“ Keep doing what you are doing, fighting the fight, enjoying life, and learning every day. Life goes by too quickly, and as survivors we should be well aware of that. There is no time like now!
Alexandrea Teachworth is a mAss Kickin Thriver! Alex currently works at the New London Cancer Center in Waterford, CT. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month. She is very active with Cervivor, a cervical cancer education initiative. We were very fortunate to find some time this month to ask her a few questions.
mK: Hi Ali! What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
AT: I was diagnosed with stage IIb invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix at the age of 24. I was told by a Nurse Practitioner, at an exam, that she could see the tumor and that although she had never seen it with her bare eyes was sure it was cervical cancer. Several days later a biopsy was performed and the diagnosis was confirmed.
mK: What were your symptoms?
AT: I had had a clear pap the year before, and had been on birth control. After several months I stopped taking it for multiple reasons and shortly after began spotting between my cycles. For about three months this went on and I just chalked it up to my body getting back to normal after not having my period for several months. By the 3rd month the bleeding was much more regular and I began having cramping much worse than usual. I had made several appointments with my GYN but canceled due to the bleeding, and my thought process was that there was no way they would do an exam while I was menstruating. It was finally in the 3rd month that my mom convinced me that I had to keep the appointment no matter what.
mK: Why did you get involved with advocacy? What do you do at the New London Cancer Center?
AT: There are several reasons I got into advocacy. One being meeting amazing people through so many different organizations who are doing such amazing things inspired me to take part in it. The other main reason is probably one that many of us have in common, I get involved in hopes that I can prevent or help one less woman to go through what I did. I know how easy it can be to skip your yearly GYN appointment, but I hope that by women hearing my story they make it a point to continue with regular checkups.
I am a medical secretary at the New London Cancer Center, where I have also taken on the role of planning ongoing cancer support services and public relations. I proudly plan an annual Cancer Survivors Celebration which celebrates about 150 survivors and their care takers. This year I am also working on having our office get involved in the Relay for Life, and hosting the Look Good Feel Better at our center.
mK: Cool! Who is your hero or heroes?
AT: My hero is hands down my sister Mercy. As easy as that is for me to say, but to actually explain why is much more difficult. She is just an incredible sister, friend, confidant, and partner in crime. Not only did she, at a young age, have to step up when our father passed, but she took the lead when I was diagnosed and has been by my side the entire time. She is a strong, independent, smart, and creative woman that I only hope I can become half of someday. Although so much of what we have faced as family/sisters has been difficult for her, she continues to stay strong for me when I need her. She has taught me more than I ever expected to learn from her, and continues to become a better stronger person every day. She is my hero because when everyone else choose to walk away when things got difficult she stood by me, not because she is my sister and had to, but because she is my best friend.
mK: The people who bravely stand by their friends and loved ones in these battles deserve props! What motivates you?
AT: Every day I can be motivated by something different. Most of all my motivation in life is knowing that if I do better for me, I will do better for my family now and the family I will someday have. It is knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life, if even with just a smile, or a random act of kindness. I am also motivated and inspired by happiness, and courage.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
AT: I personally believe it is difficult, and almost impossible, to feel entirely like yourself after being diagnosed with cancer. You learn everyday how to move on with your new normal, your new self. Your life is turned completely upside down and you come out the other side changed. For me it is still a day to day struggle, some days are fine and I feel almost like myself before treatment. Other days it is still so raw I feel like I will never see that person again, but continue to learn to grow into my new shoes.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
AT: I laugh the most when Mercy and I start one of our many random text conversations. They usually include something about unicorns, or wangling alligators (yes, I know that is not spelled properly), or complete nonsense that really makes no sense at all. I could also laugh for hours watching people that are not good at playing Wii try so hard to play. When it comes to crying most often it doesn’t take much. I can cry when I am overwhelmed with happiness, or sadness, or anger, or anxiety. I could cry hearing other survivor stories, or a good commercial, or the end of Harry Potter, or thinking about how different life is now, or the thought of how often and much I miss my father who I lost at the age of 16, the list could really go on and on. I cry when I hear that a dear friend/fellow survivor is doing so much better than the last time I saw him, and no longer walking with a cane. So basically, I am a big sap and could really cry at anything. The thing that makes me most angry is when people lie, even a white lie. There is no reason that anyone is not good enough or doesn’t deserve anything but the truth. And it makes me angry when people hear my story, or many other survivor stories, and say, well at least you had the “good cancer.” Because we all, as survivors, know there is no such thing as a “good cancer”, or stage, or time in your life to hear the words “you have cancer.”
