I have sat in countless groups, meetings, and conferences related to gynecologic cancers and heard women expressing that they didn't feel comfortable talking about their cancer. They felt embarassed and even ashamed to have a below the belt cancer. I can honestly say sitting and hearing these women express the shame was a new concept to me. I had talked about my cancer from the time I was diagnosed. Since I was first diagnosed in 2012 I had never received any negative responses from family or friends, at least none that made their way back to me. I continue to be grateful for the support that I receive. Over the past few weeks I experienced the first time that an individual I know had something negative to say about my cancer experience. I was horrified and offended. I also, for the first time, understood where the women were coming from who were ashamed of their cancer.
The individual insiuated that if I had only been more proactive, more careful, somehow done more I wouldn't have cancer. I know, logically, that I did everything within my control to not have cancer. I had abnormal pap tests for years before I had cancer and I always gone to my follow up appointments, even when I had to go every six months for multiple years. I had the procedures done to remove any cells my doctor recommended. I did everything I was suppose to. I still got cancer. Is that my fault? Absolutely not. Does that mean that preventative care doesn't work? Absolutely not. Let me be clear, I am a strong advocate for the annual well women exam, HPV and Pap co-testing, as well as HPV vaccination. There are measures you can take to help prevent cancer. The more measures you take, the less likely you will be to develop cervical cancer.
Over the past few weeks I have been analyzing why I was so offended at the words this individual spoke. Firstly, I felt like I was offended because obviously they don't pay any attention to the information I spread (or else how could they insiuate I did something to cause my cancer). Then I thought I was offended because they were essentially blaming me for having cancer, something which shouldn't happen to anyone. Finally, I realized I am most upset because I don't want anyone saying something like that which my son could eventually hear. I am terrified that I am going to die of this cancer, this cancer that isn't going away. I am more terrified that my son will hear things from individuals that make him think I had cancer because I didn't do enough to not have cancer.
I want my son to not be ashamed that his mother had cervical cancer. I want him to be educated enough to know that the majority of the population will have HPV at some point, including his mother. I want him to know that although HPV can cause cancer there are steps to prevent those cancers, namely recieving the HPV vaccine before any intimate contact. I want him to remember me as someone who spoke up and made a difference. If I die from this cancer, I hope that my son is able to talk about his experiences related to my cancer. I hope he is proud to say that I advocated for awareness and helped other women with cervical cancer. I hope shame of cervical cancer is never even on his radar.