It Doesn’t Matter.

Mentally, it’s been a rough couple of months. I’ve dealt with things that have tried my patience, trust and confidence. I’ve struggled with various emotions that vary from angry to upset to anxious. And looking back on all of it, I can’t believe it’s all due to other people’s actions.

As a cervical cancer survivor of three years, I was always looking for support and friendship from other women who’d had similar experiences both during and after cancer treatment. I’d made some friends through various Facebook groups and then came upon an organization that would help me use my cancer story to possibly help others. For almost two years the organization meant the world to me. I put it and its founder on a pedestal, holding in high regard every person I met, befriended and learned from. A few months ago I was removed from the group completely for reasons I still don’t understand (feel free to read about that here) and it truly hurt and angered me. Not only was I removed from the organization (along with a few other remarkable cancer survivors), but the founder, who I’d considered a friend and confidant, completely cut ties with me as did a few other women I’d met, shared feelings with, and called friends. I have happy smiling photos with my fellow cervical cancer “sisters” that I now know were all filled with false care and emotion. Being dropped, being thrown away, without question (and without answers) was extraordinarily painful on many levels. It made me question who my friends were, who I could trust. And it also made me question how fellow cancer survivors could treat one another so horribly. Women who’ve all been through such similar stories, such scary life events, so willing to shit on each other so easily. It’s taken me months to move completely past this, though it still bothers me even though those who hurt me probably never gave it a second thought. But my revelation for today is, in the long run: It Doesn’t Matter.

Recently at work I’ve dealt with some difficult situations. I’m fairly calm at work. I do my job to the best of my ability, get things done on time, and go home to my family. My work is not my life, but I do my best with each project and take pride in what I do. But these last few issues at work have gotten me fired up, which doesn’t happen easily. I was bringing my anger home with me, letting colleagues I didn’t agree with or who were making me feel threatened affect my daily attitude. But yet again, I reminded myself today, the arguments and what others think of me, they just don’t matter.

I don’t like to think about my time going through cancer. It was not an easy thing for me to cope with (when is it ever?). I was unhappy, depressed and terrified. But three years later I am alive, healthy and surrounded by family who love me, a husband who adores me, a child who looks up to me. I AM LUCKY.

These issues that have come into my life are mere hiccups in comparison to what I went through when I found out I had cancer in 2014. These people, these conflicts, are mere tests of life put in front of me to remind me of what’s important in life: my child, my family, and my true friends. I don’t need people who don’t respect me. And I don’t need to do anything to make people like me. If you don’t like me, it doesn’t matter. I was doing just fine before you, and I’ll to just fine without you.

I don’t wish anyone whose hurt or angered me any ill-will (not anymore at least). I do hope they eventually realize how hurtful they were, especially those in the cancer community. Calling yourself a cancer advocate and then adding stress and hurt to a fellow cancer survivor’s life is seriously despicable. It’s those people who should know better about what stress can do to a person’s health and well-being. But I urge anyone dealing with people like this to step back for a few minutes, look at those who’ve hurt them without second thought, and say, “It doesn’t matter, I don’t need you.”

You are a better person without them. Keep moving forward.

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Survivor’s Guilt is Real

In January 2017 I wrote a blog post for the Cervivor organization. Since I am no longer affiliated with the organization as of a few months ago, they’ve removed the post. But today on my Facebook “On this Day” memories, I was reminded of my visit three years ago to a cervical cancer friend in Delaware who I’d become very close with. I was lucky enough to witness her surprise wedding and to give her so many hugs. She’s sadly no longer with us anymore, and since then I’ve seen others pass from cervical cancer who were such bright lights in this world. I felt today was a good day to share what I had written last year about survivor’s guilt as it is something so very real, no matter how long any of us have been NED (no evidence of disease).

“We’ve all lost people in our lives, family members and friends who we’ve loved dearly. But when you’re a cancer survivor, the loss of a friend you’ve met from your cancer journey stirs up a different kind of grief. It’s called survivor’s guilt, and it often has a different meaning for everyone.

 In the summer of 2014, when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, I joined a Facebook support group because I didn’t know anyone who’d ever gone through this type of cancer. I felt the need to find women I could talk to and who were feeling or had felt similar fears and anxieties as I was. The women I met were remarkable and supportive and from that online community I gained a small, but very close group of girlfriends. Women I talked to online every day as I went through surgeries and treatments. Women I shared stories of my life with because our bond became so much more than our cancer.

Just over a year ago, one of my beautiful teal sisters passed away after battling a recurrence. She was an amazing friend who shined brighter than anyone I’d ever met. She lived a few hours away and I had been lucky enough to visit her twice. The first time was for a benefit to help raise money to help her as she underwent treatment. She surprised us all as it turned into a wedding and she stood before us and married the man of her dreams. The second visit was full of sadness as she’d been placed on hospice. It was a difficult visit, but to hug her and hold her hand one more time and share our loving friendship was touching. A few weeks later she passed with her husband by her side.

