The Fight for Teal and White

Every October, we are reminded to have our annual breast exam and bombarded with pink products, everything from apparel to yogurt cups! Pink is EVERYWHERE in October! Prior to my cervical cancer diagnosis, I was totally on board with pink and had relatively no issue with all the awareness although, I will admit, at times I thought it was too much

Having been diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016, I changed my perspective on awareness ribbon campaigns and it got me thinking why is pink the only one that everyone recognizes and is on board with? Why is everyone so willing to do the walks, fundraise and wear pink all month long? I mean it wasn’t always this way, was it? This ribbon had to start somewhere and while I was in Iowa attending Cervivor School, I learned some of the history of the pink ribbon and breast cancer awareness. What began the global breast cancer movement with $200 and a shoebox full of women’s names who had or were going through breast cancer turned into a global community of scientists, advocates, neighbors and friends, working together to make breast cancer a distant memory.

I wondered, can this be done with my cancer too? Why are there no big walks, fundraisers or even much awareness of the teal and white ribbon? I mean, I wear my ribbon and frequently I am asked what it represents. Is it because not enough women in this country die from cervical cancer? Surely that can’t be the reason. Or is it because not many women are willing to talk about cervical cancer? Sadly, I believe this is one of the main reasons. You see, cervical cancer has a stigma attached to it as most cases are caused by HPV (Human Papillomavirus), one of the most misunderstood viruses known to man. People do not realize just how common this virus is and how it accounts for many types of cancers as well.

Every October I hear the frustration by many women about the lack of awareness for our cancer and I too am guilty of feeling the same. Then I realized, I never even knew what cervical cancer was until I was diagnosed. How could that be? Well, for one, no one talks about it. If we want more awareness then we need to be willing to talk about cervical cancer and the HPV virus. We need to be out there sharing our stories, advocating for the HPV vaccine, and reminding women to not miss their PAP/HPV tests.

Imagine if all women who were diagnosed decided to share their story with others and kept on sharing and kept talking about cervical cancer and the HPV virus. When women are willing to put themselves out there, we too could grow in numbers and we could be the “Teal and White Brigade.” We have to put feelings of shame aside and not be afraid to talk about our cervix and our cancer. We matter ladies, and our stories need to be told!

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, let’s turn it Teal and White.

Paulette Apostolou resides in Illinois with her loving husband and two Min Pins Roxey and Zoie. She is the owner/designer of and founder of Operation Teal; an awareness ribbon campaign she started in 2016 after attending Cervivor School Louisville.

RECAP: CCAM, Cervivor Schools, Advocacy

By Cervivor Ambassador Erica

Cervical Cancer Awareness Month has now ended, although I am not sure I can put into words how amazing this #CCAM was, I am going to try. It was so wonderful to see all the accurate information about cervical cancer being shared across multiple social media platforms. It isn’t just about social media, though! In January, I was able to participate in two fabulous Cervivor experiences: Cervivor School Hoosier and Cervivor School South.

Cervivor Ambassadors Heather, Melissa and I were able to host a one-day live event, Cervivor School Hoosier, here in Indianapolis on January 16 and Tamika was able to join us too! Cervivor School Hoosier was a day packed full of learning and empowerment! We added some great new graduates to our Cervivor Ambassador team. During this Cervivor School, we learned about HPV, up-to-date information about screening, cervical cancer treatment options, learned about public health as it relates to the legislature, and discovered how powerful our stories can be.

I was also able to attend Cervivor School South in Charleston, S.C., during the last days of January for a live four-day event which was packed full of information, empowerment, and sisterhood. I am sure people are wondering what it is about Cervivor School that makes me want to keep coming back. This is the third Cervivor School I have been able to attend. I can honestly say that each Cervivor School has brought along its own important information. A few highlights of Cervivor School South include learning more about how to be an active advocate, learning how to answer media questions related to cervical cancer screening and prevention, hearing medical professionals and fellow Cervivors talk about how important it is to remember to treat the whole patient, and learning about the global impact of cervical cancer.

One powerful thing I was able to witness while in Charleston was seeing a new Cervivor Ambassador in action!  On Saturday night of Cervivor School, I got to see Cervivor Ambassador Jessica from Kentucky in action advocating for cervical cancer and HPV awareness! I stayed up late and spent some time with Jessica. While I was speaking with a couple about cervical cancer, and reinforcing to the woman that she did the right thing by opting to vaccinate her teenage daughter, I was also listening to Jessica. Jessica was taking the knowledge which she gained at Cervivor School Hoosier and Cervivor School South and providing accurate information to spread awareness! I thought to myself, “This is what it is all about. Advocates using the information they are given and advocating!” Cervivor School works! It is such a powerful experience and it works! It gives individuals the tools needed to spread the word in an impactful, meaningful way.

Speaking of experiences, here’s another one I had while in Charleston. On Saturday evening, a few of the Cervivor Ambassadors were in the hotel lobby playing a game after dinner. While we were playing the game a man walked by and joined in the fun. After a few rounds of the game, we told him what we were doing in Charleston. We let him know that we were in town with Cervivor, a group dedicated to eradicating cervical cancer through our advocacy work. When we told him this, we thought he wouldn’t be interested and would want to go right back to the game.  Boy, we were surprised! He said, “I got a shot to protect against spreading that, isn’t it spread by HPV?” We were floored, to say the least. We wanted to know more: How did he know to get the vaccine? Where did he learn about it? Did he have a story? As it turns out he had a story of his own and was eager to share. Tamika was so moved by this exchange that she invited him to come and be our keynote speaker at our Cervivor School graduation ceremony. I am pretty sure that was a first! We had a man as the keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony for a school focusing on advocacy and spreading awareness about cervical cancer. You might be wondering: How did it work out having a man as the keynote graduation speaker? The experience for me really reinforced the idea that HPV isn’t just a female issue. HPV is a human issue! Jeromy explained that, as a man, he had wanted to get the vaccine to protect himself and any future partners from any of the HPV-related cancers. This is something that is important for us to remember as we advocate for awareness about cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine also protects against other cancers, the following cancers can be reduced through the use of the HPV vaccine: penile, anal, oropharyngeal, vulvar, and cervical. it really is a human issue!

Are you a cervical cancer survivor or patient who is interested in becoming an advocate to help eradicate cervical cancer? Cervivor will be hosting another Cervivor School in Washington, D.C., May 12–15.  More information will be available soon on the Cervivor website. In the mean time, have you shared your story yet?