Cervivor, My Teal Sisters

Imagine you are in the best shape of your life – all your hard work in all aspects of your life are paying off. You are living your best life. This was me on New Year’s Day 2017. Little did I know that all that work would make me stronger to fight what was soon to come.
January 2017 – I have an abnormal mammogram which turns into a biopsy that turns into a Stage 0 breast cancer diagnosis. Surgery occurs in April with radiation therapy until the beginning of June. I get through that with no issues and ready to get back to my “normal life”. With 3 radiation treatments left I was back to running. On a short run, I thought I was having UTI symptoms and went to an urgent care which lead to an ER visit that led to an advanced stage ovarian cancer diagnosis. You have got to be kidding. Lots of tests and appointments later – surgery and front line chemotherapy for 6 cycles to hopefully end in December. 

All my friends are very supportive and amazing but they none have gone through anything like this. I am grateful for them every day. My active running (race) plans are totally sidelined including the New York City Marathon the 1st weekend in November. During this time I am a sponge trying to soak in all the information I can about ovarian cancer, treatment options, and trying to find a way to get back to my “normal life”. Instead of the NYC Marathon, I find the Gynecologic Cancer Survivor Course with The Foundation for Women’s Cancer that includes a 5k in DC that same weekend.  A perfect distraction and an opportunity to learn more!

I arrive early to the seminar to pick out the best seat and maybe meet a few people. The people who sit at my table are lovely but serious and I don’t have a lot in common with them except for cancer. Then this high energy group of ladies walk into the room and sat down at the table next to me. My table didn’t have any empty seats and someone at the table had a friend still coming…perfect opportunity for me to change seats! I politely asked if I could join the ladies at the next table. They “warned” me that they were a rowdy bunch. (My thoughts were, PERFECT!) After introductions they treated me like one of the gang and I am sure that they were glad to have someone new with whom they could tell all their great stories. I learned so much not only from the sessions but from each of them and about their journeys. All of them are cervical cancer survivors from Cervivor!  While they have all have/had setbacks, they are all positive and always looking for the future.

During this weekend, I had an unexplained issue with both of my Achilles tendons – I could barely walk at one point. (It was later determined I was having an extreme reaction to an antibiotic.) I was now going to miss the 5K which was very disappointing. My new friends kept my spirits up the entire time. We hung out and walked together at the 1 mile event. We had a great time and the weekend was a success. Good information and now some new friends who understand and share my attitude about living with cancer.We have kept in touch since through Facebook and even some live chats. I have shared some of my obstacles with them even before sharing them with my inner circle of close friends. They understand.

Me in the teal hat! Photo courtesy of the Foundation for Women’s Cancer.

I was entered again into the New York City Marathon for 2018. With my recurrence and chemo treatments, my training has been awful and I decided to not run the marathon again. While disappointed, it opened my schedule for that weekend. I am now looking forward to attending the 2018 Race to End Women’s Cancer and Gynecologic Cancer Education Course in DC. I can’t wait to learn new information, run a 5k, and hang out with “old friends.”

Maureen Bowen, a Raleigh NC resident, is a Sales Product Specialist at Net Health and has worked in the healthcare IT field for over 20 years. When she is not working, you are likely to find her on a race course somewhere across the country. She has completed over 160 half marathons (all 50 states twice), 27 marathons, and 8 ultra marathons (races ranging from 31-100 miles). If you see her on a race course near you, please make sure to say hello!

Why October is the Worst

We didn’t get this post from Ambassador Danielle until very late October, and, because the National Race to End Women’s Cancer last week, we needed to write about that. It doesn’t make this post any less important. We are so proud and honored to have people like Danielle writing about and fighting for Cervivor. – Tamika

Photo by Greg McGoonPart of me hates to be writing this. Mostly because of the nonsensical war on women’s healthcare that the conservative right is waging once again via their attacks on Planned Parenthood. The last thing I want to do is make it sound like I’m trying to divide camps within the side for which I fight. But it’s important that I say this.

October sucks. It really does.

Within all its leaf changing, pumpkin-spiced glory, it is also 31 days of making people I care about feel discouraged.

Why? Because September is Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month and I would bet that 75 percent of the people reading this sentence had no idea that even existed. But everyone knows about October. Like my dad who puts his Christmas tree out the 1st of November, October pink starts to seep in sometime around the end of August.

