Cervical Cancer, Relationships and Divorce

Bianca I. Laureano

Statistics indicate that people who experience cervical and testicular cancer have a higher rate of divorce. What is the lived reality of cancer survivors, especially women of Color in the US, who have survived cervical cancer?

I was recently reading an article at The Daily Beast that discussed 15 signs of divorce. Written by Anneli Rufus who found research that has been published mostly in peer reviewed journals her article “15 Ways To Predict Divorce” piqued my interest as someone who studies intimate sexual relationships among communities of Color.  Of the last several items listed was this: “If you’ve been diagnosed with cervical cancer, your likelihood of getting divorced is 40 percent higher than standard rates; it’s 20 percent higher if you’ve been diagnosed with testicular cancer.”  I found this especially specific and went to look at the original research article. What was most fascinating to me was this sentence: “Perhaps the most relevant factor, Syse proposed, is that cervical and testicular cancers mostly affect younger people.”

I wondered what this meant with regards to youth, relationships, and ideas of family. I then started to wonder what the women in my life who have survived cervical cancer would think about this information. Would they have a different take, approach, experience? I had never thought there would have been only one cancer for men and women that would be the most devastating to a marriage. My perceptions were that any type of cancer would be devastating and a challenge. I have witnessed my aunt, the only aunt I was raised with as the rest of my entire family lives on the mainland of Puerto Rico, survive her breast cancer diagnosis last year. Several of my friends have had parents and other close family members who have also been diagnosed with cancer. And then I know very well two women who both have survived cervical cancer. I immediately sent them both a note.

Several years ago I met survivor, journalist, and activist Tamika Felder through a college friend. Tamika, a cervical cancer survivor who was diagnosed in 2001 and had a radical hysterectomy when she was 25, was looking for dedicated people to help her build and sustain a non-profit organization dedicated to educating all people about cervical cancer and HPV. Tamika wanted the organization to most especially provide survivor support in various capacities and work with/educate men. We hit it off and I became the Director of Sexual Health and Education for the organization several of us co-founded: Tamika & Friends, Inc. a national organization.

Since Tamika & Friends, Inc. was established we created House Parties of fiVe (HPV Parties), which incorporated grassroots efforts and communal testimonies as a form of education. These were a huge success and remain one of T&Fs many forms of education and outreach. T&F also planned and executed the first Walk for Cervical Cancer. The first walk was in Washington, DC and today there are chapters and walks in New York City, Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Columbia, South Carolina.

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As I moved to New York City I had to give up my position as Director of Sexual Health and Education yet have remained active in some capacities. There is a New York City Chapter that has been recently established under the leadership of Patti Murillo-Casa, a survivor of cervical cancer. It was Patti and Tamika that I emailed about this story/finding.

Both Patti and Tamika were not surprised and had heard of this statistic. They both discussed the stigma attached, and for both of them this statistic was discouraging. Patti was diagnosed with cervical cancer after she was married. Tamika has not been married and has a different interaction with the finding. Patti and Tamika agreed to have me share with you their stories and their comments we had about this statistic.

Patti was the first to respond to my note and shared that she had heard of the statistic and that Tamika often talks about it and had recently done so in a Summit earlier this year. She writes: “Fortunately for me my guy has become more gentler and patient with me.” She shares how the intimate and sexual experiences with her partner after her diagnosis and treatment resulted in them finding “a new normal.” Patti even shared that she enjoys her experiences with her husband even more now, post-cancer. She and her husband have created an experience together that is more “tender and gentle” and I interpreted this as them honoring and sharing one another’s bodies in ways they had not before.

Hearing Patti’s testimonio warmed my heart and made me smile. It still does! She not only offers a narrative that challenges stereotypes around “machismo” in the Latino community, but also that expands our understanding of Latino families and relationships in general.

Tamika shared that she always, every time she speaks, talks about this statistic.

She shared that “[cervical and] testicular cancer patients/survivors have the highest incidence of divorce. So sad for me. I already had man problems before cancer!”

When I read Tamika’s testimony and commentary it reminded me of the process of healing and coping and how this is a life long experience. Finding someone who you trust and believe will honor your healing is crucial and difficult to find, and I say that as someone who is single and dating, it’s hard! I felt the exact same way when Tamika asked me to write an article for the website on scars and how to cope with our scars as survivors of anything that has left us with a physical scar. As women, our scars and scarring may be different to accept in comparison to some scars that people who identify as men may cope with accepting.

I’d love to hear what survivor’s thoughts are about this statistic, and what the lived realities are as survivors. There are many ways that Tamika’s story and experiences intersect with some of the common statistics about Black women who are single, which my homegirl Omi calls “The Black Love Crisis” and rarely, if ever is surviving cancer included in those discussions!

If you are in New York City I encourage you to join us for the Walk for Cervical Cancer. You may register here. If you are interested in getting involved in various ways, finding support for a survivor in your life, learning more about HPV, finding information on what to do as the partner of someone who is diagnosed with HPV or cervical cancer, or interesting in starting a chapter in your state visit the Tamika & Friends, Inc. website.

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