During a small dinner I hosted this past week, I was having a conversation with my girlfriends about this very topic. It started out with discussing brazilian waxing. A friend expressed her concern that it would be awkward to have a stranger all up in your business, to which I replied that it's really not that much different than going to the gynecologist. Her response to me was that she hadn't been to the gyno in six years.
Taking care of my reproductive organs (not that I plan on reproducing, but that's a whole other post) is of the utmost importance. I was shocked that a woman in this day and age was not taking proper care of themselves. I promptly gave her my gynecologist's phone number (because she's totally awesome) and advised her to call immediately, if nothing else than for the free samples of expensive brand name birth control she gives out. Our conversation stuck with me, however, and I was bothered by it.
So whenever I am bothered by something, I feel the need to tell the world about it via the internet!
Here is my story about HPV. Yes, I've had it. No, I'm not a raging slut.
- HPV is a contracted through genital contact
- 60% of adults will contract HPV at some point in their lifetime (and this number is constantly rising)
- It is often symptomless
- 2,700 women a year get HPV-associated cancers
- There is no treatment for HPV itself, it usually goes away on it's own
- A person can have HPV for many years and not even know it
It all started at my annual gynecologist appointment about five years ago. I had a routine pap smear, pelvic exam, breast exam, the whole works as usual. A week later my results from my pap smear came back abnormal. (As a side note - just because you have an abnormal pap smear does NOT mean you have HPV, abnormal cells can be caused by a number of things). Great, I've always wanted wonky cells!
When I was first diagnosed with HPV, my gynecologist drew a spectrum for me of cervical cells from normal to precancerous. My cells were falling very close to the precancerous end. I tell you ladies, there is nothing scarier than the "C" word. Cancer. Even though I did not have cancer, the fact that is was a possibility in the future really freaked me out. She recommended that I return for a colposcopy (basically a biopsy).
For you ladies that have never had a colposcopy done, it is extremely unpleasant. Some women have less horrifying experiences than I had, but some lucky girls (like myself) have extremely painful cramping afterward and some heavy bleeding. Plus there's that whole someone-poking-around-in-your-vagina thing. It just feels strange.
Over the course of 2.5 years, I had one of these about every 3 months because my pap smears kept coming back abnormal. I had to take the whole day off from work to have it done because the cramping was so bad that I couldn't focus on anything else. Every time I got another abnormal result back, I would cry because I had to have another biopsy and I was scared to death that this time would be the time they came back and said, "ok, now you have cancer."
Finally, after 2.5 years of stress and anxiety, I had a pap smear come back normal. My doctor told me that I would still have to come in every three months until I had three in a row come back normal, and then I could resume the normal gyno schedule of just once a year. I had never heard better news.
I have been HPV-free now for almost two years. I know there are bad connotations associated with sexually-transmitted diseases. I know myself, I felt a little dirty when I was diagnosed, but reading the facts and through talking to my doctor, I worked through that. The reality is that HPV is increasingly common and it can be passed in a multitude of ways, even if your partner wears a condom.
Even though it is not common for HPV to cause cancer, it is still a very serious risk. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer to be caused by HPV and it is also one of the most aggressive cancers for a woman to have. This is why it is so important to take proper care of your lady parts!
I jokingly say to other women when I tell them about my experience that they took so many chunks out of my cervix with every biopsy that I was shocked I even had a cervix left to have precancerous cells on. Even though I am joking when I say that, the reality is, had I never gone to the gynecologist, there is a chance that those cells would have turned into cancer and I never would have known it.
BOTTOM LINE: GO SEE YOUR GYNECOLOGIST.