A sexually transmitted infection disguised as a three letter acronym that to be truthful, I STILL don’t understand.
I have HPV. Not the kind that the smiling girls in the stock photos on Planned Parenthoods website presumably have, but the scary kind. The kind that could very well turn into cervical cancer if I don’t stay on top of pap appointments.
How did I get HPV? I have no idea. Web MD tells me that nearly every sexually active person will get HPV in their lifetime. That is comforting to know, but as a 20 something young woman who is otherwise healthy and has never really "gotten around" it is also infuriating.
HPV can stay hidden in your body for years, meaning there is no way of knowing when it was contracted. That (and excuse my language here) is bullshit. How am I supposed to place the blame on one of my douchebag ex's when I don’t even know when it was contracted?
I talked to my friends about my little medical mishap, and they are just as confused as I am. Sure, when I say "friends" I really mean the cast of GIRLS and yes, when I say "talked to" I mean binge watched season one of GIRLS on HBO GO for the millionth time.
When Hannah found out that she had HPV she turned to Adam for answers. Adam told her that he doesn’t have it. Adam doesn’t have it because "he got tested". Elijah informs Hannah that there is no test for men and Jessa concludes that when speaking of women and hpv "all adventurous women do".
Lena Dunham just gets it.
Why do I have to get tested, have biopsy samples taken and wear pads for a week while the guy that gave it to me does absolutely nothing? Why Do I have to have a minor freak out post colposcopy when I see strips of bloody tissue in my underwear? No, not toilet paper but the tissue that lines my cervix that is trying to heal itself by ejection after being scraped and hole punched for samples. Why didn't anyone inform me on what HPV was earlier and make me get shots? Gardisil was approved by the FDA the summer before my freshman year in college. You can get the shots until your 26th birthday. I of course found out I have HPV two months before my 27th birthday and too late to try out the three doses of preventative action.
Because both men AND women carry HPV, asking questions and getting regular paps are detrimental. Although there is no standard HPV test for men, they can (and should) consider taking Gardisil which has been FDA approved for use in men in 2009. Boys can get the Gardisal shots between the ages of 9 and 26, and when it comes to HPV parents should be just as precautions with their sons health as they are with their daughters.
The truth is, Im terrified of HPV. I know all too well the horror that cervical cancer can cause if this were to progress.
When I was in high school I watched my mother suffer through the disease. I was actually there when she got the call. I was home from school and sat reading in her room while she did something that I cant remember. The phone rang, she answered and I could hear a man's voice on the other end of the phone. I heard something about test results mumbled into the receiver and then the man on the other end of the phone said it. "You have cancer". Its funny what we choose to remember during moments that we never imagined would become a moment.
At that second everything was still. The room was silent. I could hear my eyelashes touch as I blinked waiting for my mothers response. She just turned and kept talking as if I wasn’t in the room and as if I did not just hear what would turn into a pivotal moment in my life.
I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but I saw her lips moving. I left her room and flew downstairs carried by fear of the unknown. I had never personally known anyone that had had cancer. I saw it on TV and usually the people who got it died.
When I got downstairs I searched through our World Book Encyclopedias for any shred of information on what exactly cervical cancer was. My younger sisters had conveniently put the encyclopedias back on the shelves in the wrong order. I scanned the books in non - alphabetical order for the one that might tell my mothers future. There it was: “C”.
"C" is for cancer.
Ironically, my mother never came out and told me that she had cancer. It is something that I found out on my own. I also learned that before her diagnosis she hadn’t been to a gynecologist in close to a decade. I learned that if it had been caught earlier that maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad. I learned that my mother should have made it a point to see her gynecologist regularly and that she should have told the same to her five daughters.
I remember the first time my mom fainted. She went to the hospital and had to have a blood transfusion. I was 15 and had no idea the toll that this disease would take.
Fast forward a few months and my older sister moved back from Texas. No one explained anything, but I knew it must have been bad.
