A Decade

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a commemoration of Mexican culture and heritage and many take this day to drink their favorite Margaritas (no judgement).  For me “El Cinco de Mayo“ or the fifth of May has a different meaning.  It is the day I celebrate being cancer FREE.  This year I am celebrating 10 years. Therefore, in my mind, everyone is celebrating with me.  So have a margarita for me.  

 Wow! 10 years – a whole decade – what a blessing. 

It is amazing to me that I am here.  Ten years ago, I did not see this as a possibility.  I found myself in a battle fighting for my life.   

I had just retired from the NYC Police Department after 20 years as a Police Officer.  I was getting ready to enjoy life with my husband, but unfortunately, I was deviated from my plans.  Three months after I retired, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer stage IIB.  

What do I do now? Am I going to die?  So many questions and so little answers.  I did not know anyone with this cancer.  I did not even know where it came from.  I was blaming myself for not going to see the doctor on a regular basis.  I have not seen my GYN doctor for over three years.  So much blame, so much shame, so much anger, so much sadness.  

 My journey was difficult to say the least.  After 7 treatments of chemotherapy, 35 treatments of external radiation, and 2 treatments of internal radiation, I was lucky enough to beat this cancer. Yes, I call myself lucky because these past ten years I have seen so many Cervivor sisters that have not made it through.  This makes my heart feel so sad and it brings mixed emotions to the surface.  The common survivor question comes up “why did I make it and not them?”  Sometimes we have to settle for no right answer, but I can assure this – their stories will continue to be shared and they will not be forgotten.

Cancer for sure changed my life forever.  I can look at the negative side and say cancer changed my body. I live in fear that this cancer can come back, I live with the physical and mental scars that this monster left me, I deal with the many secondary effects of my treatments, and I can go on with a big list of many other things. However, I choose to focus on the positive things that cancer gave me – I am part of an extraordinary cervical cancer community.  I have met women that are courageous, brave, strong, determined and supportive.  Women that have personally inspired and motivated me. Women with the common mission to eliminate this cancer forever – that our generation be the last generation with cervical cancer.  

I choose to live every day like it was my last and if it is not; I drop to my knees and give thanks.  

After my cancer, I wanted to make my survivorship count, and Cervivor gave me the opportunity to do just that.  I am a survivor turned advocate.  

 I share my story as many times as I need to. I educate women on the prevention and on the tools; we can utilize to prevent a cervical cancer diagnosis.  I make parents aware of the HPV vaccine for their children.  A vaccine that protects their child for the future from the six different cancers linked to Human Papillomavirus.  

I will be advocating for ten years this coming October and I am determined to continue to do so in the hope to make a difference.  

I try to live every day in the state of love and gratitude.  I am grateful that I am here. I am grateful for these past 10 years.  

Patti is not only a Cervivor Ambassador but also Cervivor’s Wellness Instructor for our Survivor Slimdown Facebook group.

Being a full-fledged Cervivor

I pulled into the parking lot of the Cancer Support Center in Indianapolis one icy January morning, with butterflies in my stomach. My social anxiety was on full-blown high alert as I sat in the car, staring at the building where other cervical cancer survivors were gathering for a Cervivor School event. I took deep breaths. I counted. I wished it wasn’t too early for a stiff drink. But I gathered my courage and walked in. And I haven’t looked back since.

After my whirlwind bout with cervical cancer in 2014, life went back to normal… for everyone else. I tried to find that normal that everyone else so easily slipped back into, but it eluded me. I pushed cancer, and the baggage that came with it, to the back of my mind. I left the online cancer groups that supported me during my diagnosis. I let my cancer blog grow cold and stopped giving updates. I tried to ignore the fears of recurrence that lurked beneath the surface. I tried to hide my tears as I lie awake at night, thinking of the children I so desperately wanted but could no longer carry. I smiled and stayed busy, searching for a normal that doesn’t exist after a cancer diagnosis.

Then one day, with my 2-year cancerversary quickly approaching, I received a Facebook message from Erica, a fellow cervical cancer survivor. She friended me and invited me to an upcoming Cervivor School in Indianapolis. I was hesitant, but intrigued by the thought of meeting other survivors face to face. I decided to give it a try, reassuring myself that Indianapolis was only a few hours from home and I could easily leave if I felt uncomfortable there.

That first Cervivor School I attended was a small, intimate gathering of cervical cancer survivors and caregivers. The other women shared their stories and, for the first time, I shared pieces of mine. Until that day, I hadn’t thought much about my cancer story and how it is intrinsically woven into the fabric of my life. I had spent so much time trying to ignore it, that I was overwhelmed with relief when I was able to finally talk about my experiences. I saw my story reflected in the eyes of the other women who had walked the same path as I. We laughed. We cried. We learned about the medical side of cervical cancer and HPV, and about effective advocacy. I asked questions, and got answers. I let my guard down, and found a sisterhood that filled a hole in my heart I didn’t even know existed. For the first time, I didn’t feel quite so alone. 

I went on to attend another Cervivor School in Charleston, SC and helped plan and attended one in Louisville, KY. I’m so grateful to have had these opportunities and look forward to attending the next school in Florida in June. I learn new things at every Cervivor School and enjoy spending time with other women who truly “get it”. It has not only helped me learn the skills and strategies I need to be an effective advocate for the eradication of cervical cancer, it has also helped me heal. I recognize the personal growth I’ve experienced over the past year and a half, from struggling to accept my identity as a cancer survivor to being a full-fledged Cervivor.

Read Jessica’s Cervivor story here: https://cervivor.org/stories/jessica/