I think of my friend daily. Cancer brought us together, gave us a friendship that will forever be engraved in my soul. But cancer took her from me, took her from her family. It makes me sad and angry at the same time. As a survivor when you lose someone to cancer, so many questions run through your mind. Why was her cancer worse than mine? Why did cancer take her away? Why am I still here?

Survivor’s guilt makes you wonder what made your diagnosis and treatment different from that of someone whose cancer took them away. You feel guilty because you’re still here to love and be loved, and they have left this world, leaving their loved ones much too soon.

I’m reminded of my friend through old Facebook posts and text messages I refuse to delete. Though I only knew her for a little more than a year, she touched my life in so many beautiful ways. And when I feel that guilt rising up, she somehow brings me strength and lends me some of her shine. She is one of the reasons I became an advocate. The world should not have lost Melissa’s shine because of cancer. I’m lucky to have known her, lucky to feel her love inside me to help me push forward and tell other women about cervical cancer prevention.”

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Melissa and her amazing husband Ed on their wedding day.

Here’s to you Melissa McGroerty Fisher. I miss you every single day and will never, ever forget you and how you helped me through the toughest time in my life.

To My Daughter on Her 9th Birthday

Nine years ago I was in labor after waking in the middle of the night with contractions. Nine years ago I was told you were stuck and taken into surgery to have a C-section. Nine years ago I cried when they lifted you up so I could see you and your daddy held you first because I wasn’t able to yet. Nine years ago you came into our world and made it brighter and more promising.

Today, you headed off to school, a special treat to share with your third grade classroom in tow, and an excited smile painted on your face. Today, at exactly 12:36 p.m. you are turning nine. With another year behind us, and so many more ahead, these are my thoughts and dreams for you as you keep growing…

  • You are never going to make everyone happy, so don’t try to. Don’t attempt to be the person they want you to be just to be a part of their group or clique. Be the person your heart is telling you to be. We are all different, and different is good and so much more exciting then being like everyone else.
  • Learn who your true friends are, and fight for them as they would for you. You will come across many people in your life, but it’s the ones who will cry with you when you are sad or stand up for you when someone else is treating you badly that are truly the most valuable in your life. Don’t let those valuable people go, you will regret it later.
  • Concentrate and take the time to learn. The older you get the harder school gets and the more you will want to rush through classwork and homework to do “fun” things. But what you’re learning matters. Through learning our brains grow and thrive. You are already so incredibly smart and the more you learn the more opportunities will unfold for you when you are older.
  • Play and laugh. Hard work is important, but so is fun. Spend time with your friends and be silly. Play a game with your father or me, even if you’re better at it than us (or vice versa). Those moments will create a lifetime of memories.
  • Keep moving forward. Mommy didn’t get that tattooed on her shoulder for no reason. No matter how difficult something may seem, do not let it stop you from pushing through it. It doesn’t matter what it is, you can overcome any challenge. But if it feels relentless, we will help you.
  • Never let ANYONE think you are unworthy. You are exceptional. Know that in your heart. Know that no one has the right to touch you or hurt you. No one has the right to make you feel like you deserve to be harmed. As a young lady, and someday soon enough a young woman, know your worth is great.

You are already so loving and compassionate, far more than others may see right away. I could not be more blessed than to have you as my daughter. You are why I keep moving forward. You are why I keep playing and laughing. You are why I refuse to be anything but myself. You are why I know the true strength of love.

Happy Birthday.

 

Be an Advocate on Your Terms

About a year or so after my treatment for cervical cancer I came upon a non-profit advocacy group named Cervivor. I started following them on social media and willingly shared my cervical cancer story to their website for them to publish. Since my diagnosis I had been looking for a way to use my story to help other women in some way. Cervivor looked like a great place to move forward in doing that.

And then I learned about Cervivor School, a weekend long event that helps cervical cancer survivors learn how to be better advocates as well as an opportunity to become part of an understanding and supportive community.

In the last two years I attended two Cervivor Schools. The first was in Louisville, Kentucky in 2016. It was exciting to have the chance to go after being selected to receive a scholarship from the organization. While learning valuable information about cervical cancer and HPV (human papillomavirus), I also met women who understood what I had gone through both physically and mentally from cancer. I headed home with a new found confidence in myself and my ability to have my story matter.

