When I was young, I was a Girl Scout – which meant selling Girl Scout cookies (of course)!

I have a vivid memory of sitting in our laundry room, door shut, with (somehow) the phone pulled in there too as well as the family address book, and the school and church directories…calling pretty much everyone we knew to see if they would spend their money buying cookies from me.

My mother made me do it. “It’s good for the cause and good for your character to do this,” she said.

I hated it.

I did not like the feeling of cold-calling people; not sure if they would know who I was much less say yes to buying cookies from me. It made me nervous. It made me anxious. It was unpredictable. I would much rather have done anything rather than spend time asking people for money.

I hated it.

For the record – I sold the most cookies in my troop that year, and the prize for doing so was a new boom-box!

Fast forward 30-some years…my willingness to do something uncomfortable (and my mother’s insistence that I do so) has paid off. I’m not so hesitant to ask for money these days, especially if it’s a cause that:

● I believe strongly in,

● One where I know the money goes, and

● One that directly impacts lives AND change.

Cervivor is that organization, and I consider it a badge of honor to volunteer for, represent, and fundraise for all it does and stands for.

As a part of Cervivor’s leadership team, their Lead Advocacy Educator and a Cervivor Ambassador, I get the privilege of seeing firsthand not only what we do as an organization, but where generously donated funds go. My history with this organization began because of such funds as I was the recipient of money that allowed me to attend my first Cervivor School in 2015. After attending that school, I began to see the positive impact Cervivor has not only on individuals and the greater community but also the impact it has on change. Cervivor is an agent of change. So much so that over the course of 5 years I’ve been able to become a part of that change by having the tools, motivation, confidence, and opportunities to share and leverage my HPV and cervical cancer story in many ways and to many people. I’m also able to be a part of helping others experience this too.

The work that I do for Cervivor, the hours and hours I spend volunteering my time, fulfills me because I not only see change happen, but I get to be a part of training and supporting patients and survivors of cervical cancer which ultimately enables them to become a part of that change as well. In essence, I get to not only see the change, but I get to see it grow too! My primary role as the Lead Advocacy Educator is putting on Cervivor School each year to train new advocates, but I also work to sustain their advocacy efforts and education indefinitely after they leave Cervivor School through routine Cervivor Ambassador calls, mentoring others to share their stories and advocate, hosting Cervivor Chats with experts that impacts our advocacy, and more. I’ve become passionate about training others to be advocates not only because I see that it empowers them as individuals in their own lives, but because I get to see the increasing change in our collective work to eliminate cervical cancer one day.

So now it’s time for me to do the very thing I hated doing so many years ago – ask for money. This time I do so with confidence, pride, and love because:

● I strongly believe in the work we do at Cervivor – otherwise I wouldn’t dedicate so much time and energy into it myself!

● I know where the generously donated money goes – I help to plan and organize just that!

● I see how it impacts lives AND change – I’m living proof of it!

And no, my mother is not making me do this :-).

Will you please donate to Cervivor and help us continue all of our efforts to be a part of eliminating cervical cancer?

For the record – I’ve raised over $3500 for Cervivor and the prize for doing so is impacting lives AND change!

Heather Banks is Cervivor’s Lead Advocacy Educator and recipient of the 2016 Cervivor Champion Award. As a 12-year cervical cancer survivor, she is an active advocate for HPV and cervical cancer awareness and prevention. Heather’s advocacy efforts have included testifying to the FDA in 2013 for co-testing efforts, speaking to government representatives in DC, and becoming a member of Cervivor’s Leadership Team. Heather lives in Indianapolis, Indiana where she is an Instructional Coach and Specialist at the elementary level. She loves spending time with her husband and two children; ages 15 and 12.

“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.