Let Me Slide In Your Inbox!
It has been a year, one week, and three days since I had my first abnormal pap smear. At this time, I learned that I had contracted human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI).
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80 million Americans (1 in 4) are infected with HPV, a highly complex group of more than 150 viruses. While some strands of the virus can cause papillomas, or genital warts, others can cause cancer.
I contracted the strands that can cause cancer, and in particular, two of the most aggressive strands within that subset.
When my doctor delivered the news last March, she said, “Try not to worry. Come back in June for a follow up pap smear and we will monitor things.” If you know me, you know I worried.
After a more concerning second abnormal pap smear, I was referred to a specialist (an OBGYN) to have a colposcopy. You can read more about what this entails at Mayo Clinic.
In short, a colposcopy is a biopsy procedure to determine if the abnormal cells are precancerous or cancerous. The entire procedure took about 20 minutes and I was able to see my cervix projected up on the screen. It was uncomfortable because they have to manipulate and clamp your cervix throughout. I ended up passing out afterward and crying in my car trying to regain my composure to drive home.
While waiting for these results, I took to the internet. I Googled all types of things. Namely, I searched for images of a cervix with cervical cancer, so I could compare it to what I had seen during my colposcopy. I found comfort in that my cervix looked nothing like these images, but I still had anxiety. Research suggested that cervical cancer was slow-developing (ten years or more in many cases). Knowing that 2019 marked ten years of me being sexually active I went down so many rabbit holes. What if I contracted it years ago with my first sexual partner? And what if the symptoms just manifested? And what if it is cervical cancer?
The results ended up being the “best” case scenario… they were all precancerous. The OBGYN specialist told me that I needed to have a Loop Electrosurgical Exision Procedure (LEEP). We scheduled that as soon as possible. Read more about this surgery HERE. I had the LEEP on September 21, 2018, and a two-week follow-up appointment afterward.
At this appointment, I asked the doctor if there was anything that I could be doing to help my body clear the infection. She told me that I needed to remove stressors from my life [check! I had already put in my notice at my old job] and improve my immune system with healthy diet, exercise, and a daily multi-vitamin. I told her I was moving to Florida at the end of October, so she handed me my records and reminded me again about those follow-up pap smears every 3 months.
Now, with that back story… I want to share more intimate details throughout this year-long (and counting) journey with this HPV diagnosis. Here are 6 very important lessons I have learned. I share them because I think they will help other women in this situation. I also think they are applicable to our lives in other ways as well, even if you are struggling with a different health issue or a different hardship.
1. Ask more questions about HPV treatments.
I cannot stress this one enough. Would you believe me if I told you that I never once asked if there was another option besides the LEEP? Would you believe me if I told you that it was only when I was prepped for surgery, IV in hand, prior to anesthesia that the surgeon was briefing me for the first time? Example: She told me that having the LEEP jeopardizes the integrity of my cervix and decreases my chances of being able to carry a child to term by 50%. [Continue to read for another opinion on that statistic].
I look back and question where my voice was in these moments. Of course, I trust medical professionals, but I also have to acknowledge that every body is different. Physically, genetically, biologically, etc. Maybe the LEEP procedure is the go-to approach, but maybe there was another way.
When opening up to friends after, I learned that a lot of their doctors chose to monitor them closely. Over time, their abnormal cells went away on their own. So looking back, I wish I had asked more questions about ALL my options, at each step along the way.
2. Be your own advocate when it comes to your health.
The first question I asked was toward the end… “What can I do to make this better?” However, I felt like the advice I was given was not concrete or specific enough. For example, how could a multivitamin target my specific issue? I decided to go home and start researching vitamins that have been shown to help with HPV. I found a combination of three: MTFH (methyltetrahydrofolate), Vitamin E (with mixed tocopherols), and Vitamin A. Each of these helps with generation of healthy cells and work as antioxidants to fight cell damage. Seemed targeted enough for me.
I put myself on this daily regimen. However, I would not have done so if I just accepted the doctor’s blasé answer of a daily multivitamin. Do some research of your own!
