In 2001, Tamika Felder was working as a television producer when a shocking cervical cancer diagnosis turned her life upside down. Felder had delayed her regular doctor appointments and screenings when she was between health insurance plans, and eventually went in for a routine Pap test that led to her diagnosis. At 25 years old, Felder faced an entirely new future than what she had planned. Felder felt pure confusion that this could happen to her. “Getting a cancer diagnosis didn’t make sense to me at all,” she says.
Amid the upheaval caused by her cervical cancer diagnosis, Felder learned that in addition to chemotherapy and radiation, she would need to undergo a radical hysterectomy. Learning this news—which meant that she would not be able to become pregnant in the future—was devastating. With a major life decision taken away from her at such a young age, “I was a wreck,” she shares.
After going through active treatment, Felder felt motivated to use her experience with cervical cancer to help others and raise awareness. She had noticed that cervical cancer did not receive much public attention, and she wanted others to know that they weren’t alone. In 2003, she started sharing her own story about cervical cancer and its ramifications, in particular the loss of fertility caused by her radical hysterectomy.
Felder continued her outreach efforts, and in 2005 she founded Cervivor. The nonprofit organization serves as the voice and face of cervical cancer to eliminate stigma, educate the public and save lives. Cervivor prides itself in maintaining activities and campaigns year-round while stepping up its efforts during January in recognition of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
This year, the theme of Cervivor’s Cervical Cancer Awareness Month campaign is to “Take care of you in 2022,” with efforts to educate and encourage screenings. Felder explains that many individuals are behind on their health screenings as the COVID-19 pandemic continues on.
Cervivor is encouraging people to get back on track to ensure cancer and other potential health issues are detected and diagnosed as early as possible. After all, “cancer doesn’t quarantine,” Felder says, and working with a doctor to stay up to date on all routine care is essential for cervical cancer detection.
In addition to encouraging regular screenings, Cervivor educates the public on the importance of HPV vaccines. These vaccines protect individuals from high-risk HPV types known to cause cervical cancer, and are FDA-approved for all genders starting at age nine. Vaccines are effective and widely available. However, Cervivor’s messaging emphasizes that anyone with a cervix can get cervical cancer, so even vaccinated individuals should still discuss with their doctor and have regular cervical cancer screenings with Pap tests and/or HPV tests.
Felder’s background in television production lends itself well to Cervivor’s storytelling efforts, particularly through the Cervivor TV online video series. A winner of multiple Telly awards, Cervivor TV provides a platform for cervical cancer survivors to share their stories with the world.
“Everyone should be talking about cervical cancer, and it shouldn’t be coming from a place of stigma or shame,” Felder explains.
The stories shared on Cervivor TV remind people facing cervical cancer that they’re not alone; there are others out there who understand what they’re going through. “We keep it very real,” Felder notes.
Another pillar of Cervivor’s work is Cervivor School, which Felder describes as “part retreat, part patient advocacy boot camp.” Cervivor School teaches cervical cancer survivors to advocate and make lasting change for the future of women’s health. It is a program for those who want to “take survivorship a step further” and use their experience to shift the narrative and eliminate stigmas around cervical cancer, Felder says.
Maintaining Cervivor’s advocacy, education and storytelling efforts as the organization’s founder and chief visionary is Felder’s life passion. “The legacy that I will leave behind one day when I die isn’t going to be the lives I brought into the world, but the lives I saved,” she says. “And for those lives that I didn’t save through sharing my story and doing this work, I hope that I’ve done them justice by sharing their stories.”
Learn more at cervivor.org.