(COLORADO SPRINGS) — January was Cervical Cancer Awareness month. What should you be doing to keep yourself protected, and how can you support those around you that have a diagnosis? One local survivor shares her story about how she was first diagnosed in 2018, and then again in 2021.

Elizabeth Graves, two-time cervical cancer survivor

Elizabeth Graves was 36 years old the first time she received a fertility-ending cervical cancer diagnosis. Graves was devastated that she couldn’t give her daughter, who was just a year old at the time, another sibling. 

“I felt like I was in the prime of my life, and losing so much…The future I had pictured would not be happening,” said Graves explaining, the weight of what she felt when she got her initial diagnosis.

She fell into a spiral of sadness and loneliness that took her a while to recover from.

In 2021, when she was diagnosed a second time, she decided to change her mindset from despair to determination. During the time she was going through chemotherapy and radiation, she focused on maintaining connections and showing up for those around her, especially, her daughter.

“I spent a lot of time braiding her hair, we spent a lot of time with her doing Taylor Swift dance parties. And what she remembers from that time is the connection. And I know that I showed up the best way I could… I get emotional just thinking about it,” said Graves, thinking back to that time.

And the effort that Graves made during that time worked. She talks about the special connection she continues to have with her daughter today.

“She’s so proud of me. I have this shirt and it says ‘Cancer Strong,’ and I was like, Lovey, do you want me to get you a shirt? And she said I want mine to say, ‘My Mom Is Cancer Strong!’,” Graves told this story with tears welling in her eyes. “I don’t always get to choose how this ends, but I get to choose how I show up. And I know that this is how I want to show up.”

Cervical Cancer Prevention

Cervical Cancer was once one of the leading causes of cancer deaths for women in the United States, according to the American Association for Cancer Research. Through screening and prevention, the impact of this form of cancer has been greatly reduced, but not obsolete.

The American Cancer Society estimates more than 14,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with Cervical Cancer this year, and over 4,000 of those women will die from it.

The two main things experts and advocates are urging women to do is:

  1. Get screened: through your annual Pap test
  2. Get vaccinated: through the HPV vaccine

The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is what causes most cervical cancers. According to the CDC, up to 93% of cervical cancers could be prevented, through the HPV vaccine.

“You don’t have to get cervical cancer. We don’t have to die from this!” said Laurie Cardin, the founder of Cervical Cancer Colorado Connection.

An annual pap smear can detect cervical cancer and any other abnormalities.

“That ten or 15-minute exam can save your life,” said Colleen Kraemer, who is a gynecologic oncologist medical assistant.

Cardin, who is a cervical cancer survivor, said if they had detected cancer any later, ” I would say there’s a possibility I wouldn’t be here today.”

Supporting those with a diagnosis

During Elizabeth Graves’ second journey in fighting cervical cancer, she made a point to get outside, every day, and she did that by creating a walking goal, of 15,000-17,000 steps per day. Staying in line with her other goal of staying connected, she built a schedule with people that were close to her, where each day of the week, she would walk and talk with someone.

“It made me feel like a normal person, because it was like, I go for a walk with friends when I’m not sick too,” said Graves. “What a gift to receive help and have it not feel like a burden,” she said, thankful for the people who were so committed to helping her get through those tough times.

Graves said a great question to ask, that helped her, is,” What would feel like a gift for you today?” The ‘today’ part of that question, is key.

“Just recognizing that they’re sort of bewildered as they go through this journey as well…So what sounded really good three months ago, three weeks ago, maybe doesn’t feel appealing anymore,” Graves explained.

Sometimes, what it takes is talking to someone who truly gets it. Local organizations like Sue’s Gift, and Cervical Cancer Colorado Connection, have programs where people can talk with survivors and those that are in treatment.

“It’s really an easier conversation to have with somebody who’s already been down that road and they know what to expect and they can tell you what to expect,” said Susan DiNapoli, the executive director of Sue’s Gift, talking about their peer mentoring program.

DiNapoli says that there is a huge stigma surrounding cervical cancers and other gynecological cancers, but women should not be ashamed.

“85% of the human population has HPV. So it’s really absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Yet people are ashamed of it. And in turn, then they don’t talk about it,” said DiNapoli.

Talking to other women

When Laurie Cardin went to a convention about advocation and awareness, she walked into a room of 40 cervical cancer survivors, “I felt alone, and then not alone in a matter of seconds,” she said.

Survivors say this sense of community is important.

Cardin, who is a cervical cancer survivor, and the founder of Cervical Cancer Colorado Connection, says nothing had helped her more, than talking to other women who had gone through the same experience.

One woman, in particular, helping her get through her own fight against cancer. She shared a story told to her by another survivor, who got upset when she had overheard her nurse tell a patient, “You need to own your cancer.”

“And she was like, ‘It’s not my cancer, I didn’t invite it into my body, I’m not going to own this! But I am going to own my fight, I am going to own my survival. And I am going to kick it out. It was uninvited,'” Cardin recalled the story. “And when she said those words, everything changed in my brain. I can do this, I can own my fight!”

Cardin now hosts Gyno Cancer Support Lunches, to create a space where women can talk and share their experiences, in hopes that these women can find the community they need to get through their fights. The message she wants to share is. “You are not alone.”

Graves, is now a coach for people fo are diagnosed with cancer. Through her program This Is Cancer Strong, she helps those who might feel isolated like she once did.

“What I’ve heard is that it will come back, and so I don’t know what that looks like, and it doesn’t serve me all that well to spend time thinking about that…I think pain will probably always be a part of my story but when I am able to show up and give back and make a difference, those things change how I perceive my life,” said Graves.


Sue’s Gift, gynecologic cancer support: Resources for patients, financial assistance, peer support, etc. Volunteer and donation options on their website

Cervical Cancer Colorado Connection: Resources for patients, gynecologic cancer support events, etc. Volunteer and donation options on their website

This Is Cancer Strong: cancer coaching program to get through a diagnosis

CDC Inside Knowledge About Gynecologic Cancer Campaign: fact sheets, research, PSAs, health care providers, etc.

World Health Organization Cervical Cancer Awareness: recent data, research, recent news