3. Don’t worry about “who dun it?!”
I was asked by a few people… “Who gave it to you?”
To put it simply, I don’t know. It is possible for you to contract HPV and have it lay dormant in your system for years. It’s also possible that I contracted it between my last normal pap smear in 2015 and 2018. And if so, then I could narrow it down to a couple guys.
But guess what? It doesn’t matter. Once you contract HPV, you will always be a carrier of the virus, even when your body clears the infection. So, why sit around and question who the culprit was?
Your focus should not be on the things you cannot change, but finding a way to move forward with treatment and future monitoring.
4. Preventative medicine exists for a reason.
Ladies: Do not skip your annual physical. Do not skip that pap smear. Or that mammogram. Gents: Same to you. Yearly physicals. Colonoscopies after 50 years old. Etc. These measures of preventative care are how serious conditions are prevented. When viruses are caught early, healthcare professionals can intervene in time. Do not think that because you feel healthy, you are. Our bodies are complex and it’s sometimes difficult to say what is going on internally.
And oh, if you’re a parent of a young teen… be sure to research the benefits of having your child vaccinated to see if it is something you feel your child should have. You have probably seen the HPV commercials where the children are questioning whether their parents knew that there was a vaccine that could have protected them. I understand the emotional appeal as a marketing technique, but I do not like how it almost places blame on parents. All that being said, educate yourself on vaccination. [Continue reading for more information about this vaccine!]
5. Don’t resent your body.
This past year, I’ve resented my body. More specifically, I’ve resented my vagina, and that’s just being really blunt and honest. I felt like my body had failed me and allowed my most sacred and powerful organ to become infected. I felt ashamed, confused, and fearful. Sexy? Hell no. Sick? Dirty? Unworthy? Yes.
I wish I had thought about how the body’s natural instinct is to heal. I have always been fascinated by this simple fact. Whether it be as minor as a paper-cut or a severe as a broken bone, it’s amazing how our bodies lead the way to healing.
However, our minds play a role in the healing process, too. My mind got in the way. I fretted over every pain, every test result, every little thing throughout this process. And I’ll show myself some grace here because it is hard not to. So whatever your body may be fighting, always remind yourself: “My body wants to heal, but my mind must let it.”
6. Find a doctor that helps you create a positive mindset.
I post this blog about one week after meeting with my new OBGYN down here in Florida. Mind you… I stressed over the fact that I had, due to being between insurance coverage, missed my 3 month pap smear post-LEEP that my previous OBGYN told me not to miss. When my new insurance became active, I then stressed again because this doctor had a month-long waiting list. I was told that he is the BEST and well worth the wait, so I waited. And I stressed, because I’d be pushing 6 months post-surgery.
And let me tell you… his care was exceptional. He was well worth the wait. I could go on and on about his approach to the his appointment, from his energetic demeanor to the manner in which he listened and addressed my concerns, but in a nutshell:
He told me that I should be proud of the way I took control of my health and he apologized that my previous OBGYN didn’t offer other forms of treatment. That being said, he did say that the LEEP would have been what he recommended and that if she never told me to… I should pat myself on the back for staying up-to-date on my pap smears and having the LEEP.
I asked him about the negative implications for bearing a child after a LEEP and he said, “Those statistics are not upheld by any level of research. They just are not true. When you’re ready to have a baby, we’ll measure your cervix and monitor appropriately.”
I told him I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to have kids, but I just didn’t want my ability to be taken away because of a procedure I was told I needed, but maybe could have done something different instead. He smiled jokingly and said, “You come back to me when you’re puking.” (NOTE: Out of context, I could see where this could be taken offensively, as if I don’t know what I want and as if it’s not okay for me to not want kids, but the way he said it was more confirmation that I will be able to get pregnant in the future, if that’s what I choose).
During this conversation, he also suggested that 3 months was too often to be getting pap smears and that the 6 month time frame I was currently in was perfect, which made all my stressing and worrying seem ridiculous.
