I had data and statistics in my talks, but that wasn’t telling the story that would move people to action

Chair of the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable, Dr. Noel Brewer has given hundreds of talks at scientific conferences and meetings across the globe. He’s advised the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization on vaccination.  He’s one of the most cited researchers in the world. His credentials are impeccable, yet much of the time when he starts a talk, he defers to the experts: patients.

His solution: “Always have people speak who have had the experience. When someone speaks who has had direct experience with cancer, it clears out the mental clutter. It makes you feel. It sets the stage for the important work that will follow.”

Dr. Noel Brewer has shared Lisa Moore’s Cervivor Story hundreds of times to “help people grasp the importance of preventing cancer.”

“To hear about the diagnosis and that awful waiting period. About what they have gone through – the symptoms, the damage caused by treatments, the possible loss of fertility.  These are key parts of the story that survivors can speak about in a personal way that doctors, scientists and other experts simply cannot.”

“As scientists, we often talk about cancer in abstract and technical terms. We convey a lot of important information that doesn’t connect with people’s feelings and imagination. But how can we help people grasp the importance of preventing cancer?” reflects Dr. Brewer.

Dr. Brewer regularly starts his talks with the voice of Lisa Moore. Lisa died of cervical cancer in October 2017, at age 31. Yet through her powerful Cervivor story video, she has educated and impacted thousands.

“I had data and statistics in my talks and trainings, but realized I wasn’t telling the full story. So now, I leave that to Lisa Moore. In her video, she tells the story of her fight with cervical cancer. It’s one minute. It’s powerful. It’s heartbreaking. Every time I show the video, I’m moved by it. And I’ve seen it more than 150 times.”

“At first, Lisa is sitting. She is sewing. She tells her story in very simple and concrete terms. We see her partner in the background, watching her. Every time I show it, people pause and struggle to collect themselves. We sit with Lisa. We feel her pain and her call to action. We take a deep breath together, then we get focused on the work of what we are going to do to prevent cervical cancer.”

Lisa was a true champion for prevention. She educated and advocated and was telling her story…until she could no longer. Lisa lives on in her Cevivor story and in her video, and her passion for prevention and call to action has been seen, heard and felt by researchers, healthcare providers and policy makers around the world. Not just through Dr. Brewer’s use of her video into his talks, but by many others.

“I do many ‘train the trainer’ sessions about HPV vaccination, and connections happen based on Lisa’s video. People often come up to me after, asking if they could also incorporate Lisa’s video in their own outreach. Working with Cervivor, we’ve shared the video many times and amplified the reach of Lisa’s message.”

In video or in person, “Cancer survivors speak with certain authority,” says Dr. Brewer. “You are a moral voice on cervical cancer and all of the ways it affects lives. I don’t know anyone who can speak as powerfully.”

“We’ve shared her video at Cervivor events, and it has been seen and shared many times via our social media platforms. But Dr. Brewer is the one who has really helped to get Lisa’s story to the masses and I am personally thankful to him for that,” said Tamika Felder, founder of Cervivor. “Lisa wanted her story to be shared. She wanted the world to see that not only what cervical cancer had done and taken from her; but also, that it in fact it was not an easy cancer. She wanted her story to help get people vaccinated against HPV so they would not have to suffer the same fate. Dr. Brewer has helped me keep my promise to Lisa. For that I am forever grateful.”

Are you sharing your story?

If you haven’t yet, add your story to our Cervivor Stories. Write a blog post about your experience or your advocacy or about a milestone or simply a memory or reflection and send it to info@cervivor.org. We can publish it and add it to the voice and reach of our Cervivor blog.

As Dr. Brewer reminds us, stories matter. Stories motivate. Stories change minds. Our community’s work sharing our stories is powerful.

A professor of Health Behavior at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public, Dr. Noel Brewer studies health behaviors. He examines ways to increase HPV vaccine uptake, and his research led to the development of “The Announcement Approach” to train providers to communicate more effectively about HPV vaccination and other vaccines for adolescents. Dr. Brewer chairs the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable, which brings a wide cross-section of stakeholders together to raise HPV vaccination rates and prevent HPV cancers.

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.