When the 2017 Cervivor School came around, I didn’t think I’d be able to attend due to the expense and knew I couldn’t apply for another scholarship after having received one the year before. But in the time since the last school, I’d been assisting the organization by proofreading and editing blog posts and other stories they’d been sent from other cervical cancer survivors. So I was offered the chance to attend Cervivor School in exchange for assisting with social media during the event. I accepted with even more excitement in my heart than the previous year.

So to Florida I went. I was given the passwords to their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts as they trusted me to post on their behalf for the weekend. During that long weekend I didn’t just work. I was invited to sit on a panel and talk about how I coped during my cancer diagnosis and treatment, which was normally way out of my comfort zone. But I was honored to be asked, so I sucked it up and sat up there with other survivors I’d come to know and respect. I made even more friends that weekend and left Florida feeling a heightened sense of community and friendship.

About two months later a post was made in a private group for Cervivor advocates about some dishonesty that was potentially happening with one of the young ladies who’d been part of the group. It was someone I’d spoken to personally a few times since meeting her, and instead of believing everything that was said, I confronted her directly and was given an explanation I was comfortable with. Maybe I was wrong and lies were told, or maybe I was right, but she remained on my social media friends lists even when we hadn’t spoken since October of last year (I don’t feel the need to go through my friends list often).

Fast forward to last week when I thought things were status quo. New allegations were made that shocked and surprised me. But I guess I didn’t move fast enough after they were suggested late one night. I didn’t unfriend or unfollow someone I hadn’t talked with in months and the next morning I was banished. The word banished may sound extreme, but it’s exactly how it felt. Removed from the private group for Cervivor advocates. Blocked from the organization founder’s personal page, the woman who only five months earlier entrusted me with her organization’s social media accounts and website text. And unfriended by women I had once respected and considered friends from what appeared to be a loving community I’d been part of for two years.

No discussion.

No questions asked.

Just thrown away as though my time with Cervivor was meaningless.

I guess someone assumed I was offering information to someone who was a problem. Or maybe I wasn’t fundraising enough or posting about Cervivor enough on social media during the busy holiday months or during my husband’s recent surgery. Either way, to assume anything without talking directly to me feels like a disgraceful misuse of power in what is meant to not only be an advocacy group, but also a loving community for CANCER SURVIVORS. I later found I wasn’t the only one who was pushed out.

But, live and learn, as my mother says. The explanation I’ve written above is for anyone who tossed me aside already without question and for those who are wondering what happened (something I’m still unsure of). Isn’t it good to always know more than one side?

But this post isn’t to tear people away from Cervivor or to tell other cervical cancer survivors not to get involved with the organization. You can find that elsewhere. Though I’m currently sad and feeling mistreated and underappreciated, I’m still happy I was part of Cervivor. Through Cervivor I met some wonderful people who I’m proud to call my friends. And I learned valuable information about cervical cancer, HPV, advocacy and health. And now, no longer part of the organization for reasons still unbeknownst to me, my experience taught me you can’t trust everyone and that friends aren’t friends if they consider you so easily disposable. And lastly, I learned I don’t need a big organization to follow in order to be an advocate and help others. I only need to be me.

So when it comes down to it, the lesson learned is that you can be an amazing advocate as part of a large group or just as yourself. But if you’re part of a group, remember to be true to yourself no matter where the majority may lie. Remember to always be you and to respect other cancer survivors with the understanding of what they’ve already endured, or still are.

Best of luck to all advocates. Make your story matter, if even to one person. You matter.

Keep Moving Forward…

This past week has been difficult emotionally. Sometimes something happens that hurts, but helps you to see the truth in so much. So today I started writing in a journal titled “Carpe Diem”. The writing prompt was “Today I will…” and I wanted to share where it took me:

“Today I will not let others make me feel defeated. I will not let the actions of others who are easily swayed allow me to think that I have done anything wrong by not following the crowd instead of my instincts or my heart.

I will use my cancer story to help others, whether it’s one or one thousand women. I will put pen to paper and bring my words to life. 

I will let the love of my husband, daughter, parents, family and friends give me the extra strength I need to keep pushing forward. I will use that love to follow my dreams to their fullest extent and to stop myself from feeling dismayed or beaten down by those who have no faith in me, because it’s those people who will someday regret pushing me away when they finally see the truth that’s been right there all along.”

Never let anyone or any group make you feel like you are nothing. Always keep moving forward.

Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

CervicalRibbon_TealWhiteRightDid you know that January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month? In 2014, when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer I thought my world was going to end. I had dealt with abnormal cervical cells in previous years due to HPV (human papilloma virus), but the abnormalities had always cleared on their own and I was otherwise a healthy young woman. But cancer doesn’t always care if you’ve got good cholesterol and are of good weight. It doesn’t care if you live a fairly stress-free life or eat well. Cancer does not discriminate.

