“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.

The ER diagnosed my pain as sciatica instead of advanced cervical cancer

My cervical cancer story started in my 40s. I’d been a single mother to three amazing children. They’d all grown up and I had started taking better care of myself and my health. For many years, I admit, I didn’t do my annual check-ups and Pap smear. I didn’t have insurance, but I also did not make time. I didn’t understand the importance of annual exams. I didn’t know what I was up against.

Tracy at Cervivor School 2019 in Chicago

When I turned 45, I started noticing that my periods were different. I was having pain during intercourse. My lower back and the backs of my legs hurt constantly. I still didn’t have health insurance, so I didn’t go to the doctor. I thought my back hurt because I was trying to get healthier and doing more exercise. I lived with the pain for a while until I finally decided to go to the ER when the pain became worse.  

At the hospital, I was told my pain was a “sciatic nerve” to be treated with ice and heat. They didn’t do a pelvic exam or ask about my reproductive health history or anything about that part of my body. They just assumed they knew what was wrong, and they sent me home.

(I guess they didn’t know what I know now:  that low back pain and pelvic pain can be linked to problems with reproductive organs such as the cervix. That a sign of cervical cancer is pelvic pain – especially continuous pain, like the type I had.)

The pain went on for months. Then a day before my 46th birthday,  I was going to the bathroom and something came out that was not normal – it was what looked to be a piece of flesh, from inside me. I knew right then something was wrong.  The day after my 46th birthday, I went back to the ER. This time, they took me in for a CAT scan. After the scan, the ER doctor came in the room and handed me a card. He told me they saw a mass and that I needed to contact the doctor on the card ASAP. 

I left the hospital crying, confused and scared. I was able to get an appointment for the following day. That doctor found an 8 cm tumor on my cervix. She told me right then, “I am sorry to tell you but you have cervical cancer.”

I did not know what to say or think. I burst out into tears. I knew my life had changed forever. I didn’t know what HPV or cervical cancer was. I was scared I was going to die.

My next six months were all treatment, a lot of it: 28 rounds of radiation, 6 rounds of chemo and 4 rounds of internal radiation also known as brachytherapy – a procedure that involves placing radioactive material inside your body.

The good news: in August 2017, I was told I was cancer free! 

Today I want to teach everyone about HPV, cervical cancer and the other cancers that HPV can cause. I want to encourage all parents of boys and girls to make sure their kids get the HPV vaccine. I want to educate women of all ages to keep up with their annual gyn exams.

I also want to make sure that women and doctors know about the connection between lower back pain and pelvic pain to cervical cancer. While of course back pain and pelvic pain can be caused by many different reasons, it is important to at least be aware of the connection and ask questions. I wish the doctors in the ER had asked me before diagnosing me with sciatic nerve pain. I wish I knew to ask questions myself and to mention my irregular bleeding and pain during sex, even though I was at the ER for “back pain.” Cervical cancer is not something I want anyone else to go through. I am going to work hard for the rest of my life to spread the word and end the stigma.

Tracy Jimenez  is a 2-year cervical cancer survivor from Colorado who recently attended the 2019 Cervivor School, where she learned “that cancer will not stop me and that I will be a voice to educate others. I am a fighter and Cervivor School showed me no one is alone in this fight.”

Read Tracy’s full Cervivor story