TrevisMichelle’s Story: “My Journey is My Own, But My Testimony is for All”
TrevisMichelle Mallard has long had a story to tell, and in the winter of 2020 after recovering from severe Covid-19 and major foot surgery she felt it was her time to speak out about her own personal experience as a patient, in the hopes of helping others. Her mantra: My journey is my own, but my testimony is for all.
A registered nurse for over 25 years, TrevisMichelle has seen the full spectrum of patient care, both good and bad. She wanted to speak specifically to women of color, knowing firsthand the challenges and biases that can impact their care. Additionally, having had a personal experience of sexual trauma, she understood that a range of circumstances and emotions can affect a person’s interactions with doctors and hospitals. In 2020, TrevisMichelle started speaking publicly as an expert confidence coach under the tagline “Too much for some, not enough for others, but always just right for me!” Her work quickly grew to include podcasting, talk show hosting, and even co-authoring an international bestselling anthology for women.
Everything seemed to be running on a steady course, until the fall of 2021, when she noticed unusual breakthrough bleeding on her commute to work. Because of her past trauma, TrevisMichelle herself had not been to a gynecologist in over a decade and was hesitant to see one. Despite her reluctance, friends and family encouraged her to make an appointment and promised to go and support her.
TrevisMichelle was evaluated by her gynecologist, Dr. Hye-Chun Hur, and the next day she was told that she had an appointment scheduled with Alison Gockley, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S). It was at that visit that TrevisMichelle first learned she had stage 3C cervical cancer, an advanced form of the disease where the tumor has spread to the lymph nodes of the pelvis. Instead of finding herself discouraged, TrevisMichelle took comfort in knowing that she could beat her diagnosis. Despite the challenges her cancer posed, she quickly felt an even greater commitment to sharing her message.
Christine Chin, MD, a gynecologic radiation oncologist and assistant professor of radiation oncology at VP&S. Her treatments would entail both daily radiation treatments and weekly chemotherapy together followed brachytherapy over eight weeks. “I’m traumatized from vaginal exams,” TrevisMichelle explains. “But Dr. Chin walked me through it and promised we were going to take our time. She let me know what was happening every step of the way. Being a registered nurse, I’ve been on the other side and see the importance of someone saying, ‘I’m here for you,’ of actually listening to you.”Given her disease stage, TrevisMichelle was referred to
Since her diagnosis, she’s done just that, traveling and reaching as many women as possible with her story of overcoming trauma and living with her diagnosis. She says a huge part of that effort has been the support and guidance of her care team at Columbia, led by Dr. Gockley and Dr. Chin.
“Trevis approaches her care with such bravery and resilience, and it has been such a positive experience to partner with her,” Dr. Gockley says. “As an oncologist many people assume that my work is dominated by sad discussions and loss, however the opportunity to meet patients where they are and work with patients like Trevis is what keeps me going. I view my role as a physician to not only provide information and prescribe treatment but to walk with patients along their cancer journey.”
Trauma-informed care is quality care
“During my first appointment, Dr. Gockley took the time to explain everything to me. I did not feel rushed. I was fortunate to have one of my good friends go with me and also have my daughter on the phone, and Dr. Gockley made me feel so comfortable,” TrevisMichelle says. “We talk often about providing a quality patient experience in the medical field, but a lot of people just don’t do it, or it’s hit or miss. Columbia is the only hospital ever, since I’ve had exams, that has asked ‘have you had a sexual trauma?’ I’ve worked in hospitals from Georgia all the way to New York, and no one has ever asked that.”
Having seen the difference trauma-informed care has made in her own journey, empowering her listeners to be willing participants in their treatment has become a focus of TrevisMichelle’s work.
“It’s okay to fire your doctor if you’re not comfortable. When you’re made to feel like you’re just a number it’s okay to change providers,” she says. “It’s so important as cancer thrivers to not give up on yourself. Don’t expect other people to understand what you’re going through. It’s up to us to share what we’re going through and get the support we need.”
Though her treatment is still underway, TrevisMichelle feels optimistic for the future and is grateful to have found a team at Columbia that has put her first and served as an example for the kind of care she encourages her listeners to seek out.
For those who have similarly avoided seeking medical care after trauma or abuse, TrevisMichelle has this to offer, "It can be scary going to the doctor by yourself so always have someone there to support you. Once you’re there, make sure you tell your provider that you’ve experienced trauma, it’s important for them to know. Finally, if you do have a diagnosis, forgive yourself, acknowledge your trauma, and then commit to making yourself and your health your number one priority.”
Dr. Gockley adds, “There is so much hope in caring for women with cervical cancer as it often can be cured. The future can be brighter for all women. Cervical cancer can largely be eradicated through vaccination against the human papilloma virus (HPV) and routine screening with pap smear and HPV testing.”