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Doctors diagnosed Tamika Felder with advanced cervical cancer in 2001, when she was 25 years old. Tamika is now cancer-free and uses her experience to help teach other women about ways to prevent it. She is the founder and CEO of Tamika & Friends, Inc., a national non-profit organization dedicated to cervical cancer awareness through a network of survivors and their friends.
Tamika is also a survivor spokesperson for LIVESTRONG. She currently serves as a patient advocate member of the Gynecological Oncology Group and the National Cancer Institute's Gynecologic Cancer Steering Committee — Cervical Task Force. She is a member of the District of Columbia Cancer Plan's Gynecological Cancer Committee and the Maryland Cancer Plan's Cervical Cancer Committee.
She currently resides in the Washington, DC area and is an award-winning television producer and TV host.
Tamika and other cervical cancer survivors at a 2010 walk to end cervical cancer in New York, NY.
- Cervical cancer fact sheet
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital warts fact sheet
- Hysterectomy fact sheet
- Minority women's health
- Pap test fact sheet
- Pre-existing condition insurance plan
- Screening tests and vaccines
Please read our disclaimer regarding this interview.
Interview With a Cervical Cancer Survivor: Tamika Felder
Like many recent college graduates, Tamika Felder focused on her career and having fun. She skipped regular visits to her doctor for a few years because she didn't have health insurance. When she went for a Pap test, she was devastated by the doctor's diagnosis: Tamika had cervical cancer. Read this powerful interview to see the lessons she hopes all women will learn from her story.
Tell us how you found yourself without health insurance.
I graduated from college and reached the age where I was no longer covered by my mother's health insurance. Once I got a full-time job with insurance, I started going back to the doctor.
Were you having any symptoms that made you want to go to the doctor?
I had a cyst under my right arm. The doctor asked me when my last physical was and I recalled it was three years ago. He insisted I see another doctor to get it checked out. I made an appointment for a yearly physical exam, which included a Pap test.
What went through your mind when you were told you had cervical cancer?
I thought there was no way that I could have cancer. I was way too young and I didn't feel like someone who was sick.
What kind of treatment did your doctors recommend and how did you feel about it?
I got several opinions and they all recommended a radical hysterectomy. I was devastated because that meant that I would never be able to have a child. At the time, I wasn't married and didn't have any children. But I always thought this might change. Feeling defeated, I agreed to the hysterectomy. The hospital wanted to schedule my surgery immediately, but I found an excuse for every date they suggested. They finally scheduled my surgery for June 14.
So, on June 14, 2001, at 7 a.m. at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD, everything that I thought that made me a woman was removed. I was heartbroken. I felt I had given up a child I never had. A part of me was gone, and I would never be the same again.
Did the hysterectomy remove all of the cancer?
No. The doctors initially thought that it would, but the cancer was invasive. I followed up with chemotherapy (chemo) and radiation therapy. I started treatment late that summer. I had chemo once a week and radiation treatments five days a week. Each Wednesday I started my chemo at 7 a.m. and finished up with a zap of radiation in the afternoon. I referred to it as my afternoon cocktail.
How did you make it through this difficult time in your life?
I made it through with lots of prayer and support from family, friends, and colleagues. When I was diagnosed, human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that can cause cervical cancer, was not in the news as it is now. So, I felt all alone and embarrassed until I started educating myself about HPV and its link to cervical cancer. During that time my friends were doing research, too. We all really needed to do something. We couldn't let anyone else go through what I was going through. Out of this, Tamika & Friends, a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading awareness about cervical cancer, was born.
At age 35 now, are you cancer-free?
Yes, I am now 10 years cancer-free! I'm healthy and using this second chance at life to be the healthiest that I have ever been.
After this life-changing experience, what would you like to tell other women without health insurance about the importance of getting a Pap test?
I have what I call my 11th Commandment — never, ever skip your Pap test! It doesn't matter if you are uninsured, underinsured, scared, or don't have time. Having cervical cancer is hard, but finding it is easy. You need to find it to get the treatment you may need. There are things young women can do to stop HPV, like getting the HPV vaccine.
Would you mind elaborating on how the Affordable Care Act will help young adults?
The Affordable Care Act is important for all Americans, but as a young adult that was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer, I know the exact impact it will have on young people. First, the law allows young adults to stay on their parents' health insurance until they are 26. If I was still on my mother's insurance, my story would probably have had a different outcome. I might have been diagnosed sooner. Secondly, by 2014, people with pre-existing conditions will not be denied health coverage. From now until 2014, people with a pre-existing condition are eligible for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. It is health insurance for U.S. citizens and legal residents who haven’t had coverage for at least six months and have a pre-existing condition or have been denied health coverage because of a health condition. In 2014, people will have access to health insurance though an exchange program. Lastly, certain preventive screenings, like the one for cervical cancer, are now covered at no cost to women!
Do you currently follow screening recommendations for other diseases?
Do you mind sharing what other preventive screenings you've had?
I've had my cholesterol checked and I've been screened for diabetes and glaucoma. I've also had my skin checked for skin cancer. You name the test and I've probably had it! I want to be as proactive as possible about my health.
Now that you are cancer-free and being proactive about your health, what do you think your future holds?
I have a new "get fit" plan. My ultimate goal is to lose 100 pounds. I've changed my eating habits so I'm eating less fast food. I also do some type of physical activity for at least one hour, six days a week. I just learned how to swim, which was a major life goal for me. I love the water, so swimming is my new love. It's also a great full-body workout. I also love Pilates and I enjoy both stationary and recreational biking. Since I have a family history of osteoporosis, I also do weight-bearing activities. My next challenge is to take up rock climbing!
Content last updated June 8, 2011.
Interview contents copyright © 2011, Tamika Felder.
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