It didn’t matter that I never thought my HPV would cause cervical cancer. It happened anyway. I went through treatment with a foggy mind. I was anxious and depressed. All I wanted was my normal life back, a life I so obviously had been taking for granted. I had a radical hysterectomy at the end of August which was followed by 5 rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of external radiation because pathology of my lymph nodes found traces of cancer.

When treatment was complete and I got my NED (no evidence of disease), I was tired but ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to go back to my every day routine of family and work. In the months that followed I learned how many people didn’t understand HPV or cervical cancer. How many people didn’t want to talk about it. And I learned about advocacy and how sharing my story and pertinent information about this disease could maybe help one other woman, or five, or 500, or more.

So I chose to share, which isn’t always easy when your talking about female reproductive organs or a virus that is often transmitted sexually. The stigma behind HPV so often keeps women from chatting about it. But advocating to get the word out has helped me understand the disease and want to keep other women from enduring what I, and so many other women, have had to. Though I had cancer, I know I am lucky. I am NED today and I feel good. But not every woman’s story is the same. Thousands of women deal with daily complications that arose from cancer treatment. Thousands of women die.

What is most important is that women understand the disease and keep up with well woman visits each year. To listen to our bodies, ask questions, and make sure they are getting the care they deserve. Early detection saves lives.

Health Monitor - coverThis month I have the honor of some of my story being shared in the Health Monitor’s Living with Cancer magazine. This magazine is placed in doctor’s offices and hospitals around the world. If just one woman reads the article and makes her well woman visit or takes notice of a current symptom because of my story, that’s enough for me.

You can check out the article here.

Ladies, call your doctor today and make your appointment.

Three Years Ago…

Three years ago I had my first day of chemotherapy and external radiation. The first day of a five and a half week schedule that consisted of five rounds of Cisplatin, a platinum based chemotherapy, and twenty-eight rounds of external radiation to my pelvic area. It wasn’t expected that I’d have to have additional treatment after my radical hysterectomy to treat cervical cancer. But unfortunately, after pathology showed microscopic traces of cancer in two out of nineteen of the lymph nodes they removed from my pelvis, it was important to undergo further treatment to destroy any remaining cells that could be lurking in my body.

I remember people telling me to “be strong” and that I’d “be fine”. But at the time, I didn’t know if I’d be fine. But it’s hard to figure out what to say to someone whose going through cancer treatment. It’s hard to find the words or figure out the actions that will truly help them be strong or be fine. In my case, mentally I wasn’t strong and I wasn’t fine and I knew it.

The first day of treatment I remember crying. I cried because it hadn’t been the original plan. I cried because going through surgery was hard, but going through chemo and radiation somehow gave me a stronger understanding of the fact that I had cancer. The weeks that followed seemed to move slowly. Each day was different and each day I grew weaker, not just due to the treatment, but because I was depressed more than I’d ever been. I wasn’t strong or fine, I was scared and anxious, angry and tired.

I cried almost every single day, especially the days I had chemo. And when I completed treatment five and a half weeks later, I looked like a shell of my former self. From the day I was told I had cancer to the final day of treatment I had lost about twenty pounds from an already thin body. Treatment made me nauseous and gave me daily bouts of diarrhea. There were days I could stomach eating, but there were very few things I actually wanted to eat. On the days I had radiation (Monday through Friday), I’d go for my treatment in the morning, which only took fifteen minutes or so, and then I’d be back at home on the couch or in bed, tired and not wanting to move, constantly feeling anxious about my health and worried I would not get through it.

But I did. In a few weeks, the anniversary of my completion of treatment, I will consider myself three years NED (no evidence of disease). I am not the person I once was, though most people think I’m that same woman. I am not stronger or wiser than I was before being diagnosed with cervical cancer, but I am more grateful and more understanding of my own mortality. I’m grateful I’ve been given more time to watch my daughter grow up, more time to spend with my loved ones, and more time to experience this Earth.

When I completed treatment I promised I’d get stronger and do the things I had kept putting off. But I didn’t do all I promised myself. I didn’t complete the rewrite of my first novel. I didn’t get my body in better shape. I didn’t read 50 books in a year.

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First Day of Chemo, October 13, 2014

Today, when the notification came up on Facebook that I had memories to look back on, a photo of my first day of chemo came up. I had a smile on my face, strength in my eyes. I looked at the woman I was and got angry with myself for not doing the things I promised I’d do. I reiterated that list to myself multiple times and remembered that feeling of knowing I’m not promised forever and that we only have now. So today I started working my novel again, and tonight I will continue reading the book I started on my Kindle, and tomorrow I’ll do some crunches and some push-ups. And every morning I’ll try to remind myself of that moment I had this morning when I remembered that life can be short and that I need to stop putting things off just because it’s easier that way. Today is today, and tomorrow is not promised.