Prepare to celebrate EVERY. SINGLE. WIN!: Staying positive all the time is hard, so find ways to recognize the good and raise it up. Had an easy time getting the IV in for an infusion? Ring the bell to cheer you on! Made it through your first brachytherapy procedure? That’s cause for a balloon drop! Every milestone is one closer to the rest of your hard-fought, hard-earned, life so be sure to recognize your incredible accomplishments as you go!
Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eve McDavid.
FemTech entrepreneur, Eve McDavid, is a Google strategy executive and stage IIB cervical cancer survivor. Forever transformed by her diagnosis , Eve is a passionate advocate for women’s healthcare access and equity. As a woman in tech who specializes in complex problem solving, she’s joined the World Health Organization’s fight to eradicate Cervical Cancer by 2030 and is collaborating with Weill Cornell Medicine to redesign treatment devices to improve women’s care, outcomes and access.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?
Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here to discuss such a meaningful topic. I’m a proud wife, mama of two, kiddies and a strategy executive at Google. Most recently, I’m a cervical cancer survivor who’s drawing from all parts of my life to support the global movement to eradicate cervical cancer.
I grew up in a suburb of Washington, D.C. Being so close to the nation’s capital, I always felt I was part of something greater than myself. From a very young age I understood I had a gift to lead and connect with people in an emotionally intelligent capacity. I’ve tapped into this talent to navigate challenging and high performing environments throughout my lifetime.
My grandmother, Ann, a fierce, hardworking business owner, was my role model. I grew up on her stories of our jewish ancestors’ persecution and high-stakes journeys to immigrate from Eastern Europe to America, instilling in me the worth and strength through her I’d inherited. She too, was a cancer survivor and became my vision of a hard-working woman with a big life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I have tremendous gratitude for all the work the late Justice Ginsburg did to advance women’s equality. I’ve learned that great leaders are capable of both setting vision and methodical execution to make the dream a reality. The spirit of her words reminds me to continue the hard work every day in service of a better future for all women and families.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?
I’m comfortable sharing, thank you for asking. I was 35-weeks pregnant with my son, Arthur, and went to see my OB/GYN for a routine prenatal visit. My OB/GYN checked my cervix and commented that it felt “irregular.” She then performed a Pap Test, which is a cervical cancer screening diagnostic. There was a lot of blood, which was not typical. The next morning, she called to let me know she believed I had cervical cancer and needed to plan for Arthur’s early delivery and determine a treatment plan immediately.
The following day, I met with my oncologist and she described my diagnosis as best as could be determined from the scans. Since I was pregnant, clear and definitive results were difficult to make. She explained that my case was likely stage IIB, that it grew extremely rapidly to seven centimeters in just a few months and that I would need to start chemotherapy and radiation very quickly.
I had a C-section the next day and I wept when I met Arthur, praying I would wake up again after I went under anesthesia for the biopsy. I did, dazed and woozy in the recovery room, holding Arthur for the first time and learning the good news that the cancer didn’t appear to have spread, though I’d have further scans to confirm. By the weekend, my diagnosis was confirmed at stage IIB and because pathology returned better than anticipated results, I went home with Arthur, my husband and two year old daughter, Ruby Ann, for two weeks before treatment began.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest realization was understanding how grave my case truly was, and the fact that all of a sudden, both my life and Arthur’s were in danger. At that moment, there was a lot to fear: there was no margin of error for either of us, and while we were in the incredibly capable hands of a world-class care team, their alarm was palpable — cervical cancer is typically slow growing and so my case was highly unusual. It was clear that every minute I remained pregnant, the greater the danger for me, but less time for Arthur’s in utero development — this was the beginning of, very rapidly, making tremendously difficult decisions.
How did you react in the short term?
I experienced overwhelming shock and grief trying to grasp the weight of so much happening all at once. To see clearly, I made a list of all the questions about Arthur’s delivery and treatment’s consequences I needed answered so I could eventually feel prepared for the loss of each experience: a vaginal delivery, breastfeeding, the ability to freeze my eggs to have more children, whether surgery could replace chemotherapy and radiation, whether I could avoid early menopause.
