Cervical cancer survivor and thriver, Karla Chavez, answered a few questions this month, which also is Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month. Karla Chavez is from Honduras and she is a civil engineer and amigurumi enthusiast. Karla is a 4-year cervical and thyroid cancer survivor and a proud ostomate. She is a Cervivor Ambassador, a 2019 Cervivor School graduate, and Co-leader of the Cervivor Espanol community. Karla was awarded the 2020 Britanny Wagner Social Media Advocacy Award Recipient and was named named the 2022 Cervivor Champion Award.
Karla also participated in the 2022 HPV Cancer Survivors School hosted by the St. Jude HPV Cancer Prevention Program and powered by Cervivor, Inc.
What do you do in your spare time?
During my spare time, I like to crochet. I am an amigurumi enthusiast and love creating different crochet dolls and animals. It helps to ground me when I have anxiety, so it’s a win-win situation.
What makes you happy, or what are you most grateful for?
I am most grateful for my family. I am the happiest when I am with them. We are very close. They are my support team in everything.
What has cancer survivorship taught you about yourself?
Cancer survivorship has taught me purpose. Before cancer, I was busy “adulting”; after cancer, all those things that seemed important now are a means to an end. I have come to understand that I am important, including my health and what I want to do with my life. I have learned to take care of myself and give myself time to breathe and enjoy every day; even the bad days have a silver lining to them: I am still here.
What do you feel cervical cancer took from you? What did it give you?
Cervical cancer took from me my control and my plan for my life, and in a physical sense, I lost my fertility, many organs in the process, and to a certain extent, the confidence I had. Cervical cancer also gave me a community of support, love, and understanding. It gave me purpose and made me love every single day more.
What is the most important thing you have learned through your cancer journey and advocacy efforts?
The most important thing I’ve learned is that I am not alone and that anyone who must go through this will not be alone. I’ve learned how important it is to share my story and listen to other’s stories and how this builds a community of support and advocacy.
What have you gained from your engagement with Cervivor and Cervivor Español?
Through my engagement with Cervivor and Cervivor Español, I have gained knowledge and confidence in sharing stories, facts, and efforts in prevention. I have met people empowered and passionate about ending cervical cancer, which motivates me to do the same.
What are the biggest barriers to HPV vaccination or prevention in Spanish-speaking communities?
The biggest barriers to HPV vaccination and prevention in Spanish-speaking communities is the stigma behind it, the lack of understanding of HPV, and not going to the doctor periodically.
What would you tell someone who has been diagnosed with HPV cancer?
I would tell them that they are not alone. There are support groups; I would always recommend Cervivor.
In addition to their treatment protocol, therapy is a great way to get through it. Treatment can take a toll on you, and speaking to someone helps a lot. Document everything, ask your doctor everything and anything that comes to mind regarding your treatment and side effects. I would write questions for my doctors in my notebook, and I would ask questions on the days I had appointments with them. No question is stupid; they are all important because they are about your health and your mental peace.
What advice would you give parents or caregivers to protect their children against HPV cancers?
HPV vaccination is cancer protection. It is safe and effective. Not only does it protect from cervical cancer, but five other types of cancers related to HPV. There is a vaccine to prevent cancer. Why not protect our children?