48 Birthdays, 21 Post Cancer

Every year, as my birthday approaches, I go into reflection mode and start thinking about life. Life as it was. Life as it is. Life that almost wasn’t.

My life was forever altered by a diagnosis of cervical cancer at the age of 27. The days following the diagnosis were rough. Within a month of my diagnosis I landed in the hospital with shortness of breath and blood counts so low I needed my first blood transfusion. I spent exactly 30 days in the hospital, not sure if I was coming out alive. If you were around me at that time, you know how terrifying this period was, you know that my coming out of that hospital alive was nothing but a miracle (those were my pneumologist’s actual words). So here I am, celebrating #48 (or the 21st birthday I get to celebrate post diagnosis). 

Survival… Life after cancer… This is something that doesn’t happen to many of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer. Within the last year my Cervivor community lost 4 beautiful women in the prime of their lives as a consequence of cervical cancer. In the USA, where approximately 13,000 women are diagnosed with cancer in the last year, 4,200 women will die due to this cancer. Some people may look at these numbers and think they are small (I’ve been told that before); well let me tell you this: These numbers matter. These numbers matter to the women diagnosed with cancer, hoping they are on the right side of this statistics. These numbers matter to the families of the women who die each year, to the young children that will grow up without their mom… These numbers matter to those of us who survive this disease, because we know how close we cut it, how nerve wracking every follow up is, because the cancer may be gone, but the damage it did to our bodies is permanent (think of infertility, ostomies, lymphedema, neuropathy, bladder problems, just to mention a few). Most importantly, these numbers matter because we can change them. We can change the statistics because we have the means to prevent cervical cancer: The HPV vaccination is the #1 way to prevent cervical cancer. Plain and simple. A vaccine can prevent cervical cancer. I don’t think it can be any easier than that. 

We can literally protect our next generations from cancer-causing HPV strains by simply vaccinating our children (as early as 9yrs. old). It is an important vaccine because it would protect them from the high risk strains that are linked to cervical cancer (and cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, penis, oropharyngeal (back of the throat). Cervical cancer will be like polio; gone, a thing of the past. I would love to see cervical cancer disappear and I believe that is possible with this vaccine. 

So each year, around this time, that sense of duty to those who did not make it demands that I tell you to vaccinate your children. That 27 yr. old Maria, terrified at hearing the news that would change her life forever demands that I tell you to vaccinate your children. It is imperative that you do because this is the one cancer we can basically eradicate. Every now and then I see these prayer chains pop up in social media asking you to share a prayer to find a cure for cancer; well, we now have a vaccination that can prevent a cancer and that is an answered prayer.

Celebrate my 48th birthday with me by scheduling your well-woman exam and vaccinating your children against HPV. Maria Franklin is a 20-year cervical cancer survivor who is also a part of Cervivor Leadership, and heads our Latina advocacy efforts. She was awarded our 2019 Cervivor Champion Award. Watch her story here.

That’s a Wrap!

Can you believe tomorrow is October 1? We can’t either! We have had such an amazing GCAM that we’re not sure we are ready for it to end! It has been an incredible month of advocacy and awareness here at Cervivor. Our community has been absolutely on fire with everything from table events and Cervivor School, to Capitol Hill meetings. We are so proud of all our Ambassadors have accomplished this month. Check it out!

Sarah at Athena’s Run

Cervivor kicked off Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month events with Athena’s Run in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Cervivor Ambassador, Sarah Nielsen, generously hosted a table again this year for the expo. She provided their running community with info about cervical cancer prevention, screening, and of course Cervivor! We were also honored to be asked to be part of the Coming Full Circle Health Fair in New York, NY again! We love this event focused on health information and resources for the community in NYC. Ambassador, Vanessa Santiago, hosted a table and represented Cervivor, as she was able to share about HPV and cervical cancer.

Planting seeds year-round for events during awareness months is an important part of advocacy and something our community strives for. Kristine Sprigler has built a wonderful partnership with UPS and this GCAM was asked to host another Cervivor table at the UPS Employee Night Shift Health Fair! What a great way to advocate and get the word out! Paulette Apostolou is another Ambassador who has cultivated a partnership with her care team and area doctors over the years. This month she hosted a table at the University of Chicago for the Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Day for gyn cancer survivors. She has gone from patient to advocate right in her local community!

Kristine (left) on Capitol Hill

GCAM didn’t stop there. When Kristine wasn’t hosting table events she and Cervivor Ambassador Mary Baker were working with partner organizations, American Cancer Society and the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, to advocate for cervical cancer awareness, prevention, and gynecologic cancer research on Capitol Hill. Mary also participated and shared her Cervivor story as part of the Virginia HPV Leadership Summit at VCU. We are so proud! Way to go Mary and Kristine!

We closed out GCAM with a bang at Cervivor School Massachusetts. Our keynote speaker was the dynamic Nancy G. Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen®. She has dedicated her life’s work to changing the narrative of breast cancer and bringing global awareness to women’s health. She found great inspiration with Cervivor and our stories touched her.

Cervivor School attendees with Nancy Brinker

Other fantastic speakers like Roshanda Pratt, who motivated everyone to find their why, and Dana D’Alessandro Haseotes who talked about our sexual health after cancer. We also met Laura Brennan, our International Cervivor Spotlight from Ireland, who shared how her one voice is making a huge impact in educating her country on the importance of the HPV vaccine. Laura brought her joy, passion and incredible advocacy voice to our weekend.  Rounding out the weekend were Chi Bahk who spoke about social media & vaccine confidence, as well as Jennifer Sienko with the National HPV Roundtable who dug deep on how we as advocates can respond with confidence to all things HPV. We began each day with Cervivor Wellness Instructor, Patti Murillo-Casa. Patti gave us a preview of the Survivor Slimdown project and inspired us to begin each day with movement and gratitude. The new attendees found their advocacy groove, new friendships, and left knowing that Cervivor support comes while we are in action. Cervivor is a movement and we are making a difference!

Cervivor School fun!

Cervivor is so thankful for such a productive GCAM. We have just enough time to catch our breath and start planning for CCAM in January! Stay tuned! Please make sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter and follow us on social media, to get the latest and greatest from our Cervivor Community.

Team Cervivor