Cancer Survivor School: Where are they now? Amy Bondon

Tell me about when you were first diagnosed with cervical cancer and how that experience was for you.

It was early January 2019. I'd always been a very healthy, physically fit, health-conscious person; I had just biked like 30 miles. I had arrived in Florida for a couple of months, and I woke up with severe agonizing pain. I ended up in the ER and it was a bit difficult to diagnose. Then when I finally received the diagnosis in February, I was shocked. I never had any symptoms that I could think of and looking back, I was probably attributing things to menopause that could have been cancer. I was diagnosed with 1B1 cervical cancer. I was alone, and it was really overwhelming. I have to say, I think every cancer patient, when they're first diagnosed, your mind immediately goes to ‘I'm not going to survive this.’ That's certainly where your brain goes.

How did you get connected with the HPV Cancer Survivor School at St. Jude? How did you hear about it?

My supervisor in the patient and family advisory program at Moffitt is friends with Andrea Stubbs, administrative director of the HPV Cancer Prevention Program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I am a patient advisor for Moffitt and a few other patient advisors are cervical cancer survivors. They forwarded me her contact information, we connected, and I was invited to apply for the St. Jude HPV Cancer Survivors School.

Tell us about your experience attending the HPV Cancer Survivors School.

I attended the St. Jude HPV Cancer Prevention Program-hosted HPV Cancer Survivors School, powered by Cervivor, Inc., led by Tamika Felder in October 2022, the first time it was offered.
Have you been a part of any community efforts, such as speaking about your survivorship journey?It was a real life affirming and uplifting experience. I had not been anywhere. I was pretty much afraid to leave the direct reach of Moffitt Cancer Center.
Complications and challenges often landed me back in the hospital, and so it was a big deal for me to go on this trip and an incredible honor to be selected to go. I've never been in a group of peers that shared their commonality, and it was just so wonderful. It's not the most unusual cancer, but it's certainly not the most common either. I am older so it was really interesting and eye opening for me to see the young women and how it affected their lives. There were those that were in the age of reproductive challenges and concerns. It was really just such an educational experience for me.

My biggest opportunity has been to share my experience and my knowledge with the patients at Moffitt. When I'm talking to cancer patients and their caregivers, I’m usually working in the OBGYN clinic. There are a lot of opportunities there. But when patients ask me about my experience and I share with them that I've had cervical cancer, I launch right into the fact that it's one of the few cancers that is actually preventable by means of a vaccine. And many of these people are grandparents and I am very bold about asking, ‘Do you have children?’, ‘Have they been vaccinated?’, ‘Do you know about the vaccine?’. I've had many grandparents tell me that when they get home, they are going to call their kids and make sure you know that their grandkids are getting this vaccine. I would say that's probably the biggest opportunity I have and it's quite often that it occurs.

What has been the most significant change you have seen in yourself since you've started this journey?

A desire to share my experience in any way that I can. I'm blessed to work with a wonderful team at Moffitt of much younger women and men, and in several of the clinics I work with, I'm very close with them. I've worked with them for four years now.

I am very adamant about telling them about the vaccine. I've even brought the materials in to show them. A lot of them think that their parents had them vaccinated, but they're not sure. They go home, check, and make sure. That's where I hope I've had the biggest impact because I had a very unique situation. I had complications following my initial hysterectomy nine days later and had to have emergency surgery. I was septic, and I almost died. I proceeded to be critically ill, hospitalized and then institutionalized. I had a very protracted recovery period before I was well enough to even receive treatment. I had four major surgeries as a result of this cancer. And people are aware of that so I tell them this all could have been avoided with the HPV vaccine.

What is your advice to women about cervical cancer?

To be very fastidious about screening. I was not. I was remiss, and I assumed because I wasn't sexually active that it was just pre- and postmenopausal. I wasn't attentive to it, but I am these days. Now they can test for the HPV virus as well. And I tell women to talk with their OBGYN and that it's never too late if you're not vaccinated. It’s better to do it between the ages of 9 and 12, but if these people are in their early 20s, they should have that discussion with their gynecologist. I urge them not to miss their screenings. If there's any doubt and they believe there's a problem, be persistent, because I've seen it and I've heard it from the young women that were there. Their doctors push off their stories. I encourage them to be very fierce advocates for themselves.

photo of Amy Bondon

Amy Bondon is a patient advisor at Moffitt Cancer Center and a cervical cancer survivor

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