For five days I had the honor and privilege of attending Cervivor School 2017 in Delray Beach, Florida. This being my second Cervivor School experience, I had an idea of what to expect and was excited to see the women I’d met and befriended in during the Louisville school in August 2016.
I didn’t allow my fear of flying keep me away from this amazing opportunity. Upon arriving at Fort Lauderdale Airport, after a few hours delay due to weather, I hooked up with a Cervivor sister I’d only spoken to briefly through Facebook. Shawna and I took a taxi together to the hotel and clicked immediately. So well that I encouraged her to stay for the entire event (she was supposed to leave halfway through), and she listened. And I’m thrilled she did because we’re seriously the best of friends after only a few days.
We spent classroom time learning from an intelligent array of presenters. On Thursday, Dr. Matthew Schlumbrecht and Dr. Sarah Temkin offered their knowledge of HPV and its roll in various types of cancer as well as the HPV vaccine and why it’s so very important for today’s youths. John Heyburn, Executive Director of Clinical Operations at Advaxis, Inc., imparted on us the amazing trials in development and underway with their company in immunotherapy. These therapies boost the immune system to fight cancer cells. Day one ended in an open discussion with Dr. Phil Castle who answered a multitude of questions concerning HPV (human papillomavirus), cervical cancer and their effects across the globe. He also reminded us that, “It’s Not Our Fault!”, something most of us truly needed to hear. In the afternoon we had a chance to learn about Tamika
Felder’s trip to Africa, which included meeting with Cervivor Lynn, from Cape Town, South Africa, who, with her family, joined us for this year’s Cervivor School. Hearing her story and about what it is like going for screening and having cancer in Africa was incredibly moving and motivational. The night ended with a pajama party, the talks of which I cannot divulge, but I will say I think I speak for most of the ladies in that it was nice to know that we’re not alone in many struggles after cervical cancer.
Friday was filled with talks on how, as cancer patients and Cervivors, we could better ourselves or deal with struggles we’re facing. Goodbye Brain Fog, presented by Dr. Heather Palmer, better explained the brain fog and memory issues some often deal with after cancer. For me, this was awesome to hear about since, as a writer, I’ve struggled with word recognition since my cancer. I had the pleasure of sitting with her at lunchtime, where she offered a few tips that I definitely plan to use moving forward (even while writing this post). From there, some of our amazing Cervivor Ambassadors offered exercises in healing through writing and art. The writing exercise touched me deeply since although I had written my story down in multiple ways over the last three years, I hadn’t written the emotional end of it. All I can say is that there were a lot of tears when I decided to read it aloud (and not just from me). The art exercise had me nervous at first because I’m far from artistic, but drawing and getting in touch with art was inspiring as well as soothing in many ways. The day ended with an amazing talk from Dr. Ramani Durvasula about maintaining your authentic self through cancer. Her talk included discovering the toxic people in your life and how to handle those situations. During the second day I also had an awesome opportunity to sit on a panel of Cervivor graduates and discuss coping. It was nice to be able to share some of the ways I’ve coped since cancer with our newbies. That night I got to spend some extra time with a few Cervivor sisters at the hot tub and then for dinner.
Saturday started with Cervivor Founder Tamika Felder talking to us about why sharing our story is so important. As Cervivors it’s important to tell our stories because cervical cancer isn’t talked about enough, especially considering it’s estimated that in 2015 about 12,900 new cases of cervical cancer would be diagnosed each year in the United States alone. And so many of these cases are in women who haven’t kept up with their well woman exams. We learned that we could decide on how much of our story we want to tell, and that we can make an impact. Sierra Thetford was up next discussing how she’s used social media to talk about her Cervivor story so that she can help other women hopefully prevent going through what she’d gone through. Cervivor Ambassador Lori spoke with us next, providing us with tips about how we can develop our voices to best make an impact with our own stories. Dr. Debbie Saslow discussed HPV and the importance of preventing cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine, followed by Joan Brady who offered information on how we as Cervivor Advocates can get in touch with our state legislature to make things happen. On Saturday night we hit the water with a dinner cruise on the intercoastal waterway which offered some time to connect more with our Cervivor sisters.
Sunday was our final day, which was so sad for most of us. Our newbies became graduates and we discussed our handbook and what being an advocate is all about. I was sad to have to leave before the graduation so I could make my plane, but I know all of our new graduates will make a terrific impact in their local areas and in the world.
Returning home from Cervivor School, there’s so much to evaluate, mentally and emotionally. In just a few days we’ve learned so much, met so many wonderful people, and shared a lot. I came home with a ton of ideas for how I want to make my story count. I’m proud to be part of Cervivor and what the organization stands for, and I only hope I can make them proud after offering me such an amazing step in my journey.