It was devastating, but for the chance to survive, I had to give them all up, all at once. I’d never felt more out of control and that led to incredibly dark moments of pain, grief, and most curiously but most profoundly, an undertow of shame. It took me well into recovery to understand, address and begin healing from each, and then collectively.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
My husband, Matt, my partner in the truest sense of the word, sprung into action as soon as I was diagnosed, organizing my patient record and test results for additional consults and second opinions throughout the city. After we came home from the hospital with Arthur, I tapped in and this boosted my confidence. Here’s what else I did:
Physically: As soon as I could bear weight, I bundled Arthur into a baby carrier and wore him on my chest for walks in Prospect Park, almost daily. Walking in nature, the cold was an escape for me and it gave me precious time back with Arthur.
Emotionally: Matt is a clinical psychotherapist and quickly found a therapist with whom I clicked.Therapy was the safe place I needed to access the feelings of fear, shame, loss and guilt. I’d been in therapy before and I understood its importance while in the eye of the storm; I’ve continued ever since.
Spiritually: Cancer deepend my and my family’s faith in Judaism. Matt converted to Judaism while I was pregnant with my daughter, Ruby Ann, and I could see how deeply he was drawing on our family’s shared faith to get through. His faith reinspired mine: we began celebrating Shabbat every Friday night, which has been particularly restorative during the Pandemic. We also sing a prayer called the “Mi Shebeirach,” a blessing for healing to help us honor all we’ve endured.
Mentally: Moments before my diagnosis, I ran YouTube’s public sector business. For me, treatment was like showing up to a new job: an aggressive, intellectually stimulating environment, learning new people, products and processes. It lit up my curiosity. I kept track of the answers to questions that puzzled me, the limitations of present technology and tools, and how women’s experience at the center of preventable, treatable, curable cancer suffered. This kept me sharp and ready to act once I reached remission.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
There is no one more important to my experience than Matt. We were partners before, but no effort is greater than what Matt did for me in treatment. He put his therapy practice on hold to become my primary caregiver. Before I could face my diagnosis and get involved in care decisions, Matt ran point on all medical communications, running on foot throughout the city, begging doctors to see me.
He drove me to every treatment and when I asked that he be strong so I may be weak, he processed his fear and grief privately to not burden me. He put everything on the line to ensure a successful outcome . I know, today, that I experienced my extraordinary outcome due to his unwavering commitment. Only later, would I understand the enormous toll it took on him; throughout, he absorbed everything for me so I could focus and just get through.
In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?
My cancer brought with it a blaring message: “pay attention.” During my pregnancy, I had bleeding and was tremendously drained. I voiced my concerns at prenatal visits, though because I was pregnant, with a demanding job, a toddler at home, and have a blood type that explained the bleeding, I didn’t present any differently from a healthy pregnant woman. And of course, I was anything but that.
It’s well documented that women are conditioned to minimize pain and discomfort. Cancer showed me how risky this truly is. We only get so much time and we have but one body — and so I learned to listen to my body and mind together to protect, take care of and restore my being. I’m now much more thoughtful, intuitive and trusting of myself before making a choice or booking the next commitment.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?
Cancer is a life-changing mirror. It’s well understood that humans constantly face moments where everything forever is different. The only question is, how much time in the aftermath do we have to make something of the moment?
