke from the heart.

On January 25, 2014, I attended the first Cervivor School, which took place in New York City.  Cervivor School is a life-changing event. It is empowering, informational, educational and inspirational.  We also get to share our views, our stories, our concerns, our goals, our obstacles and our strengths.  It is so important that survivors who become advocates are educated and informed with the latest facts to be able to bring the proper message forward. 

It has been a journey of highs and lows.  The reality of things is that not everyone is going to be interested in listening to your story or anything you have to say and this had to be OK with me. I did not let this discourage me.  As advocates, we set to save the world. Unfortunately, I came to the realization that I cannot save the world, I cannot even save New York City, where I reside, but if my message gets to one person in the crowd, I have completed my mission. 

Through the years, there have been many ways I have advocated: free cervical cancer screening events, health fairs and interviews with different media outlets. Not every presentation or interview has been perfect, but I can honestly say that I never did it for the accolades.  I do it to educate women that need to know that this cancer is preventable and treatable if found early.  We lose over 4000 women every year in the United States alone. These women were someone’s wife, aunt, daughter, mother, grandmother and their lives matter.

I am very proud of the work I do as an advocate and I am humbled to say that my advocacy work has been recognized.  

New York City Proclamation

All the work has been important to me, but I hold two events dear to my heart. The first is the proclamation for my advocacy, given to me by the New York City Council on January 10, 2015. This was one of the proudest moments of my advocacy world. 

Lasker Awards with Dr. Lowy

The other was being invited to the Lasker Awards  in 2017 where I met Dr. Douglas R. Lowy and Dr. John T. Schiller, the two scientists that were the recipients of that year’s  award for their technological advances enabling the development of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which prevents cervical cancer and other tumors.  So proud that my story was featured in their submitted video

My advocacy journey has brought me full circle.  Today I lead a survivor fitness group as the Cervivor Wellness Instructor.  Survivor Slimdown is a Facebook group open to ALL CANCER SURVIVORS.  It is a space for inspiration, motivation and accountability as we learn to navigate our way to health after a cancer diagnosis.

I must say that the best part of my advocacy has been meeting my wonderful and inspirational Cervivor sisters.  Every single one of them has a story that matters.  Stories that show resilience, courage and strength.  Unfortunately, many of them are no longer here, but we keep them in our hearts.  We honor them by continuing to share their stories and legacies because they did make a difference. 

We all bond with the same mission to end cervical cancer and to make our generation the last one to fight this disease.

Advocacy in action!

My heartfelt thanks to Tamika Felder and the Cervivor organization for giving me a voice and a platform to share my story. This organization has supported me on my way back.  They have also supported so many other women fighting and surviving this disease. I will never feel alone again.

Patti is a Cervivor Ambassador and Cervivor’s Wellness Instructor who manages our Survivor Slimdown Facebook group. 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.