Saturday, October 3, 2015

Four Life Changing Days (Part 1)

It's been a while, so this is going to be a long read! I'm going to split it into two posts, because otherwise it would wind up being the blog equivalent of War and Peace.
So much has happened, the biggest of which is that Jeff and I got married! On August 7, at 6:00 pm, we stood in front of family and a few friends, and vowed to love, honor, and cherish each other for the rest of our lives. That needs to be a whole post in and of itself, so I'll give you a sneak peek of my absolute favorite picture of us of all time, and the abridged version, but I promise a post in the very near future dedicated to all things wedding!
We had everyone down for a week leading up to the wedding. There was plenty of potential for awkwardness with everyone staying on two of our boats, but everything went really smoothly. The day after the wedding, everyone took off, and it was just us (and our crew) for a week for our honeymoon.
People kept asking when we got back if things were different now that we're married. The answer to that is no, except for my last name! We had been together long enough, and worked on our relationship hard enough, that we have a really solid foundation.
Reilly started 7th grade. I can't believe I have a son in middle school! And in December, he will officially be a teenager, even though he's had the attitude of a teenager for a while now (read, surly). His school starts 2 hours earlier than elementary school did, so we are waking up in the wee hours - 5:15 am!!!! Neither of us are morning people. Every day I set out with the best intentions of being patient and calm. But by the third or fourth time I have to tell him to get up, I am raising my voice. Ok, I'm yelling. I'm trying to channel my inner zen. I'm a work in progress. And I'm human. I'm trying to cut us both some slack.

And now on to the other big news! In my last post, I talked about how I was going to Cervivor School West in San Diego. I had a basic idea of what the school would be about, basing off Facebook posts and Cervivor's website. I was so excited to learn more about this disease, and to meet a whole group of women who had been through what I had been through. Well, it was all of that, and so much more. I am absolutely not exaggerating by titling this post "Four Life Changing Days," because this experience changed me in the best possible ways.
I flew out to San Diego on Wednesday, the day before Cervivor School started. I was VERY anxious. I don't particularly care for flying, and flying by myself is even worse. But I wanted to go, so I left my guys at home, and flew across the country. I checked into the hotel, The Horton Grand, in the historic Gas Lamp district of San Diego. The Horton Grand is old fashioned and very quaint. And two rooms are supposedly haunted, rooms 209 and 309. Several of us experienced some odd things during our stay, so I'm a believer!
Things kicked off Thursday evening with a welcome reception. Tamika Felder, the founder of Cervivor, spoke to welcome us, as did Heather Banks, a Cervivor advocate and ambassador. We were treated to music by Unexpected Cure, a duo consisting of Rob and Stanzi, who are both cancer survivors, and use their experience to put a musical spin on healing. They modified the words to Imagine by John Lennon - "Imagine there's no cancer..." There were women like me who were attending Cervivor School for the first time, and there were also women who had attended Cervivor School before and were graduates. I talked to a few ladies, and wound up really bonding with one woman in particular (hi Melissa!) who I have a lot in common with aside from cervical cancer. As we talked and got to know each other, I found myself crying a lot. I was a little surprised by this. I'm over a year out from being declared NED (no evidence of disease), and I thought I had my emotions in check. But sharing my story with Melissa and listening to her story brought it right back up to the surface. I was told this was normal, that there is a lot of crying at Cervivor School, in a good, cathartic way. That was definitely true for me!
School was in session Friday morning! We had been seated around the tables in the conference room in the order of graduate, first timer, graduate, etc. This was great because I had a woman on either side of me who knew how emotional it was going to be. I started crying pretty early on, and the beautiful, kind woman on my right (hi Lori!) immediately reached out, put her arm around me, and rubbed my back. My first instinct was to feel completely ridiculous, but she just smiled at me and told me it was absolutely normal. Her reassurance let me give myself permission to let go and embrace my feelings, and I am so grateful for that!
Friday's focus was on telling our stories, and how to go about telling our stories in different situations (my first entry of this blog was my story). We covered both social media, and traditional media, how to be persistent, even the best times of the day to call media representatives, a kind of Media 101. I've definitely been using Facebook for my own grassroots advocacy, but Friday's speakers taught me how to be more effective.
It was so interesting to hear all these different stories from different women, and to realize how relatable they all were. Even if we were staged the same, our treatments differed. And our feelings about things were the same about a lot of things. We split up into groups to answer and discuss questions Heather posed to us, and we moved tables and teams for each new question, but the discussions were all very similar.
When I was first diagnosed with cervical cancer, I felt very alone. I found support through a group on Facebook, and have wound up making friendships with women from that group in real life. I have been lucky to have spent time with some of these women face to face. But I had never before been in a room with so many women who had been through what I'd been through, and really and truly GOT IT. It was wonderfully overwhelming, and I felt so blessed. I even found out that some of us at Cervivor School had mutual friends through the Facebook group (hi Erica & Marie!). We are all from different places, different socioeconomic statuses, different races, different religions. But we bonded so easily because we had all been touched by a horrific disease that has a stigma of shame attached to it. Cervivor School also helps to teach us how to advocate and knock down that stigma, so women will know that they are not alone.
So that's it for part one! I didn't cover every single second of what went on, so if you have further questions, please don't hesitate to comment here or on the blog's Facebook page. Stay tuned for Part 2!

xoxo jennie

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