by Henry Jones
Navita Gunter A Cervical Cancer Survivor, The Fighter who Kept Fighting
A walnut complexion woman walked into a coffee shop. She looked around at the people sitting inside and smiled at them. She had the look on her face of someone who returned home after a long absence. The shop was Kijiji’s Coffee House, a new cultural hang out for artists, poets and entrepreneurs, and students from nearby colleges.
This woman wore a flowing gown which would be ideal for a wedding or coronation. She was “dressed” as people exclaimed, which meant she wore fashion that caused heads to turn and stare. Who was this woman?
Her hands reached down and adjusted the height of the microphone positioned center stage. It seemed to waiting for her. She looked over to the sound tech. He smiled and signaled that everything was ready. Then, this woman dressed in regal attire announced, “Hello everyone. Welcome to Kijiji’s for another stellar evening of poetry.” Then, people would applaud or snap their fingers.
That scenario was a bimonthly dedicated event for the poet Navita Gunter. She hosted a bi-monthly open-mic night for poets to share their poetry. She was a prolific poet who shared her poetry often now she helped other poets do the same. For Navita, poetry was an outlet to express herself. Her poetry grew as well as her activity in the poetry community. The arts community embraced this new creative voice and was supportive. She became known as “The Queen of Nashville Poetry” in the late 90’s. This title was given because of her advocacy to promote poetry. She was in love with poetry as she’d write about anything.
Her writing soon became challenged when Navita was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Friends in the arts community were sadden. We thought she would die because most people believe cancer of any type is a death sentence. We prayed and helped her along the way. It was difficult for her. The chemo therapy, radiation and surgeries changed her entire life but she endured. After a long period of fighting, the doctors believed they got all of her cancer. All along the way of those battles my friend wrote through the tears and fears. Now, there was a celebration. Well, not until she was told about the follow ups and five year stretch.
Instead of waiting for that magical five years, Navita gathered her new strength and thought of something. She wanted to help save lives. She thought she had a death sentence but lived! She wanted other women to know cervical cancer isn’t a death sentence.
In 2001, Navita founded the Cervical Cancer Coalition of Tennessee (CCCT) as an organization to bring awareness about this form of cancer. She was a survivor and wanted to give other women a fighting chance to survive cervical cancer and also prevent women from acquiring cervical cancer from the virus. She had a new mission in life beside surviving the deadly disease. Navita explained in an interview: “After enduring the battle, I felt other women needed support from someone who knew what they would encounter if they became diagnosed with cervical cancer. I knew something had to be done.”
Armed with her story as a survivor who endured fear, self-doubt, confusion and depression, Navita ran onto the field of battle. She was healed from the cancer and overcame the demons. Now with knowledge about cervical cancer’s prevention and contemporary research, her campaign had ammunition. Sometimes a person’s life takes a new direction with a zeal after encountering a life changing experience. I believe my friend was transformed after the cancer. She didn’t realize when she founded the coalition no such cancer organization existed in Tennessee. She made history!
After being told that fact, she focused more on the mission statement of the CCCT. The target was the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is one of the causes of cervical cancer and spread via sexual activity. Her activism lead her to network in the health community. Similar to the fight against HIV/AIDS, Navita hit the streets to talk with women and men about preventing the spread of HPV.
People listened and had questions which she answered. Soon, this fighter served on many boards to reach even more people. Speaking invitations resulted.
When Navita spoke at events, guests listened to hear story about surviving cancer and forming protection. Some even joined her fight of prevention. Her allies in the arts community were now in the health community. The stages and mics were similar but the event entirely different. She bridged the creative and medical worlds with her poetry which caused some guests to cry. She was connecting with people sharing her words and story again.
Books are a great way to tell a story. Such opportunities have come along for Navita. She has been included in many articles but soon books followed. She’s featured in the book, Cancer, One Day at a Time (Author House) and co-authored (with Germaine Moody) 50 Seeds of Greatness. Currently, she’s working on a biographical book, The Day My Vagina tried to Kill Me!, due to be released in 2017. The book shares her ordeal during the fight against cancer and the formation of the coalition.
In addition to the community projects sponsored she sought other avenues. In the Nashville Pride Newspaper, Navita published a monthly column about women’s health issues related to cancer. She wrote this column for three years. Eventually, she reached out onto the Internet with a blog. This evolved into her providing advice and resource information on expert websites. People would ask her health related questions on such a website via direct chat line.
The coalition still exists after enduring ups and downs. Even with new diseases and conditions, she continues to fight tirelessly. In 2016, Navita passed her baton to Lydia Cook, as the Executive Director, who is a fighter and has a passion for reaching people.
Still in 2017, Navita encourages women battling cervical cancer. Picture her visiting a hospital room to visit a cancer patient. She moves slowly to a woman. Then she reaches and and clutches one of her hands and whispers, “You can survive this. Keep fighting.” With someone like Navita in the corner, how could you not believe this?
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