Written by Bianca I. Laureano for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

There’s an abundance of conversations about Human Papillomavirus (HPV), especially since the new vaccinations have been approved by the FDA, and now include boys. However, what are people doing about promoting awareness and prevention about HPV (human papillomavirus), not only for young people, but older adults and men? I asked Patti Murillo-Casa, the NY Chapter President of Tamika & Friends, Inc. (T&F) a national non-profit organization dedicated to ending cervical cancer through HPV education. I admit that I was one of the founding members of T&F when living in Washington, DC and helped to build some of the early HPV education and prevention activities and discussing sexual health and sexuality specific to HPV and cervical cancer. Since my departure, T&F has expanded and grown in ways that are exciting and very much needed!

Patti Murillo-Casa has been a guest speaker for many of my classes where she shares her experience being diagnosed with cervical cancer 3 years ago, her healing, recovery, and her coping practices. She also shares information about HPV to help raise awareness. I’ve interviewed Patti before when asking her about the rates of divorce among couples where one experiences cervical cancer.  After her most recent visit as a guest speaker, I asked if she would be willing to provide an interview with me to help raise awareness of the work T&F is doing, how folks can create a chapter in their area, and how area folks can get involved in their reproductive justice efforts locally.

Can you share with us how you became involved with Tamika & Friends, Inc.?

Sure!!–.  Three months after my last treatment [for cervical cancer] had ended, and feeling the repercussions of the aftermath of a battle, my brother, Rudy, for whatever reason was checking the internet and found Tamika and Friends NYC Walk to Beat the Clock, a 5K prevention and awareness walk to prevent cervical cancer.  The walk was going to be taken place in 3 days from the day he told me.  He insisted so much for us to do it that I gave in.  We gathered family, friends, raised some money and named our team “Tumor Terminators” and on Saturday, September 19, 2009 we were there.  For me it was like an epiphany when I saw the other survivors, women fighting the battle, caregivers and their friends all telling their stories with so much strength and determination.   It was easy to get inspired.  These women inspired me and continue to every day.  They welcomed me and hugged me as a sister; I was their survivor sister. They knew exactly what I had gone through.  I went to Tamika Felder, the founder and CEO of T&F, and I told her right there and then that I wanted to join the movement.  I wanted to be one of her “Friends.”  I was not feeling sorry for myself anymore.  I understood then, that the second chance I had just been given was to help other women not to endure what I had.  Tamika and Friends-NYC Chapter was born January 15, 2010.

What have been some of your most rewarding experiences since working with Tamika & Friends, Inc.?

They have been many, but meeting awesome people in this community tops my list.  I have met amazing warriors, advocates, and just people with tremendous heart and passion.  I have my ups and downs too, but I try to focus on the ups.  I always remember the first girl that came up to me and told me that because she heard or read my story she went to her doctor to check herself and that she will promise to do it every year.  In my book that’s what makes it all worthwhile and rewarding.  I call it my boost injection. :)  It allows me to continue with my mission, with my goal, with passion and determination to help eradicate cervical cancer.

What are some of the challenges you see existing in the work Tamika & Friends, Inc. has planned locally in NYC and nationally?

Tamika Felder calls this organization small, but very mighty.  We roll up our sleeves and we get ready to work at all times.  We are all volunteers and willing to do anything to spread the word and help survivors and people battling the disease.  As a national nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of our friends, neighbors and companies to help us. Unfortunately, in these economic times it’s hard, but we go forward with what we have and at the end of the day we have done what we can and we sleep better at night.  This is New York City, a city full of generous and eager people and if you want to help us you can email me at nycchapter@tamikaandfriends.org  or call 917-829-TFNY.

How do you see Tamika & Friends, Inc. work and the work you are doing as a example of reproductive justice?

We have several programs in place. Some of these are:

House Party of fiVe – A House Party of fiVe mixes girl talk with games teaching about HPV and how to stay safe in those intimate moments. The parties are fun, not lectures, and you can customize your party to fit your style! After experiencing this comfortable environment where women can ask questions more openly about their sexual health, many often pledge to visit their health-care provider to get their Pap and HPV tests along with taking back the literature provided and messages learned to share with their friends and family.

Wear Orange Day -In January, cervical cancer awareness month, we wear orange to bring more awareness to this preventable disease. While the color teal and white is the official color for cervical cancer, Tamika & Friends wears the color orange, a color that has been said to be healing and helps to balance your emotions in times of high stress.

Say Something - a toolkit provided and co-sponsored by another great organization, The Yellow Umbrella. Many times we want to know how to talk to our friends and family on cervical cancer, its link to HPV and how we can all prevent it. With the materials provided, it becomes easier to share information, educate yourself and help encourage women to get their HPV test.

Gift of Giving Financial Assistance Application -This is Tamika & Friends way of helping cervical cancer patients/survivors pay their bills. Unfortunately, the realities in this world do not stop even when you have a cervical cancer diagnosis and we love to be able to help ease the burden with donations provided by our supporters.

Walk to Beat the Clock – Our annual walks for cervical cancer. A place to provide solidarity, while recognizing and building a community of survivors, advocates, family and friends. The NYC Walk to Beat the Clock will on Saturday, September 17, 2011.  You can register, donate or volunteer by going to www.walktobeattheclock.org

T&F Chapters – Our organization is growing and as we share on our website we want to go global! We also attend many health fairs targeting different communities in Harlem, Spanish Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx and we give information and bring awareness to this disease and prevention. We want to expand. We love being online, but we also know that education and help is often best offered in person. Tamika & Friends will work with you and others in your community to organize educational events such as those listed above. We will provide materials and expertise to help you hold informational sessions at your local library, attend health fairs, contact community health organizations and colleges/universities. Plus, we will help you connect women in need with medical and social support and assist in fundraising efforts.

Tamika & Friends is a great way to combine fun, friendship and making a difference. To get involved, or to request additional information, please contact Tanhea at tanhea@tamikaandfriends.org.

How do you include men in HPV education and why is their inclusion important?

I particularly love men in the audience when I do my presentations.  Most of the time they shy away from the subject until they find out the HPV affects men and women.  It is obvious, that they will not get cervical cancer but there are other cancers that men can get that are linked to HPV (i.e. penile, anal, throat).   I also remind them that there are women in their lives (mom. sister, aunt, grandmother, godmother, girlfriends) and they have to support them.  Knowledge is power for everyone.

I believe that the inclusion of men is very important because in a way this disease affects everyone.  Men also have to realized that the human papillomavirus affects them too and it can lead to genital warts, penile cancer and anal cancer, to name a few.   Recent studies have revealed that throat cancer is in the rise for men due to the human papillomavirus. It is also important that boys and young men 9-26 years old know that they are able to get the HPV vaccine.

What support services exist for cervical cancer survivors via Tamika & Friends, Inc.?

One of the services already mentioned is the Gift of Giving which helps cervical cancer patients/survivors pay their bills. We have a certified counselor on board if they want to talk, a gynecologist, and nurse; we also offer emotional support (online coming soon). Family support is awesome but to talk and be supported by someone that has gone through what you have gone through makes a difference. Tamika and Friends, Inc. can be the other family in a survivor’s life.

What else would you like to have readers know about Tamika & Friends, Inc.?

Believing that creative communication is far more infectious than HPV – we provide many hands-on ways to spread the word to women in all walks of life. We may be reached using social media and our website.

You can reach out to us by visiting our website: www.tamikaandfriends.org, on Facebook

and Twitter. You can read our blog We Can Prevent Cervical Cancer