And lastly, he let me know that I am a candidate for the HPV vaccine, which previously had an age cut-off at 26. Gardasil 9 has recently been approved for ages 27-45 and could protect me against strands of HPV I have not been exposed to.
He put a lot of my fears to rest, fears that have been manifesting for a year. He also provided more information in 20 minutes than I was given in an entire year by previous physicians.
And this next part might seem a little strange to some, but during the pap smear, he was complimenting my vagina.
“Normal… normal… perfect… cervix looks great!” and “You have TINY ovaries! Good lord.”
I hesitated, “Are tiny ovaries a good thing?” #clueless
He laughed, “It’s a very good thing. I’m paying you a compliment!”
Now, some women may be uncomfortable with a man (who is not their husband or S/O) saying that their vagina is “perfect” but I swear… this was exactly what I needed to hear after a year of resenting mine.
I walked out of that office like:
For the first time in a year, I felt at peace knowing that my body is on its way to healing even though I am not completely out of the woods. I was at peace knowing that I have a doctor, who in just one visit, had completely changed my mindset and outlook on this entire diagnosis. Find yourself a physician who makes you feel good about yourself and your ability to manage your health.
In closing, I want to say this. Living with HPV is mentally challenging… as is ANY medical illness. I share my story with you and anyone else you feel inclined to share this blog with. I share it without fear of judgment regarding my sex life (past or present) because HPV affects so many people… as do other medical diagnoses like down-syndrome, heart disease, cancer, etc. I believe in the power of storytelling to help educate, inform, and bring peace to others suffering in similar ways that I did over the past year, who simply need to know they aren’t alone. Please reach out to me if you are struggling or need someone to talk to!
And if you all were curious… the office called the other day to deliver the news:
A NORMAL PAP SMEAR! 🙂
FEATURED IMAGE BY: BEATRIZ PEREZ MOYA
20 thoughts on “6 Things Living With HPV Has Taught Me & What You Need To Know”
GO GIRL! Happy for your normal Pap smear! These points are SO TRUE for so many diagnoses, and GREAT for someone to understand if they’re facing something health related for the first time on their own.
My mom has recently gotten a diagnosis for a rare blood disease, and she has totally learned the same things, and was like ALWAYS REMEMBER – preventative medicine is key and you are the best advocate for yourself!
Hi Laura! Thank you so much for reading and commenting! You bring up such a good point about facing a health issue for the first time on your own. It’s hard. Trying. Emotional. You don’t know how to react when your body is not operating as you have always known.
It sounds like your mom’s diagnosis was caught at the right time to address it and monitor, but I will surely keep her in my thoughts as she navigates her new waters.
Much love and more light! Xx, Melanie
Kudos to you for this! I got HPV from my ex and was SO upset at the time especially since he was the only person I had been intimate with. I just recently had another colposcopy to see if the abnormal cells had grown or stay the same and it just made me so resentful again. Though it is common, and most people don’t even know they have it, it’s annoying to deal with and the “what if’s” are nerve racking! I’m happy you’re being proactive about treatment 🤗🤗🤗
Hi Ashleigh! Thank you for bringing up that you got it from the ONLY person you had been intimate with. I hate the stigma around this STI and STDs that if you have one, it means you are sexually promiscuous, when the reality is… it only takes ONE partner. I’m glad you are still being proactive and monitoring yours, despite the resentful feelings it brings! And THANK YOU for sharing a piece of your story here. XO, Melanie
First of all, this was educating Melanie. Talk about how brave and intentional you are!
So glad you don’t need any more Pap smears and are positive about the future. I pray many get an understanding of what you’ve shared here and not give up after being diagnosed of any disease.