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
AT: My boyfriend planned a weekend “adventure” for us and refused to tell me what we would be doing but simply advised that I should not be afraid. So of course your first instinct is to be terrified. I spent the next week trying to drag out of him what we would be doing, but was only given small clues along the way. When Sunday finally arrived he finally told me that we would be going sky diving in only a few hours. Not having enough time to go into a complete state of anxiety we went on our way to jump out of a perfectly good airplane at 10,000 feet. It was the most incredible thing I have ever done, and much like standing atop a mountain it makes you realize how small you are.
mK: Cool! What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
AT: The toughest challenge has been dealing with infertility. I was only 24 with no children of my own, and told that I did not have time to harvest eggs, and that surrogacy would be an option once my treatment was complete and I was ready for children. Since they were moving my ovaries out of the radiation field and not removing them when they performed the hysterectomy, I held onto the fact that although I would never become pregnant someone else would be able to carry my child. That was all quickly taken away when I first went into menopause shortly after my hysterectomy, and several months later had to have my ovaries removed due to a complication from the first surgery to move them. I can honestly say almost 4 years since that surgery and I have yet to overcome this. I only hope that as time passes it becomes easier.
mK: The effects of treatment on young adult survivors are profound and cannot be ignored! Changing gears… What is your guilty pleasure?
AT: Bacon and lots of it…Ok so maybe my real guilty pleasure is people watching. But I don’t want everyone to know that’s why I wear my sunglasses at night.
mK: Hee hee… admit it… you just wanna look cool in your shades… If you could get a preview of yourself 30 year into future? Would you want to? What do you think you would see?
AT: I am currently reading an amazing book called Garden Spells, in this book the main character has a tree that grows apples that if eaten by anyone outside of the family, they will have visions of their future. There is a part in the book where the main character is explaining to her niece why they do not allow others to eat the apples and indulge themselves in seeing their future. She basically explains once people see their future it is easy to forget to live day to day, but rather know that eventually this is going to happen in your life and coast by without living in the moment. This is basically how I feel, I do not want to see into my future, to know where my life may or may not be in 5 years let alone 30. Do I know where I would prefer my life to be? Of course. In my eyes I would love to see myself happily married, with well-behaved children/young adults, living on a beautiful farm, with a job where I am making a difference in people’s lives.
mK: What do you like to do in your spare time?
AT: In my spare time I like to take photos, or spend time with the people I love. I like to enjoy the outdoors in nice weather, enjoy a good lazy movie day in the cold, or cook a yummy meal. I am most recently trying to learn to play the guitar in my spare time, which is proving to be more difficult than I expected, but rewarding when I am able to “rock out” with the two new cords I learned.
mK: What are you up to now?
AT: I am working on growing my photography skills and hopefully making a part time job out of it, getting more involved with Tamika and Friends and her new cause Cervivor. I also working full time, and am hoping to go back to school before the end of 2014.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
AT: I LOVE BACON… Ok, I think that is something most people that know me probably know… So it would probably be that I am 28 years old and have absolutely no idea what I want to be when I grow up, and that both terrifies me and makes me so happy that I can admit.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
AT: I would say keep doing what you are doing, fighting the fight, enjoying life, and learning every day. Life goes by too quickly, and as survivors we should be well aware of that. There is no time like now!
Alexandrea Teachworth: Hardcore Bacon junkie, Sun-Glass-Rockin, Cervical Cancer Advocate, and driven Post-treatment “Thriver.” Thanks for hanging out with us Ali! Check out cervivor.org when you get the chance!