BALTIMORE — Tamika Felder was going through her daily routine, filing stories as a freelance journalist and simply living the life of a happy-go-lucky 25-year-old. Then, out of nowhere, she received the news from her doctors that she had cervical cancer, a disease that starts in the lower part of the uterus.
About 4,100 women will die from cervical cancer while doctors discover about 12,900 new cases of invasive cervical cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
For Felder, the disease not only meant concern for her well-being, but also it meant she had to deal with the stigma attached.
“There were a few people who— because of the misinformation attached to cervical cancer— said cruel things because my cancer was linked to a sexually transmitted virus,” Felder said. “That was painful. When I was diagnosed, human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the virus that can cause cervical cancer, was not in the news as much as it is now. So, I felt all alone and embarrassed. But, I had to educate myself.”
Despite the misinformation and having her cervix and uterus removed which meant she would not be able to ever give birth, Felder decided to fight the disease and to help others to do the same. She started a nonprofit, “Tamika and Friends,” an advocacy organization that offers financial assistance to women with cervical cancer and to educate people about the disease.
Felder, who like many others are observing Cervical Health Awareness Month in January, now reaches women on an international level, getting the word out and giving support.
She has traveled to Dubai, London and across the United States helping to spread a positive campaign and to encourage others who have experienced the disease.
Recently, she founded another national nonprofit and online advocacy learning platform called “Cervivor,” which combines the words cervical and survivor.
Through her nonprofit, Felder has successfully built a network of more than 100 women, 40 of whom have graduated from her Cervivor School, a support and empowerment event for anyone looking to become involved in the cervical cancer movement.
Ultimately, Felder says her mission is to share the stories of more than 12,000 women who are diagnosed each year, and she wants to help reduce the stigma behind this disease.
“I had an amazing support network and I knew that I was in good hands with my health care,” Felder said. “So my coping strategies became research and understanding for my disease. The more I learned, the more I was determined to beat it.”
Felder is also putting the finishing touches on a new book, “Ignite Your Life in 13 Steps,” which explores her triumph over cervical cancer and shares 13 ways she said an individual can ignite their life.
“Cancer completely changed my life. Once I finally embraced it and became a cancer advocate, it truly healed me, inside and out,” she said. “My cancer experience has defined who I am now as a person. I know that tomorrow is truly not promised. That life can change in an instant, and that it’s up to me to make a difference.”
To learn more about cervical cancer and Felder’s organization, visit: www.cervivor.org or www.tamikafelder.com.