Thank you!!! I will still need routine Pap smears but I am certainly more optimistic about those in the future, now more than ever. In the meantime, I’ll be researching the HPV vaccine as a means to protect me from the other strands! Thank you for the continued love and support! -Melanie
Way to go for sharing your story. This was very brave of you!! I’m so glad you are better and having normal paps now. PS I love the bachelor meme you added to your post… I remember that girl and when she said that… Hilarious 😂
Thank you so much, Melissa, for your words and support! And yes, I swear that meme was just so fitting for how I walked out of there! I couldn’t resist! 😂 Glad you appreciated it – I have been a long-time fan of The Bachelor franchise so it stuck out to me! -Melanie
Melanie!! You are so brave! I am once again so amazed by your vulnerability in order to help others!! I worked at an OB-Gyn office from the time I was 16 until I was 24… and I’ve had so many friends come to me and say that they have contracted an STD. I always make sure to tell them how common they are… There is SO much shame out there placed on STDs… and the more people like you come forward, the less shame there will be! Thank you, Melanie!!
Hi Janie! You are so SO right! There is such a stigma around STDs and it’s so unfortunate because they really are so common, and sometimes hard to detect, especially if outward symptoms are not present. Thank you so much for reading and offering your perspective and encouraging words! 💛
I am all the way in Nigeria and I just recently realized I might be infected with HPV because I got genital warts. I’ve cried almost everyday because I can’t share this with anybody but your post just lightened my burden in so many ways and I’m more encouraged to go get my PAP smear! Thank you for sharing this Melanie. You are so brave. Did you get Warts? If yes, how did you treat it?
Hi Akebasi! I’m so glad you found the blog all the way in Nigeria!! So amazing! I’m also glad you found a bit of peace. You are certainly not alone in this diagnosis. I did not experience any genital warts because the strands of HPV that I contracted cause the abnormal cells on your cervix as opposed to external warts. I am not sure if there are ways to treat them, but my understanding is that when your body clears the infection (average of 1-2 years from what I’ve been told) any “symptoms” will go away. So for me, that means the infection will stop attacking my cervix. I believe at this point, any genital warts would also go away. I hope this helps. Do what you can to keep your body healthy and strong! And definitely get your Pap smear when you can so you can figure out exactly what’s going on and what your next steps should be. Feel free to private message me on any of my linked social media (top of my blog) or via email (contact button on my blog) if you’d like to talk more. 💛
Thank you so much for sharing your story. It was a comfort to read. I’m in a worry this very moment…
I was, until 2 weeks ago, in a new relationship with a man. We had had unprotected sex, which I never do… I ignored my gut feeling. I told him I had got urinary infection after this. It could happen. I asked if there was more things I needed to know according to this unprotected sex. Then he started to talk about the way he used to date (I got so cold and felt soooo stupid and scared). He also told me that his previous girlfriend had been forced to operate anomalous cervics cysts caused by HPV. I feel so much anger and anxiety right now. Towards him. Towards me. Like I have a Damokles sword above my head.
According to recently deaths in my family I feel fragile, life is..
Thank you for giving me a ray of hope. I shall try my best to be careless and welcome every new day anyway.
And buy a heap of vitamins. And take it easy. I wish you all the best.
Hi Linda – thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I shared this blog to give some hope to women facing the same diagnosis that left me feeling so alone, isolated, and anxious. I’ll say this about your anger toward yourself regarding unprotected sex. I am someone who has always been daring and spontaneous (kind of goes along with the reason my blog is named “untamed” melodies) and I have had plenty of situations where I look back and say, “Man that was not your smartest decision.” But here’s the thing… in the moment, I was doing exactly what I wanted. Living in the moment is never a bad thing, but then, when you return to reflect on your choices, if you didn’t like how it made you feel, then you can move forward with the lesson in your tool box and be more inclined to choose differently next time.
More recently I’ve also learned that as humans, we often find it easy to be compassionate toward others while we are SO critical of our own selves. Do not beat yourself up over this. Life literally does not come with any rule book or exact guidelines. We have to live and learn. In doing so, we also need to find gentle ways to be compassionate and forgiving toward ourselves. I often think that we are all very much like children… no matter how old we get and how many experiences we have under our belt, there will always be new and unique experiences that come our way. So, the next time you’re feeling anger toward yourself, close your eyes for a moment and picture 5-year old Linda in this situation. What would you say to her? What would you tell her? I imagine you’d be kind and gentle in your approach and talk about how it will all be okay, etc. It’s a powerful exercise that I was taught recently for a different reason, but very helpful in learning how to be compassionate with yourself.
