My Security Blanket

Some cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy treatments opt to have a medi-port implanted. Sounds bionic right? Super powers you will not have but this is a pain-free way to receive systemic treatments and blood draws. 

I was holding on to Porsche, my PowerPort™ partly as a security blanket of sorts. I have recurrent, metastatic cervical cancer and for five years she was working pretty much non-stop. 

Port flush day

When you’re port isn’t in use, you have it flushed with saline every three months or so. Kind of inconvenient but I kept it up and each time Porsche grew increasingly defiant. I had to practically stand on my head to get her to give a blood return. Clearly, she was tired and I didn’t blame her.

I’ve been NEND (no evidence of new disease) for four years now so I thought it was time to let her go. I just didn’t think I’d be doing it during a pandemic when maybe being in a hospital wasn’t the first place you’d want to be.

Once I made peace with my COVID fear, what really hit me as I walked into the hospital was that I was doing this alone. No partner, no kids, no parents, no friends. I never had to go through any previous surgeries without this support. I always had a hand to hold and a familiar face to see. 

What made the experience better was the amazing pre-op team. It felt good to talk with the nurses about their work during COVID, and I was just so grateful to them. Their care has always been exceptional but it felt broader this time.

Surgery was a breeze, and my doctor even showed me Porsche so I could thank her one last time for all her hard work. One of my breast cancer besties said that some people are decorating their ports as keepsakes! 

I love that we all decide how to move through our traumas in our own way. Bedazzling ports, getting special tattoos, sharing our experiences on social media, or simply holding space for our hurt. Whatever speaks to you is the best way to heal.

Carol is our Lead Cervivor Ambassador who manages our Cervivor MeetUp program and heads our CCAM 2021 Committee. She was named our 2020 Cervivor Champion award recipient. Carol lives in Northern California where she raised two amazing kids and hikes with her husband and their fur baby Ace.

Gratitude Awakening

Dogwood in bloom.

A sense of deep gratitude is something that I have carried with me since finishing treatment for cervical cancer. Especially during those first phases of recovery when you feel like you’re stepping out of the fog and back into the world. It was overwhelming to go outside and have my lungs fill with fresh air, feel sun on my skin, and to finally have an ounce of energy with which to enjoy it. I would walk my dog every day and take it all in with my (cautious) sense of victory over cancer. No phone to distract me, just the awe of what once felt so mundane.

Cervivor School Cape Cod 2018

Like so many of my Cervivor sisters, I had a complete shift in my mindset after going through cancer. There’s a level of gratitude attained after being isolated and having your mortality hanging over you like a dark cloud every single minute.

The sick feeling is so strong that it’s hard to imagine ever being able to feel better. I remember spending those hard days thinking about what I would do once it was all over. I mainly daydreamed about family gatherings with yummy meals, or spending time out in nature. The shift in mindset also pertained to relationships. I was alive, and ready to live my best life. That meant deciding what, and who, was worth my time and effort. It meant ditching behaviors that didn’t serve my purpose, and creating boundaries where needed to stay true to what was important to me.

In this uncertain time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole world is getting a taste of what it’s like to be threatened by their environment, stuck with their worries and no sense of control over any of it. I see friends beginning to talk about what they’ll do after this is over, and what I see is so similar to my own experience. People aren’t talking about going on a lavish vacation; they just want to get their nails done. Or hug a neighbor. See a movie in the theater. Catch up with friends in person. Not have to disinfect groceries. Normal, everyday activities that were previously taken for granted are now desperate aspirations. That is what it feels like all the time for those fighting cancer, but at an even more basic level. Personally, I dreamed to be able to walk four feet to the bathroom without breaking a sweat. Not having to be bathed by my partner while holding the wall for support. Feeling fresh air on my face and having real light shine down on me after recovering indoors for so long. Walking up a flight of steps all by myself. Holding down food. I learned that being mad about my situation didn’t make it go away. There was no workaround. The only way out was through. 

Pretty Azaleas blooming in my yard.

Having been faced with all that and making it through to the other side, I was going to start living my life unapologetically and with a renewed sense of appreciation for what matters at the core. When you can no longer do such simple functions, you learn what matters in life, and what really doesn’t— like the ten extra pounds gained from coping with a very scary time.

My hope is that when the pandemic is over and everyone can come out of their homes and go back to work, that a prevailing sense of gratitude will make the world a bit softer of a place to be, for the short time that we’re here to enjoy it. I hope people will see that the time to live your life is now. I hope when regular life resumes, and it will be that ever present “new normal” us cancer survivors so often speak of, that people don’t forget what it was like to have the rug yanked from under them by circumstances beyond their control. Hard times make us strong and perspective, makes us compassionate. I am grateful that we still have the wonder of the outdoors to soothe our souls, Zoom to see our friends, and for the people working so hard to keep us safe and healthy. 

Mary Baker is a three year survivor of stage 3B cervical cancer. She is an advocate for women’s health, a mom of two and proud Cervivor Ambassador and Cervivor School graduate.