The Elephant in the Room

It’s probably time to address the elephant in the room – Stage IV cancer. Words that typically come along with this stage diagnosis are incurable, terminal, and life-threatening. In my case, my cervical cancer has metastasized and spread to my collarbone and armpit area. Compared with many, my Stage IV is ‘minor’ because it is not present in my blood, bones, or brain. BUT it is incurable. The goal is to treat until we reach a point of NED (No Evidence of Disease), a pseudo remission. And for the remainder of my time, I will need to regularly test for recurrence. 

So, I’m not going to live forever; who is? And maybe I won’t live as long as I hoped, but there are new advances in treatment daily! I don’t discuss this part of my cancer journey very often because I refuse to give it any credence.

What I find curious is that I didn’t invite that particular elephant into my room. It was placed there by others. I know cancer is an uncomfortable subject for many, but to quote Monty Python, “I’m not dead yet”, so please don’t treat me like I am! 

The elephant in my room is a very different beast. Meet Ganesha! Ganesha is a Hindu deity that is known as the remover of obstacles. He is a symbol of prosperity and wealth, and he is believed to bring good luck. This is definitely the elephant I need in my corner; a hopeful, powerful and positive force! 

I believe that “the diversity of faith should be appreciated and celebrated.” (Stephen Mattson quote) That’s why I’m so appreciative of any prayers, positive vibes, or good juju sent my way. I’ll take it all and return it tenfold, should you need it! My ultimate goal is an honest relationship with my creator and maybe in my world, gods and elephants occupy the same space!

There are a few more elephants that I choose to have in my space and one of them is my support group. “In the wild, female elephants are known as fierce protectors. And when one of their sisters is suffering, they circle up around her. They close in tight, watch guard, and even kick dust around her to mask her vulnerable scent from predators. And yet, we are the same. This is who we are, and who we are meant to be for each other. Sometimes we’re the ones in the middle. Sometimes we’re the ones kicking up dust with fierce, fierce love. But the circle remains.” – From the Festive Farm Co.

The last elephant in my room is my mom. She was the first lover of elephants I knew (a byproduct of living in Thailand). I fondly remember her collection of elephant figurines, turned towards the window to keep the bad luck at bay. Sadly, she passed from liver cancer ten years ago, but she would have been the first to lead the charge to circle up in support. And her wisdom and strength are ever present in my room (and life), because like elephants, love remembers.

And so, my journey continues. With a lot of faith, hope, love, support, and my elephants, I plan on living every day to the fullest!

Christy K. Chambers is a world-traveling, military brat who moved to the east coast for college and never left. She currently resides in Monroe, North Carolina with her husband, son, and doggo, Ethel Mertz. A Jill-of-all-trades, she has had multiple careers in theatre, stage lighting, commercial printing, retail and paper arts. Christy was diagnosed with Stage IVb cervical cancer in May 2022 after she went for a routine Pap test. She completed round one of treatment in August 2022 and is currently being treated with immunotherapy.

In Their Own Words: Five Cancer Research Sheroes

Whether referring to those who are influencing medical milestones in cancer research, the women who are thriving, or our loved ones who are now in our memories and forever in our hearts, Cervivor is proud to highlight the women who share their stories, rallying fists, and expertise that help us get closer to a cure.

And to be clear, this is not the pride that interferes with faith or recognition of a higher calling; This is the delight and fulfillment that keeps us here, fighting, sharing, educating and yelling from mountaintops that we can find a cure. So during this Women’s History Month, we want to acknowledge women (who, by the way make up nearly 70% of the entire world’s healthcare workforce), and shout out five women in cancer research and healthcare – in their own words. 

Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: “I feel like we’re right on the cutting edge of discoveries that will create incredibly good outcomes for our patients with cancer … Finally, people can see that what we’ve been saying for all these years about immunotherapy is correct. But more important, we can now deliver the hope to patients that we’ve been working so hard for.” 

Rosalind Franklin, British chemist whose doctoral student took the infamous “Photo 51,” that first showed the iconic double helix of DNA in 1952: “ … Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. Science, for me, gives a partial explanation of life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience and experiment. Your theories are those which you and many other people find easiest and pleasantest to believe, but so far as I can see, they have no foundation other than they lead [cq] to a pleasanter view of life …Read more.

Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela, Assistant Director-General for Strategic Programmatic Priorities: Cervical Cancer Elimination: “I’m always an optimist. When you have a life and you have opportunities, we should strive to progress and share this enthusiasm with new communities. We must use this global commitment to elimination for national action. We can make a huge contribution to the lives of women who are less privileged and advantaged than we are. And move together towards a world free of cervical cancer … The most important message that we are communicating to everybody is to take this forward together, in one united push, and to maintain the momentum.” Read more.

Helen Coley Nauts—the daughter of Dr. William B. Coley, the Father of Cancer Immunotherapy (CRI) who helped advance her father’s work despite not having a college degree or scientific training: “You must be aware that no one else but me has so far made a detailed and painstaking study of all possible aspects of this form of treatment. Until such time as you may train a person with a more impressive medical background, I would suggest that you appoint me as a sort of registrar of information on the above mentioned Toxin clearing house.” Read more of Naut’s letters chronicling her advocacy toward a new path of cancer research in the 1950s.

Dr. Lillian L. Siu, Canadian oncologist, clinician scientist and recipient of the International Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Award: “All of us have family members who are affected by the disease, by cancer. There’s always going to be a personal component to most oncologists that enter the field. You have to understand something about the heart, you have to understand something about the lungs … you almost have to be a jack of all trades. That’s what intrigues me about oncology and cancer medicine. And obviously, to make a big difference in cancer is going to be very rewarding because that’s going to save a lot of lives and make a lot of difference in people’s lives.” Watch more.

Learn more about our cervivors, who we, too salute, this month and share their stories with your circles! Have a story of your own? Share it with us!