Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, how do you spend your time, and what do you do for work and play?
I’m based in Upper Marlboro, MD, but home will always be Summerville, SC. I’m the founder of Cervivor, a global community of advocates who inspire and empower women affected by cervical cancer by educating and motivating them to use their voices to create awareness about cervical cancer.
Also, I love being anywhere near the water. Also I’m a TV junkie (former broadcaster), so give me all the reality shows, documentaries, rom-coms and horror movies. I watch it all!
How old were you when you were diagnosed with cervical cancer?
I was 25 years old.
How did you find out?
I went in for a yearly exam after not previously having health insurance.
Did you have any telling symptoms, or was the diagnosis a complete surprise?
At the time I didn’t think so, but now that I am more educated about cervical cancer, I know that I did. Like bleeding during and after sex. But, yes, it was a complete shock.
What treatments did you undergo?
Radical hysterectomy. Chemotherapy. Radiation Therapy.
During your treatment, were others able to help in ways that made a difference? If, so what were they?
Meals, transportation, offering prayers and words of encouragement. And my coworkers were so wonderful to donate leave time so I could have more paid time to recoup, since I was still new on the job.
What inspired you to become a passionate advocate for prevention?
Cervical cancer almost always can be prevented. I wish I would have known that. I wish I would have truly understood how to be proactive with my health. And at the end of the day, I want to make my survivorship count by using my story to shine a bright light on cervical cancer.
Many people are unaware that the main cause of cervical cancer is HPV, or human papillomavirus. This virus that is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, often during sex. The good news is we have a vaccine that protects against infection with the HPV types most commonly linked to cancer, as well as some types that can cause genital warts, penile cancer, anal cancer, and vulvar and vaginal cancers. The vaccine is recommended for all preteens (male and female!), as well as anyone through the age of 26 who hasn’t yet received it.
What led you to launch “Cervivor?”
Honestly, I didn’t want to be the only one. I want those diagnosed with cervical cancer to know that they are “not alone” through Cervivor. More than that, I’d like them to feel supported by knowing that we are just a phone call, event, social media platform, or even Zoom away.
“I want those diagnosed with cervical cancer to know that they are “not alone.” And it is deeper than just knowing that. I’d like for them know that we are just a phone call, event, social media platform, or even Zoom away. I want them to know they can reach out in real life.”
What do you wish more women knew about cancer prevention?
Specifically, for cervical cancer, I’d love for more women to know about the vaccine. For cancers like ovarian cancer, there currently aren’t screening tools. So, everyone needs to keep updated on all doctor’s appointments, have clear communication with our clinicians, and never be ashamed to share anything. You know your body better than anyone.
What have you learned about yourself because of your experience with cancer?
I knew I was a tough woman prior to cancer, but now I really know. Sometimes, I just sit back and am in awe of all that I’ve survived. I also truly know that I have a voice and a story that matters. My story matters. My life matters. My legacy will not be the lives that I bring into this world, but it will be the lives that I save.
Did you change your life as a result of your cancer experience, and if so, how?
Absolutely. How can one not? It’s a major life experience. Let me keep it real — it’s a trauma. There is the great quote from doctor Heather Palmer that says, “Cancer is a gift wrapped in barbed wire.”
Cancer is not a gift, but after every storm there is sunlight. I don’t take any day for granted. I know I am extremely blessed. None of us are getting out of here alive. We’re all leaving here one way or another. Cancer didn’t claim my life, so I’ve learned to survive and thrive. Because that’s absolutely the point, right?
Did you make any lifestyle changes as a result of your diagnosis, and if so which ones, and why?
I live life. I know that life has an end date. All I can do is live. I’m also working on getting to a healthy weight. Excess weight has been associated with cervical cancer. I have a wonderful private Facebook group, “Survivor Slimdown” that focuses on weight loss for cancer patients survivors.
Cancer is not a gift, but after every storm there is sunlight.
Any quotes, songs, or books that get you through tough days?
I’m not built to quit.
You Survived Cancer.
It’s never too late.
Yes, you can!
Song Lyrics Hard by Rihanna:
No pain is forever, yup, you know this
Tougher than a lion, ain’t no need in tryin’;
I live where the sky ends, yup, you know this
Song Lyrics My Testimony by Marvin Sapp:
So if you see me cry,
It’s just a sign that I’m
I’m still alive
I got some scars, but I’m still alive
In spite of calamity,
He still has a plan for me
And it’s working for my good
And it’s building my testimony
So glad I made it,
I made it through
In spite of the storm and rain, heartache and pain
I’m still alive to say
I made it through
As for books: Seriously, What Are You Waiting For?, 13 Actions to Ignite Your Life, and Achieve The Ultimate Comeback
To learn more about Tamika Felder and her work, please visit Cervivor.org.