“It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed.– Doe Zantamata
Hey there, strangers. Long time, no speak? Long time, no write? Read? I don’t know what the correct statement in this scenario would be, but I do know that it has been a few weeks since my last post so I figured it would be a good opportunity to catch you all up to speed.
I’ve debated heavily as to whether I wanted to share what I have been going through the past couple of months with my readers. I am no stranger to vulnerability and try to use my experiences to connect with others and perhaps be a teacher to those who encounter similar experiences. However, this topic has been weighing emotionally on me. I am still processing a lot of emotions of what this could mean for the future of myself and my family.
After much debate, I feel the responsibility to share with you all for the sake of awareness. I will attempt to share my story in a less depressing manner. I really don’t want pity or want anyone to look at me differently… I guess it’s probably best that I start from the beginning.
Last year, while I was pregnant, I attended a women’s wellness appointment. It was a standard routine checkup in which a pap test was performed. I honestly thought nothing of it until I received a phone call from the doctor a week later advising me that my pap test results came out abnormal. I was informed that I have contracted Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
What is HPV?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. There are more than 3 million cases per year. According to the CDC, there were about 43 million HPV infections in 2018, many among people in their late teens and early 20s. HPV is so common that almost every sexually active person will get HPV at some point if they don’t get vaccinated.
It can be spread by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex and can even be spread through close skin-to-skin touching during sex. It often goes undetected for many years, so it is very difficult to know when a person first gets it.
In most cases, HPV goes away on its own without causing any health problems. But when it does not go away, it can cause health problems such as genital warts and cancer.
Calm Before the Storm
When I found out that I had HPV, I panicked and wondered how this would affect my daughter, who was still in the womb at that time. Luckily, this didn’t affect her in any way. However, the doctor was concerned about my health and advised me to schedule a colposcopy, a procedure that is performed to closely examine your cervix, vagina, and vulva for signs of disease. At that time, areas of my cervix looked abnormal, but I was advised nothing that caused major alarm and I would get retested in a year.
I attended my routine appointment this past March and once again, my pap results came back severely abnormal. So much that the doctor stressed the importance of getting another colposcopy done. I was scheduled for one in April.
The day of the colposcopy I was examined, and the doctor expressed more concern. She advised that four areas of my cervix looked abnormal and that she would like to do a biopsy for testing. Exactly three weeks ago, my results from the biopsy came in and I was informed that three areas of my cervix were severely abnormal and potential cancerous, and that one area was categorized as noninvasive cancer. The positive was that because it was not invasive and there were better chances of treatment. However, I was also advised that I would most likely need my entire cervix and uterus removed. I wasn’t actively planning to have another child, but it broke my heart to learn that the option would be completely off the table. It feels as if my womanhood is being attacked.
When I found out, I was prepping for my cruise which would depart the next day. I gave myself one solid day to cry and truly sit in my fear. All I could think about was my daughter. She is only 6 months old and me being a natural worrier, I couldn’t help but think what happens if I cannot fight this. I want nothing more in life than to watch my daughter grow.
My next step was to schedule an appointment with a gynecology oncologist. I was lucky enough to get scheduled with an appointment the following week. The next day, I left for my cruise and had the best time of my life. Considering the bad news I received, I realized that life is fleeting and every moment counts. I wanted to make that trip count and didn’t want to taint those memories with my recent discovery. And that is exactly what I did. The trip was everything my spirit needed and thinking back, I can’t help but tear up because I lived up those days as if they were my last. I know, extreme, but you start throwing around the word “cancer” and what else do you expect?
The day I got back from my cruise, reality hit and so did all the feelings of sadness and anxiety. I couldn’t believe that this was my reality. And then, I cried some more. I attended the oncologist appointment with my spirit completely broken but I also realized that it was important for me to remain as optimistic as I could. The mind is a powerful tool, but it can also be a powerful weapon. I had to shift my focus into using my mind as a tool. So, with puffy eyes, I put my best brave face on and patiently awaited the doctor to come into the medical room.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The doctor gave mostly good news. She advised that I am in the early stages of cancer, pre-cancer to be specific, and that this is not considered cancer yet. Therefore, I will not need any chemotherapy or radiation. She also advised that she felt that removing my cervix and uterus is a bit extreme and that I can get a procedure done where they cut out the abnormal cells. I am scheduled for this procedure next Friday and the recovery time is minimal.
Once the procedure is done, I will be scheduling an appointment for the Gardasil vaccination. This vaccination comes in three doses and is best taken as a preventative measure against HPV. However, because I already have HPV and it appears to be an aggressive strain of the virus, it is not guaranteed that the vaccination will eliminate it, but the doctor is hopeful that it will minimize the symptoms. The typical cutoff age to receive this vaccination is 26 years of age. However, The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends HPV vaccination based on shared clinical decision making for individuals ages 27 through 45 years who are not adequately vaccinated. And at this point, I am willing to do whatever it takes to have a fighting chance. I have more life to live and want to do anything I can to prevent getting cervical cancer.
Sharing My Story
I don’t want this to be a sob story. I’m extremely uncomfortable even sharing that I have HPV. Part of me is ashamed. When I was younger, I didn’t always practice safe sex, believing that I could trust the partner I was with. I was naïve and now this is my reality. The HPV will most likely never go away. There’s a chance that cancer may develop in other areas as I get older. I will always need to be closely monitored. So, I share this to spread awareness with you all.
I urge all of you to practice safe sex. I completely understand the “heat of the moment.” But that moment could possibly cost you your life.
I urge all women to keep up to date with their wellness appointments. This virus predominately affects women. I am catching this early because I get checked out annually. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if I didn’t keep up with these routine appointments.
If you are 26 years of age or younger, I urge all of you to please get the vaccination. It is the most common STI. These statistics are insane, and it is easily contracted. Better safe than sorry.
One Day at a Time
That is all I can do; take one day at a time. I’m not sure what lies ahead in this journey. All I can do is be hopeful that the procedure will eliminate the problem and that it will not develop again. I want shift my focus to being intentional in living. Living in love, faith, and gratitude. I don’t want to overthink about what can go wrong as the years past by. I just want to keep creating the life I love and deserve while becoming a better version of myself.
So, here’s a reminder to not sweat the small stuff. Life is filled with constants of highs and lows, and circumstances you cannot control. However, what you can control is how you react to these circumstances and your overall attitude about life. Be present in every moment and aim to find the silver lining in every situation. With this said, sending love to you. ❤