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I became a cancer survivor in May of 2001 when I was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer.
The radical hysterectomy is a pain like I’ve never felt in my life. It just really felt like something was going to rip out of my stomach. And it didn’t matter what medicine they gave me, the pain would not stop. I had a lot of blood clots afterwards, so they would have to come and take a couple of staples out and do whatever to get the blood clot out. I remember, at one point, I actually kissed my mother and my best friend and told them that I love them, and I told them goodbye. I think that was the one time during my whole journey with this cancer life that I actually gave up. It’s not that I wanted to give up. I just felt like I couldn’t hold on anymore because the pain was unbearable.
Luckily, they’ve come up with some new procedures for hysterectomies, so hopefully that can ease some of the pain. But it’s important to always tell the doctors when you have pain, no matter how small or insignificant, so they can chart your pain progression or process. You never know what that pain is trying to tell you. It may be signaling something that’s happening inside your body that they need to know. So don’t ever think the pain is insignificant, or you are dealing with so many other feelings that there’s no need to tell them about it, because it may be something else.
One of the hardest things for me was learning that I wouldn’t be able to bear my own children. I come from a large family on both sides, and I looked forward to the day of adding to that family. Being 25, diagnosed with cervical cancer and not being married -- in a matter of weeks I had to say, kids, or save my life. Kids. Save my life. And I really did struggle. You know, 25 is that fine timeline when you are thinking about really settling down and getting married and all these other good things. There’s adoption and other things that I can do, but I think when your choice is taken away from you, it’s really hard.
That’s been the biggest challenge for me, even two years later. There was a time that I would go into the mall and if I saw pregnant women or women with their children, I would become so emotionally distraught that I would just have to leave. There was a time when I couldn’t even hold my own nephew, because I would look at him and it would just make me feel like I’ll never have this experience.
I really felt isolated and alone, and there’s a part of me that still feels very isolated and alone. The few people that had cancer and have kind of been what I’ve been through, they were either already married or they had kids, so even though it was good talking to them, in the back of my mind -- and it’s just really me being honest -- I was kind of jealous because you did have this horrible thing happen to you, but you have something. Maybe you wanted more, but you have at least one.
As I progress with the new me with cancer, I know the different options and I know that somehow, somewhere, I’m meant to be a mother and I will be a mother. But it’s just difficult because I think, as a woman, you are just destined to create life and it’s not going to happen for me like that.
I think if I had that partner in my life to just say I love you regardless, you are still a complete woman even though you can’t have kids, I think that it would make me feel a whole lot better. As far as relationships are concerned, I’m terrified of them. My friends joke about it. They say I’m too aggressive because if I meet someone I want to put it all out on the table at once. “I’m Tamika Felder, I had cervical cancer, I can’t have kids.” And my friends are like, wait to see if the relationship is going to go somewhere. But I feel like, well, why? I don’t want someone to get attached to me and I’m attached to them, and then they find out this thing and where do we go from there?
It’s hindered me from going out. I meet people and there’s a part of me that’s like, okay, I’m going to go out, tell this person, see how it works. Then I just always feel like disaster will come and so I don’t. But I’m beginning to think, take that chance. Take it. And I’m going to be up front, even though my friends think I should wait. I think too many cancer patients feel ashamed of some of the physical things that cancer left with them, and I don’t want to be ashamed of it.
Nobody talks about gynecological cancers because it deals with such an intimate area. It deals with sexuality. And you think something is wrong with it or it’s naughty or you can’t talk about it. Then when you have a sexual disorder or whatever because of cancer, it’s like you can’t talk about it because you couldn’t already talk about sex.
I’m a young woman. People are sexually active. No one told me what sex would be like after cancer, especially because I didn’t have a husband or significant other to sit down and share my feelings with: “This is what happened to me. This is what might happen to our sex life,” or anything like that. The doctors just send you on your way. They’ll give you a little list of things. You know, “Don’t have sex 4 to whatever weeks after your surgery or treatment,” but they don’t say, “When you start to have sex again, this is what you should do or this is how you should feel.”
I still have my ovaries, so I’m terrified of ovarian cancer now too. My dad died of colon cancer and I’m scared of that. So now I’m freaked out, but I’m like, when it comes, I’ll deal with it. It’s funny because that’s how I look at it. When it comes. Not if. I try to get tested as much as possible, because if something is there, I want to catch it early. I think of my cervical cancer in hindsight now, there were little signs, but I let them go. And maybe if I would have listened to my body a little earlier, I would have caught some of those things.
I really think that, in some sense, cancer survivors get a renewed life or a new thought on how life should be. You get that second chance to not only go do the things that you always wanted to do, but we get a chance to make life better for others and for ourselves. And cancer survivors aren’t selfish at all. You know how you encounter people that their spirit just doesn’t set right with you? I’ve never met a bad cancer survivor, whether it’s someone who had a totally different cancer experience from me or they came from a different walk of life. We all have that same thing that bonds us forever. You don’t even have to say a word and you know that person; they feel what you feel. It’s just an amount of respect and it’s an amount of love and hope and encouragement.
Survivorship really means taking one day at a time. Whether I survive for five years or twenty years; it really means living every day at each moment. Before cancer, my life was really hustle and bustle. Never had time to really slow down and smell the roses. Never had time to take that vacation in Greece or wherever I wanted to go. It’s me time. I get all my work done and everything else, but I really take the time to live life to the fullest. When eventually I do leave this place, I want people to know that I lived my life exactly how I wanted to live it. And while I was here, I had a fabulous time.
My name is Tamika Felder, I’m 28 years old, and I’m a cervical cancer survivor.