Over the course of the next year I watched as my mom grew sicker. Some days she seemed close to ok and other days she couldn’t even bathe herself. On occasion she would lose a lot of blood vaginally. Sometimes it happened when she went to the bathroom and other times it happened in her sleep. Because of the blood she would have to wear pads, sometimes more than one at a time. On the occasions that I would have to go out and buy my moms pads I was mortified. I, being a teenage girl, was terrified of a boy seeing me make the purchase. I resented the errand that I was asked to run and I resented myself for making my mothers illness about myself.
Then, my mothers illness took a turn for the worse.
The day I thought my mom was going to die started off like any other. My mom was in her room resting and I was making lunch for my younger sisters. The youngest of the three came downstairs and informed me that "mom isn’t moving - and there is blood in the bathroom". I was going to dismiss this as my sister just trying to get my attention until I saw the fear in her eyes.
I ran upstairs and instructed my sister not to follow. I saw the bathroom door halfway open and made my way over. I closed my eyes, took a breathe and pushed the door open. Before my eyes could register my moms body lying motionless on the floor I noticed the blood. It was everywhere. On the toilet, in the toilet, smeared on the bathtub, on the sink and on the floor. I stood silently for what felt like eternity as the image stamped eternally into my mind. The image burned into me like a lit cigarette falling onto virgin skin. Over time the burn will heal, but the scar will never let you forget.
I stepped into the bathroom and tried to lift my mother from the floor. Her unconscious body was too heavy to move. I laid her back down and shook her shoulders. I asked her firmly to wake up. I was mad. How could she leave me by myself? What is the appropriate protocol for waking an unconscious person? I was wholly unprepared for this situation which in turn is exactly as prepared as cancer allows you to be.
An ambulance came and I rode in it with my mom. Her in the back and me in the front. It was the 2nd time I had been in an ambulance, and I hated it.
When we got to the hospital I was in a daze. I watched as the paramedics unhooked defibrillators and took my mom out of the ambulance. She was convulsing and I didn’t get to say a word.
For a few moments I stood outside alone. I guess I was supposed to follow. I walked into the hospital and saw my mom hooked up to a ventilator. When the doctors noticed me they closed her curtain. I didn't take my eyes off of that curtain, turning only when I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Do you have your mothers insurance information?” she asked. “Can't you see that my mom is dying!” I wanted to yell. Instead I simply said “no…I am 16”.
I would remember these words as I sat that night wondering how that nurse could ask a teenager for her mothers insurance at a time when someone should have been there holding my hand.
Now, in the midst of “The Affordable Care Act” and still uninsured I question how people pay when they get sick. Will my HPV be considered a pre-existing condition? Will insurance companies trace back to that one time sophomore year when I bought a pack of cigarettes? Maybe I should follow the instructions on the back of the Tampax box and definitely not leave my tampon in longer than 8 hrs.
Fast forward to present day and my mom is fine – she made a full recovery. I am however awaiting the results of my second colposcopy. My mind is filled with “what ifs” and understandably so.
The day I went in for my second colposcopy a friend went with me. She was there for moral support and helping me keep my sanity. I asked her to come in the procedure room with me. I wanted her to see how shitty a colposcopy is (for lack of a better word) in hopes that it will make her schedule that pap smear that she had been putting off since college.
I asked the doctor to show me every tool before she used it. I needed to know exactly what was happening before it happened. The tool that I was most weary about was the one that looked like a glorified hole puncher.
When it was time to start, my friend held my shoulder. The doctor doused my insides with vinegar solution and told me that she would be taking three samples. She used the face of a clock as a visionary example of where in my cervix she would be obtaining the samples. Twelve, three and six were my problem areas.
The doctor inserted the biopsy tools through my vagina and into my cervix. The procedure was short and very uncomfortable. When she was finished I could feel blood dripping onto the table and watched as she put my bloody cervix samples into a container for later observation.
Two weeks later, here I am still waiting and semi freaking out under a cloud of confusion. My boyfriend sweetly tells me that no news is good news, but how can I relax with the fear of “pre-cancerous cells” going through my mind on repeat?
So ladies, please get your paps done regularly.
I'm not going to say “don't have sex” for fear of HPV transmission. I have sex, you have sex, and the only thing coming in between that is my colposcopy. “Nothing…” my doctor declared “…in the vagina for two weeks”. She 100% meant both tampons AND penis. I asked to confirm.
So be safe, use condoms and ask questions.
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