Your final thoughts above sound like you’re headed in this direction anyhow… take it easy, hold on to hope, and surround yourself with something everyday that brings you joy.
Much love to you and thank you so so much for reading and sharing a piece of you so bravely! <3 Melanie
Hi, Melanie. Thank you for sharing your story. I just found out the news two days ago that I have HPV (discovered after routine Pap test showed abnormalities). I have been trying to come to terms with it. Your article helped me feel less alone and less shameful. I’m concerned w telling a future partner some day. I’m afraid my HPV will be a barrier to finding my partner. How did you handle this?
Hi sweet Pam! I just sent you an email. But for anyone who may be reading the comments and feeling similarly as you. My advice it to take control of the situation in any and every way that you can… so I started with tangible ways to improve my overall health: increased my water intake, started incorporating more physical activities into my days, and nourishing my body with healthy foods. I also looked for ways to feed my soul (i.e., doing more of the things I love… like reading, writing, and baking). As far as your concerns about finding your partner… I always try to take things one step at a time. As I mentioned above, use this time to make yourself feel empowered in how you can take control of the situation. You’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process, I promise. And in doing so, you’ll be attracting the right people/partners in your life… ones who, when/if they learn you have HPV, won’t look at you judgmentally, but instead, in awe of how you overcame it. I am a firm believer in the Law of Attraction and think that it can apply here. 🙂 This diagnosis is not fun to deal with, but it’s something that you shouldn’t feel shameful about. I am so glad that my blog could help lessen that heavy feeling just a little. <3
Hi thank you for sharing your story. I came across your blog from Instagram and I was looking for more educational value. Last night I opened my letter from a smear test I had 2 weeks ago and it stated I was positive in hpv. I have been googling all night and sort of tried to feel numb over it. Im afriad to open up to it being a sti or std as you hear all these things about it when I havnt slept around, just been with 1 guy recently for 6 months and my ex 2 years ago. I have always been careful and tried to avoid being silly, even had a test after the current guy and results came back negative and then months down the line I have my routine smear test (last one was 2 years ago or more) I am confused on how I feel but I do feel angry, disappointed in myself and dirty.
Like whats next? Do I in future have to tell people I have this? It will push people away. After 2 years if it goes away, it says you still carry it, so I will always pass this one? Would this affect my child if I have hpv in me? So many questions… I am a stress head and suffer from anxiety which doesnt help. As being stress free would help the virus to go?
Hi Zi! Thank you for reading. It is certainly a very complex diagnosis. There is a lot of conflicting information out there on the internet and even amongst medical professionals. As best as you can, I would encourage you to FEEL all the things you are feeling and then seek to find compassion for yourself. If your best friend came to you and said she was positive for HPV and was disappointed in herself and feeling dirty, what would you tell her??? I imagine you would be supportive and let her know that it was nothing she did and it does not make her any less beautiful or worthy of love and affection. The important thing to remember is that the INFECTION will clear with time, but yes you will always be a carrier of the VIRUS. Just know that you have the choice everyday to do something good for your body… feed it nourishing foods, hydrate it, give it movement and activities that you enjoy. I’m not expert on any of it, but I believe that focusing on your wellness from multiple perspectives will always prevail.
As far as the future conversations, my new doctor said that there is no need to share with future partners down the road. Other doctors may say otherwise, but it really is so common that many people are carriers and don’t even know it. If you are someone who chooses to be open about it, then future partners should respect your honesty – and if they do not… then they probably aren’t deserving of you and all your realness.
I am not sure about children… but as much as possible — try to focus on today and those things you can do to take care of YOU right now. Continue to see your doctor regularly for checkups and monitoring and you can always ask your questions when those times come (i.e., sharing with partners, effect on pregnancies, etc.).
I wish you all the best and thank you so much for reading the blog. 💛
Thank you so much. I even cried a little bit. It’s always nice to have some support like this when you don’t know how to talk about it to relatives or friends.
Hi Annette, I’m so glad it helped! <3