Feeling the shame and stigma of HPV-related cancer, and learning that many women with the same diagnosis experience the same, was a wake-up call. Shame creates an extraordinary barrier to accessing quality care and it’s something that we can use our voices to change. Before cancer I never would have considered speaking publicly about my HPV diagnosis or Abnormal Pap Test results — now I want to encourage all women to talk about cervical health so we can see how truly common our experiences are and destigmatize the diagnosis.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
I feel honored to use my experience to now make a contribution to the conversation. I’ve become a women’s health advocate with a goal of destigmatizing HPV and cervical cancer, joining the many women who’ve paved the way to speak up and speak out before me. I’m also using my expertise in tech to modernize the technology used in today’s cervical healthcare system and to expand access to women’s healthcare. I have recently become a part of the World Health Organization’s initiative to eliminate cervical cancer by 2030 and am collaborating with my treating physician to redesign treatment tools to offer women safer, more humane procedures while also improving physical and mental health outcomes.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
- Myth 1: I should be strong enough to “get through ‘’ without extra help. I learned to use my voice in every way during cancer — asking for anxiety medication when I needed it, increasing my dosage of anti-nausea medication, requesting the “special forces” nursing team every week at chemo to make IV placement easier. I learned to let others accommodate me, not the other way around. There’s no better time to be vocal than when you’re fighting for your life.
- Myth 2: You have to take risks to give yourself the greatest chance for survival. I passed on a clinical trial recommended by a number of physicians because I was young and healthy, so I “could take more chemo.” I had enough concerns on the trial to pass, and looking back, I’m glad I did — it recently wound down after having shown no greater efficacy. Trust your judgment and vet your decisions with your care team, you know more than you realize as you evaluate decisions.
- Myth 3: Cancer is time-bound to treatment. Recovery is just as important as treatment. Recovery is a long journey and it happens in time. Be patient with yourself and set boundaries to preserve your time in recovery. Take as much time as you need to heal, only you can set that for yourself.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.
- A badass care team in which you see yourself: Find the providers who will fight for you because they understand and care about you as a person. I sensed and trusted the approach and care I received by two female physicians for gynecological cancer. I was confident my doctors looked out for me both as a patient and a woman. This made all the difference in my care and post-treatment quality of life.
- A small inner circle: “Your circle may get smaller as you go through this” was wisdom I received early on. Holding close a select few trusted loved ones will be your mirrors when you can’t see your way through and your railings when you need someone to hold onto to steady yourself. Cancer is horrific. It’s as ugly as you think, and then so much worse. It’s OK that not everyone has the stomach to join for the journey and it’s helpful to be prepared to watch your relationships transition and change as you go.
- A self-preservation mindset: Believe you deserve the freedom to put yourself first and ask for everything you need. You can hit pause on the demands of life as best as possible as you go through this. Outsource as much as you can without fear of judgment (errands, meals, childcare, etc.) You’ll both need and use the time, space and energy, so carve it out from the jump.
- Safe processing tools: This looks different for everyone, but the important thing is to identify and try them to see what works for you. A few that come to mind: therapy, acupuncture, massage, CBD & cannabis products.
- Prepare to celebrate EVERY. SINGLE. WIN!: Staying positive all the time is hard, so find ways to recognize the good and raise it up. Had an easy time getting the IV in for an infusion? Ring the bell to cheer you on! Made it through your first brachytherapy procedure? That’s cause for a balloon drop! Every milestone is one closer to the rest of your hard-fought, hard-earned, life so be sure to recognize your incredible accomplishments as you go!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
To destigmatize and raise our level of awareness and understanding of HPV and cervical cancer screening. When we’re uncomfortable and underinformed, we’re less likely to recognize a problem or voice a concern; this can be life-threatening. My hope is to bring these conversations out of the shadows and whisper networks so every woman feels comfortable advocating for herself to prevent cervical cancer.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to share a meal with @kamalaharris and @melindagates and — please let me know when we’re scheduled! 🙂 I’m so inspired by each woman’s extraordinary work: Vice President Harris’ commitment to fighting cancer and Melinda’s work to lift girls and women in some of the dangerous environments globally. Their dedication to women’s health, domestically and internationally, is powerful confirmation that using my voice to do this work is so very important.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please visit www.EveMcDavid.com to stay close to my journey to transform cervical healthcare, connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @evemcdavid.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!