The Gift of Creating Connections

My name is Jodi Madsen. I am an active cervical cancer patient, in both treatment and spreading awareness about the importance of women’s health and HPV. I was diagnosed with stage 3C2R adenosquamous cell carcinoma of the cervix in February of 2021. I live in North Dakota with my husband, who serves in the United States Air Force, and our two little boys. North Dakota isn’t really your prime real estate for any medical specialty, so if you’re going to go looking for gynecologic anything, you’d have the same amount of luck finding oceanfront property outside their practice. I travel ten hours to Omaha, NE for every single appointment since there are no qualified persons within a reasonable range. My insurance had some input on that decision and actually was kind enough to make it for me! While I love my care institute, I am sad to miss out on living closer to women in similar situations and being able to participate in support groups. 

From the beginning of a cancer diagnosis, there is one word that has always lingered close by. Lonely. I think the bottom line of that comes down to knowing I can’t convey my feelings correctly to those I love and that is incredibly isolating and frustrating. There are so many things that instantly change when you become the patient that you don’t even realize. In an effort to de-alienate myself I started a blog. I started it for many reasons, the biggest was to hold the connection with my friends and family, as well as nurture new connections and share with women unfortunate to be met with the same diagnosis should they run across it in the future. That blog gave me a spark and was always something for me to do to pull me out of the gallows. Believe it or not, even the most annoyingly chipper of us end up down there quite often. I haven’t written much lately and the “Oscar” radiating off me is uncanny. 

One day last fall, I was scrolling Facebook in a large cervical cancer support group, and I saw someone asking for help with writing blogs for CCAM (Cervical Cancer Awareness Month) for a smaller organization. Nervously, I mentioned that I have been writing blogs about my experience. I liked the organization’s page, joined the private group, and began freaking out. Who do I think I am, thinking I can use this voice? Until I saw the community I just stepped into. Each question is answered with care and love no matter the nature. Every single woman is encouraged to share their stories. Not a writer? They have prompts ready! I was so happy seeing the patient being the center light here and what looked like genuine friendships showing up all over the place. What is this wonderful island offering me so much hope after less than ten minutes of interaction?! Cervivor

Not long after these first few interactions, a day came along with an event called, Creating Connections. It was a Zoom meet-up with a speaker and two Cervivor Ambassadors acting as moderators to keep the conversation loosely based on parenting with cervical cancer. It was my first interaction of the sort that was like a support group and it was wonderful! There were about 15 women present and after we took turns giving small introductions to our stories, we were able to listen to some wonderful pointers on how to explain things to our little kiddos regarding treatment, medications, time away from home, and other key confusing factors for them. 

That night I met a pal, Caroline. Caroline stood out because she has little children too, and lives near where my husband is from. Just like that, with a two-second snippet of her introduction, I knew I had found a person to meet in real life when I am in that area. Because I joined that online meet-up last October, I now have a friend to show me a new coffee shop and get away from the family for a bit when I join my in-laws for a week. How cool! Let’s add this to the list of incredible feelings I get from being a part of the Cervivor community. The power I feel that I have gained from the support of both the Cervivor organization and the Cervivors themselves is insurmountable! Talk about a boost!

As time has passed and treatments have come and gone, I have become less active in both my own blog and posting in support of Cervivor. Many reasons have contributed to my absence, but because of the family environment, I can always hop back in like I never left. Much like I did a few weeks ago when attending another Creating Connections. I was on the road, so I had to be muted for most of it, but getting to listen to my friends brought in a brightness I needed so deeply in my soul. What I didn’t know I was needing, as a cherry on top, was the number of attendees waiting to introduce themselves to the rest of us. Several of the Creating Connections meet-ups I have been to have been about the same 12-20 people in attendance. We are able to make deeper connections and learn much more about each other when it is the same smaller group of us, but there is an absence of diversity. 

So when I logged on to see nearly 30 women in attendance, I was in shock! (And also a little curious about how long it would take us to get through introductions! Ha!) There were women with brand new diagnoses and women who have been a patient for months and had just found Cervivor. In every case, each new introduction tugged on and successfully pulled some tears. Where I was nearly a year ago, here these women are fulfilling what I had dreamed for the reach of Cervivor. I have wanted to see more women finding this incredible group sooner in their journeys, and it was happening right before my eyes. Every time I thought about these beautiful women that came off so incredibly strong right out of the gate, the tears overtook my hard-shelled heart. 

