The past couple months have sent me on a journey I thought was reserved for young slutty women. I went in for my routine pap smear performing my due diligence as a 44-year-old woman. Slam. Bam. Thank you, man.
“Everything looks great, see you in a year”, my gynecologist who eerily resembles Bert from Sesame Street, informed me.
A week later while I was in the English Lit aisle of the library I received a phone call.
It was my gynecologist.
“We found something”, he said.
Apparently, I had tested positive for a high risk, aggressive form of HPV and needed to come in for further treatment. In other words, I had contracted a sexually transmitted infection.
Words like biopsy, lesions and carcinoma were used.
I was terrified and immediately started going over my past life and the things I could have done differently in order to prevent this horrific diagnosis.
Questions like, “Who infected me?” Who cheated on me?” “Who else was infected?” plagued me.
But what I learned about this virus surprised me.
- 80% of women are carriers.
- It is transmitted sexually and not just by traditional old fashioned intercourse. Oral, anal, and rubbin’ uglies together count.
- Men unknowingly pass it.
- Women can be symptomless.
- Men ARE symptomless.
- Human Papillomavirus presents itself as a virus which can often resolve on its own.
- One can only receive the HPV vaccine by age 26, otherwise it is ineffective.
- It can result in cervical cancer if left untreated.
- Once you have it, you always have it. There is no ‘cure’.
- Contracting HPV does not mean you are a slutty whore.
- Women can get HPV in a monogamous relationship.
- HPV affects women from all age groups and ethnicities.
- Routine paps are ESSENTIAL in finding it.
- Using condoms is ESSENTIAL in preventing it.
I will choose to have my daughter vaccinated.
It turns out my version was particularly aggressive because within a year’s time my pap went from completely normal to cancerous cells. What followed were procedures, biopsies, a hysterectomy, post-surgery healing (4-6 weeks) and an oncology consult. And even though I no longer have a cervix, I will still need pap smears on the regular for the rest of my goddamn life.
My life is forever changed by this diagnosis. I have HPV and no means of treatment will take that away.
Yes, I feel violated, I feel dirty and I feel used. But, if I let it define me as a woman it will only serve to fuel anger in me.
So this is how I’m choosing to deal with it. I want women to know it is of the utmost importance to maintain regular pap smears and exams, use protection (condoms) if you have more than one partner.
Your health depends on it.
I can honestly say that little exam, as bothersome and unpleasant as it is, saved my life.