August 20, 2009
Have you listened to your cervix lately?
One of the many fabulous things about the Blogher Conference 2009 was meeting extraordinary people and hearing their remarkable stories.
One such story I encountered was that of Michelle Lee Whitlock.
Michelle, thank you for being a strong and dedicated advocate for women.
Thank you for your courage.
Thank you for telling us the truth and for making statements on our behalf.
Here's the House chat with Michelle.
Michelle, you have written a book "Reframing a Tragedy" cataloging the difficulties you have faced. As a young person, you faced challenges not typical of a young woman. Did you have time to dream about your future?
Dreams...what every young women should do. Our dreams push us, motivate us and shape our lives. However, there was a time I had to create an "insurance policy" for my dreams and then put them away while I focused on the present only. My insurance policy came in the shape of 7 frozen embryos tucked away for another day, while my present day was a battle for my life against a preventable disease--cervical cancer.
What were your wishes and goals before you had to face medical problems?
Before my cancer, I was very focused on my career, climbing the corporate ladder, the gym, and traveling. I thought I had all the time in the world for my childhood dreams of marriage and motherhood.
You had amazing strength and character prior to your bout with cervical cancer. Did this further your strength or deplete you?
Coming from a dysfunctional and financially challenged family, I learned very early to fight myself and never give up. My cancer just strengthen my believe that life is precious and so valuable. It reminded me to be conscience in all my choices, grateful and live each day as if it were going to be my last. I am strong, better, more alive, and appreciate the little things in life because of my walk with cancer.
Had you had prior knowledge of reproductive challenges that could overhaul and change our lives?
I had been diagnosed with Endometriosis at 20, but I never saw it as a reproductive challenge as I did painful periods. I believed a normal pap meant I was okay, that everything was fine, as do many women. But it does not and I soon learned I was not okay.
Were you an advocate for other issues before Pearl of Wisdom?
I have been an advocate, educating women about cervical cancer and HPV since Spring of 2005. So when the Pearl of Wisdom campaign kicked-off here in the U.S. in Jan 09, it was a natural progression for me to get involved. This campaign is a grassroots effort, girlfriend to girlfriend, mother to daughter, daughter to mother, woman to woman. It is about preventing cervical cancer through HPV awareness. No other woman needs to lose her fertility or die from this preventable disease. However, cervical cancer is still the second most common cancer in women worldwide. Help us stop this disease.
Your book details your supportive relationships, can you tell us a bit more?
I believe the most important member in your family is your spouse. They are the only member you actually get to pick. I am blessed to have chosen well. My husband has been better than any medicine available. He walked side by side with me during my battle and when I was too tired, he carried me. And when the battle was over he gave me the support I needed to rediscover myself and my sexuality after all my treatment. My friends lined up to hold my hand, chat with me and kick me in the pants when I felt sorry for myself too long.
How were the other women in your immediate circle impacted by your cancer?
It made them stand up and take notice. This cancer could have happened to any one of them. We held hands and learned together. Many of them have had abnormal paps and suffered from cervical disease themselves. In fact, about 1/2 million women in the U.S. are diagnosed with some cervical disease annually, which often result in painful procedures including biopsies, LEEPs, conization and more.
Tell us about your research. Where did it lead you? What did you find out about yourself?
I realized that doctors are not GOD; they are highly skilled and trained humans. They are a great resources, partners, and tools in the battle to stay healthy. But every woman, including me, needs to be her own advocate, ask the tough questions, challenge her doctors, seek additional opinions and always express her emotions and dreams. Our diseases are just a part of us, they do not make the whole person. For me, researching, asking questions and challenging doctors lead me to the oncologist that saw not only my disease but a young twenty-something woman desperate to save her fertility. I learned that even when we feel out of control or like a victim we can make choices to regain our balance and still achieve our dreams.
What do you envision for Pearl of Wisdom?
I dream women every where will stand up, take notice of the campaign, learn the facts and share a pearl of wisdom with the woman in her life...This is a PREVENTABLE disease...Almost every case of cervical cancer can be prevented through programs using the Pap test, the HPV test, and the HPV vaccine. But many women around the world don’t know about or have access to these tools. As a result, 500,000 women develop cervical cancer and almost 300,000 die of cervical cancer – every year.
The Pearl of Wisdom Campaign to Prevent Cervical Cancer is a united, global effort to raise awareness of the opportunities now available to prevent cervical cancer. Our campaign reaches women, health care providers, policymakers, health advocates, and the media.
We recognize that by working together, we can more effectively:
Raise awareness of the tools available for preventing cervical cancer
Encourage women to take full advantage of these tools
Advocate for the implementation of these tools for girls and women everywhere
Join us, starting now, as we work together to prevent this unnecessary disease
What is your hope for womenhood and the ravages of female cancers?
I hope women everywhere will learn to protect themselves, see their doctors annually, speak up and advocate for their own health care and know today with the advancements in science, there are many ways to "save" our fertility. I hope all doctors will remember we are people with hopes and dreams...we are more than our diseases...help us treat the whole person.
What is your assessment of the focus, or lack thereof within the medical system, preventative care, awareness and testing for women?
We have to come together, in a united front as politicians, lawmakers, health care workers, educators, women, citizens and humans to create access for ALL women. No one should die from a preventable disease.
Is there a dawn from the "Tragedy" you reframed? Tell us about where you go from here.
My dawn is present in the eyes of another woman who has just learned how to protect herself from this disease. It is in the voice of another survivor, who has discovered the power of telling her story, it is in the hands of every health care provider that utilizes the tools available to protect their patients and it is in the knowledge that cancer may have stolen my ability to carry a child but it did not stop me from creating my own biological child. When my surrogate gives birth in November 2009, and I place my baby girl in my arms, and in her see all the love between my husband and I, it will be my dawn.
Beautiful ~ Thank you again.
Check out Tamika and Friends for more support.
Leave a comment about your cervical experience. Good & Bad. Say "Pearl" and I will contact you to send you your very own "Pearl Of Wisdom" compliments of our House guest Michelle!