You unfortunately can’t wrap the “below the belt” cancers in a neat pink ribbon. There’s uterine, ovarian and cervical, among others, and some 90,000 women are diagnosed every year. And to really fight for them? To raise even one tenth of the money that breast cancer awareness does? It means we have to talk about it. Really talk about it. And that is the last thing people want to do. Because it’s uncomfortable. Because it conjures up very specific imagery. Breast cancer survivors and battlers are to be revered by the media and society. Women with cancer in and around their reproductive system? Let’s sweep that quietly under the rug.

Why can’t my friend, a 13-year cervical cancer survivor who had a full hysterectomy at the age of 25 be commended for her struggle? Or my friend’s mother who beat unlikely odds for ovarian cancer not look embarrassed every time the subject comes up? For their fight to be heard in a sea of news outlets that don’t want to publish their stories in favor of another breast cancer advocate? These are the same outlets that refused to highlight the HPV connection to Farah Fawcett’s anal cancer because we can’t possibly discuss how people in the world might be having (gasp!) unprotected anal sex like many see featured on sites such as www.nu-bay.com so often.

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But what can be done about this stigma? One particular media outlet has repeatedly reinforced this negative stigma with articles like “The Silent Shame of HPV,” containing anonymous stories about coping with it. Even worse, this more recent and incredibly tone deaf sexist piece “Iron Maiden Singer Vanquishes Sex Cancer.”

Recently xoJane published a fantastic article with The STD Project interviewing people who decided not to remain anonymous and instead confidently and intelligently spoke out about living with herpes — one of the most traditionally stigmatized health conditions of all. So you’re telling me that THE DAILY BEAST couldn’t find ONE person to speak to about HPV without condition of anonymity? I call bullshit. That and pure old fashioned laziness on the part of the writers. Because if you do even the lightest of Google searches you will find the Foundation for Women’s Cancer, ASHA, and Cervivor, all organizations with women willing to put a name and a face to a disease that the media would prefer to overlook. I emailed THE DAILY BEAST back when that first article published, calling them out on their negligence and their response was to say that people don’t want to talk about it because they are embarrassed. Dear editors, a title like “The Silent Shame of HPV” doesn’t help matter. You’re also incorrect because I’m not a journalist or a reporter and I can name 10 people off the top of my head who will talk about it because I’ve read their personal blogs online. Many people who have often enjoyed videos from TubeV Sex while also having sex and contracting the HPV making them brave enough to speak out about it but they won’t highlight those who are talking about the struggle.

pinktober1-44814_640x320But I didn’t write this in the hopes of starting a “boo to breast cancer” campaign. (Someone else must have thought of that name for a 5K by now right?) I just find all the hoopla over one disease so limiting and overall not the best course of action. A brave talented woman who best sums up some of the trivialization that Pinktober and pinkwashing has brought to the breast cancer movement is writer and breast cancer survivor Diane Mapes. She has from diagnosis to recovery mapped out a very honest and decidedly un-pink description of what she has endured but it hasn’t prevented her from covering and reporting on all kinds of health issues in her informative and forthright manner. Her attitude is one from which many other journalists could learn.

My point is that the benefit that breast cancer receives from all the October attention is confirmation that people are listening. They have a massive rapt audience thrilled to root for them and raise them up and make them feel good about their battle. Any other organization trying to raise funds for medical research and educational awareness would kill for even a small percentage of the breast cancer reach.

Ovarian cancer accounts for more death than any other cancer of the female reproductive system and cervical cancer is, for the most part, preventable, so why all the secrecy? It’s 2015. Aren’t there enough media outlets for more people to share their stories for the greater good?

I’m glad October is over because I’ve learned to dread October every year. It’s a reminder of the world we live in, and that it abides by a news cycle that would rather regurgitate the same story over and over rather than truly educate and move forward. That we won’t collectively strive for a better discussion about our overall health because certain things are difficult to discuss. It’s better to leave them unsaid and stick to talking about boobs or nothing at all. Or, we choose to not give a significant platform to women who have gathered up the courage to shout their stories and we stand there, smile with false sympathy and ask, “But do you have a celebrity spokesperson like Angelina? No? Oh then your story? Your pain? It’s not clickable.”

I’m giving you a whole year to think about this. Next October? And all year round? I’m asking you to think outside the bra. Don’t pat yourself on the back for praising a woman for her strength in her health struggles if you’re not taking into account the whole woman.

After all the primary fight for feminism has always been getting the world to see women as more than just a pair of tits.

Ambassador Danielle