Cervical cancer survivor: Why I support the HPV vaccine

Any time you’re told you have cancer, it’s not good news. Even if you catch it early and it’s only in the beginning stages, all you hear is the word “cancer.” And no matter how many people try to reassure you, it’s still very scary.

When I was diagnosed with HPV-related cervical cancer in the summer of 2016, everything that comes along with that word ran through my mind: What am I going to do? What effects will it have on me? Am I going to lose my hair? What else am I going to lose?

Fortunately, I’ve shown no evidence of the disease since having a hysterectomy at MD Anderson in November 2016.  Now that I’m on the other side of that experience, I want to help spread the word — both about the importance of women getting screened regularly for cervical cancer and the importance of boys and girls receiving the HPV vaccine.

My cervical cancer diagnosis

I have been going to my ob/gyn since before my daughter was born 20 years ago and had my routine Pap tests and HPV tests every year. I never had any abnormal results until July 2015, so I was surprised when I tested positive for HPV.

Fortunately, the results didn’t show any of the strains that can cause cancer, so my doctor said there was no reason for alarm. She would just continue to monitor me. The following year, I tested positive for HPV again, and this time, the strains that can cause cancer were present. My doctor ordered a colposcopy to check for cervical cancer. Much to my surprise, those results came back positive, too.

Why I chose MD Anderson to treat my cervical cancer

The good news is that because we caught my cancer so early, all I needed was surgery — a hysterectomy to remove my cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes. I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation therapy, but a hysterectomy is still major surgery. Since cancer is not my ob/gyn’s specialty, she referred me to MD Anderson.

At MD Anderson, I met with Dr. Behrouz Zand, who’d successfully treated the wife of one of my husband’s colleagues for uterine cancer. I’d heard nothing but good things about Dr. Zand from both of them and, since he works at the MD Anderson location closest to my home in Texas City, choosing him was an easy decision.

Getting the word out about HPV

Dr. Zand confirmed my cervical cancer diagnosis and scheduled my surgery for Nov. 2, 2016. After I notified my employer, I sent an email to all my colleagues. I’d be out for at least six weeks, and I wanted everyone to know what was going on. 

It was especially important to me to mention the HPV link to my cancer, because I know many women who do not have their annual Pap tests or HPV tests, including one of my sisters. And a lot of people are still on the fence about having their children vaccinated against HPV.

I’m fortunate because my doctor caught my cancer early, but it could have been prevented entirely if the HPV vaccine had been around when I was a kid. That’s why I tell people to have their kids vaccinated against HPV as soon as possible and to urge their sisters and wives to get regular Pap and HPV tests.

Because nobody wants to hear the word “cancer,” so if there’s a way to prevent it, why wouldn’t you?

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