My name is Katherine, from the east coast.
As a mother of five, the oldest of which is 18, I’m always busy. Because I have a history of cancer in my family, I “create” time, regardless of regular checkups, including the yearly visit to the gynecologist.
For many years, I’ve been taking Pap smears regularly, and they always return positive. I’ve never had complications, until recently.
In 2008, when I visited the gynecologist for my yearly checkup, the attending clerk gave me a pamphlet that explained that HPV is one of the causes of cervical cancer, and that you can now diagnose the existence of the virus using a Pap smear, just as it has been performed until today. I was happy to perform the new test, and increase my odds for early detection. The test was no more difficult than the Pap smears I was used to, and didn’t require anything different from me.
Both me and the doctor were surprised by the results. The test was negative for cancerous cells in the cervix, but positive for the existence of HPV. The doctor explained that the virus usually disappears on its own, and that there’s nothing to worry about. He recommended I returned a few months later to get myself checked again; see if the virus was still around.
When I saw the doctor again, the Pap smear was abnormal. The test showed that the Papilloma was still alive and kicking. Obviously I was quite stressed.
The doctor performed a colonoscopy (an examination of the cervix under a microscope), and took a biopsy that showed that I was harboring “precancerous cells”, as he put it.
The first thing that went through my mind was that I had five kids that needed me, so the treatment must, but simply must, work. I was immediately given a date for an operation to surgically remove the problematic cells with a laser.
I was very relieved to hear that the operation went well, and after a few weeks, I returned to a normal life.
I feel lucky for catching the disease in my cervix at such an early point. And that I didn’t have to perform and complicated surgery or other treatments. I could continue my normal life with the family. I am also grateful to my doctor for checking me for HPV, because otherwise I wouldn’t have returned to him, meaning the cells may have had time to become cancer until my next appointment.
Ever since, I talk to all my friends and family about the importance of these tests. The Pap smear test is a veteran examination, but sometimes it’s not enough. Many of us are way past the age of vaccination for Papilloma. HPV tests are highly available, and both men and women should use them. They save my life, and they can save yours.