Surviving Through Music

Our world is feeling great pain and uncertainty right now. Cervivor created a music video to show hope, love and strength within our cancer community but it reaches far beyond cancer — the message is truly universal.

The song that inspired this video, The Will to BE, was written by my caregiver and husband Pete. I love being married to a musician because our house is always filled with great music. Pete says that creating music from his heart for the world to hear, makes him feel like in some small way, he’s creating happiness.

During my cervical cancer diagnosis, multiple treatments and surgeries and three reoccurrences, Pete’s music truly lifted me up and gave me the spark I needed. His music was always on my ‘Chemo Playlist’ and I’d listen to it when I just needed to calm my mind and body.

Cervivor created a music video to show hope, love and strength within our cancer community but it reaches far beyond cancer — the message is truly universal.

Pete also knows all the women of Cervivor through their stories. These stories are the fabric of this song, weaving through emotions we carry as cancer patients, survivors and thrivers.

In 2017, California was experiencing literal storms and relentless rainfall. Everything around us was falling apart with no end in sight. During one of those storms, Cervivor founder, Tamika Felder asked Pete to write some music for Cervivor. 

He immediately drew parallels with the storms and cancer which inspired the opening lyric, “Been a long rainy season. The tides and winds headstrong. It batters our lives and we don’t know for how long.”

When you have cancer you give up a lot normalcy in your life and it doesn’t change when or if your cancer ends. You look at life differently; you are navigating through uncharted waters. 

Sometimes you’re drowning in fear and it takes every ounce of strength to get through the day. We hold on to hope, this four-letter word that becomes our lifeline. 

This song speaks to anyone who has faced deep hardships. The women featured in this video are beautiful and real. We are your neighbors. We are sisters, daughters, mothers, aunties and cancer is forever part of our lives. But we refuse to let cancer define us. We are living our lives and not forgetting what brings us joy.

The Will to BE is a song of truth and unpredictability but importantly the will to be loved and strong and needing to belong.

We hope that this song and video will fill your heart and show you that despite what cancer takes away, it leaves space for us to fill with gratitude and hope.

Pete and Cervivor Ambassador Carol live in Northern California with their fur baby, Ace the Dog, who can be usually be found at Pete’s feet in his music studio. They also have two amazing grown kids, Michael and Sydney, who are Carol’s inspiration to thrive.

“Hey Girl” Video Highlights the Importance of Support

Cervical Cancer Awareness Month (CCAM) is very much about advocacy, education and outreach. It’s about making our voices heard and about not allowing cervical cancer – and the toll that it takes – to be invisible or stigmatized. This is very much is the mission of Cervivor. Yet, there is also a quieter yet equally as important mission: to be here for each other, to be a support, a shoulder to cry on, an experience-sharer, and a place to go for connection with someone who has been in the same place, fighting the same disease. 

Emily and Cervivor Founder, Tamika Felder

Cervivor’s video “Hey Girl” highlights the lifeline that the Cervivor community has been for so many. 

“To the girl who’s just been diagnosed with cervical cancer, I want to say, ‘Hey girl – I’ve been there too.’ I understand what you’re going through. Your mind is spinning, you’re confused. I just want you to know that you are not alone,” says pink-haired Iowa-based Cervivor Ambassador Emily Hoffman to the camera, kicking off the video.

Emily shares some of her experiences with Cervivor support and connection below:

Q: How did you plug into the support network of Cervivor? What does it mean to you?

It’s funny that I’m in a video that will be shared across social media, as I am not active on social media at all. I don’t use Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. I also wasn’t active on it back when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2013 at age 30. I’d gone through diagnosis and treatment alone, without a supportive community to connect with, share with or learn from. I didn’t know that I needed it. I didn’t realize how alone the disease had made me, and how alone I had made myself. 

I first found the Cervivor website in early 2014 a few months after my treatment ended, and I spent the next 24 hours on it! At the time, I was experiencing so many side effects from my radiation. On Cervivor.org, I finally found ‘my ladies, my community.'” I read every story, every page of the site. I clicked on the link to CervivorTV on YouTube and I watched every episode. I literally stayed up all night.  That was the first time I’d found other young adults with cervical cancer. The website became my lifeline! The website became my connection to other young women who had been where I’d been and had gone through – and were going through – the same thing I was. I no longer felt alone.

Through Cervivor events and events like CancerCon, I met others in the Cervivor community. The people whose stories I’d benefited from online became real to me. They put me in touch with other cervical cancer survivors. Suddenly, I had women just like me to talk to, to call, email, and text. 

Cervivor School 2019, Chicago

Today, six years later, I am a Cervivor School graduate and a Cervivor Ambassador. I’m still not on social media, but I’m connected in so many other ways. If I have a worry or frustration or scare – I have people – via email, text, phone and in person – to reach out to who ‘get it.’

Q: How did you come to be the face of the “Hey Girl” video?

One of the activities I participated in at the 2019 Cervivor School was to write a letter to a woman who was newly diagnosed with cervical cancer. I guess my letter moved people, because the next thing I knew, I was asked to record and film it! 

Because we were writing to an anonymous woman, I struggled with how to start the letter…so I sort of naturally landed on “Hey girl” as a greeting, because it felt informal, friendly and inviting. Little did I know that “Hey girl” is actually a popular internet meme – which people told me later – that features Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling saying all sorts of romantic stuff. Maybe that’s why my letter got such a good response, without me even trying.

While people have shown me the Ryan Gosling memes (they really are quite funny!), my own “Hey girl” message is no joke. It’s true, personal and heartfelt. Women need to know that they are not alone. Women undergoing diagnosis and treatment – and the after effects of treatment – need to know that there is a whole community of women – a whole organization of Cervivors – here to support them.

Q: Six years after your cancer diagnosis, how do you plug into the Cervivor network of support today?

I take great comfort in knowing my Cervivor community is here for me. I have the phone numbers of many of the women I’ve connected with, that I carry with me wherever I go, for whenever I may need them. For example, when I come out of an oncology follow-up appointment, I know who to text. In fact, recently my doctor said something not bad, but not particularly comforting – something I wasn’t exactly sure how to interpret despite my questions. It sent me spiraling. So I sent a text out and I got responses back in two minutes. That’s all I needed. They heard me, they got it. They put me at ease in a way no one else could at that moment. In this community, we can always be unfiltered and  never need to worry about judgement.

Now, being active in the Cervivor community gives me a sense of purpose as a cancer survivor. It enables me to use my experience to make a difference to other survivors. This video will make a difference!

About Emily

Emily is a 6+ year cervical cancer survivor and Cervivor Ambassador who is also involved with the Iowa Cancer Consortium and Iowa Department of Public Health on cervical cancer prevention initiatives. Read her Cervivor story.