I know how hard everyone in the Cervivor community works behind the scenes, and it’s amazing the amount of things you see put together. The number of things they are constantly working on would blow your mind. To be associated with these hard-working ladies is an honor, and to be able to recognize the growth of the group is so cool! I’m not sure if it is success that you can measure by attendance and participation, but it sure feels like it. Thank you, Cervivor, for giving me another home that just fits, and the opportunity to see the growth and success, as well as take pride in such an incredible organization. You help me live through so many seasons, and with this one, I am beaming with pride.

Jodi is the recipient of Cervivor’s 2022 Brittany Wagner Social Media Advocacy Award and is a passionate advocate. She shares the highs and lows of living with cervical cancer and brings light to our community.

The Power of Community and an Exceptional Gift

⚠️ This content may be triggering for some. Includes infertility and pregnancy. ⚠️

Dearest Cervivor Community,

Happy Survivorship Month! No matter where you land, it’s a reason to celebrate. Even if you’re just celebrating today. We all get so caught up in milestones. It’s hard not to. Comparisons are everywhere and we all just want so much more time. But what I’ve learned over the years is that each new day is really the greatest gift. One day at a time.

Beyond National Cancer Survivor Month, I’ve got a bunch of reasons to celebrate. June is also my birthday month (yay for birthdays!), and today marks the anniversary of my radical hysterectomy at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland.

Twenty-one years! I remember when the hospital called to confirm my surgery. I was 25 years old, shocked and terrified that I wouldn’t get to see my 26th birthday. I pleaded with the scheduling coordinator to schedule surgery after my birthday. I thought, if this was it, I was at least going to celebrate one last time. But I didn’t get my way. My radical hysterectomy to rid my body of the cervical cancer tumor that was taking over was scheduled for June 14, 2001, at 7 am. I walked myself into the operating room, got up on the table, and woke up hours later – forever changed, both physically and mentally.

I didn’t know then how my own diagnosis with cervical cancer would play a role in my own life, as well as the lives of others. I couldn’t even imagine my current role as a patient advocate, and leader in the cervical cancer patient advocacy space. It certainly wasn’t a goal of mine, but I just created what I wished I’d had. This “work” has been life-changing, fulfilling, difficult, triggering, and yet one of the greatest joys of my life. I’m proud of what we’ve built together as a community. My dedication to our cause is greater than ever before.

The last few years have been challenging to say the least. We’ve weathered so much together, and now we can include an ongoing pandemic to that list. During the pandemic we kept the community going with virtual events. In fact, it was during one of those virtual events that I met someone so very special from our community, Ginny Marable.

Ginny joined us for several events and was even a speaker at our September 2020 Cervical Cancer Summit. While I was learning more about Ginny, unbeknownst to me, she was also learning more about me. She saw my true desire to be a mom, and the heartbreak that it would probably never happen due to my hysterectomy.

Fast forward: Ginny and her husband Sean began their path to parenthood via a gestational carrier. She shared their beautiful journey with us as a community, as well as on social media. When her twin boys were born, I was so elated for them, but if I’m honest, I also felt that familiar ping that I would never experience that moment. But I was just so happy for her, that feeling of sadness was fleeting.

Another short fast forward: Ginny reached out to me for a phone conversation. Never in my wildest dreams could I have known how that call would have changed my life. I mean, I haven’t even met Ginny in person – only through our virtual space. So, I’d like to make June even more memorable by sharing with my Cervivor community at large that Ginny is giving me an exceptional gift that I never imagined could be bestowed on me – motherhood.

Ginny has simply taken the power and love of this community to an entirely different level. We shared our unique story with Insider and you can read about it here.

My hope is that you will feel all the love, and our “Cervivor Spark”. But simply, thank you, Ginny!

With Love and Gratitude,

Tamika Felder
Chief Visionary, Cervivor, Inc. 
21-year Cervivor
Mom-to-be