But Mom, I don’t want a shot – HPV Vaccine in my Family

1 Week Prior to Doctor Appointment

Zoe: “I don’t want to get a shot. Will I have to get a shot?”

Me: “Yes, you will have to get at least one shot.”

Zoe: “I DON’T WANT TO GET A SHOT! Why? Why do I have to get a shot?”

Me: “To keep you healthy.”

Zoe: “But I don’t want to get a shot!”

Repeat, at least twice an hour, all waking hours.

1 Day Prior to Doctor Appointment

Zoe: “Mama, please!  Please, I don’t want to get a shot.  Why, do I need a shot?”

Me: “To keep you healthy.  I know you don’t want one.  No one wants to get a shot. But it is important.”

Zoe: “But why?  WHY? I’ll do anything.  Please I don’t want to get a shot!”

Me: “It isn’t negotiable.  You have to get a shot to keep you healthy. “

Zoe: “Please! I don’t want a shot!”

Repeat, at least 4 times an hour, all waking hours.

Day of the Doctor Appointment, In the Car, On the Way There

Zoe: “Why?  Why?! Why, do I have to get a shot?  Can I please not get it?”

 

It was then that I opted to pull the car to the side of the road.  I felt exasperated, annoyed, and exhausted by this discussion.  My daughter has just turned 11 and we are on the way to her well child exam, where I know she will be the recipient of at least 1 shot.  I know this because, at 11 years old, she is now eligible to receive the HPV vaccination. I know that I will be requiring this vaccination for her. 

My daughter was just 8 years old when I was diagnosed with Stage 2 cervical cancer.  I never told her that I had cancer.  I never used the actual word cancer to describe what I was going through.  I was concerned that it would cause her more fear than I wanted for her. So, I told both her, and her 6 year old brother, that I was sick.  That I had a problem in my tummy, and would point to my lower abdomen.  I told them I would have to have surgeries and take medicine that seemed to make me sicker, but was actually helping me to get better.  Each of my young children watched me suffer through chemotherapy, internal, and external radiation, 4 surgeries, multiple ER visits and many hospital stays.

What I went through fuels the effortless decision to get my daughter the HPV vaccination.

HPV is the cause for cervical cancer.  Statistics show at least 80% of people will contract at least one strand of HPV during their lifetime. Most people will fight off this virus on their own.  Others will not be so lucky, and the HPV will cause precancerous or cancerous cells to grow.  It was time to have a conversation, on the side of the road heading into the Dr office.

Me: “Do you remember when I was sick?  Do you remember how much pain I was in and how you had to visit me in the hospital?  Do you remember that when you visited me I had a needle in my arm?  That needle had to stay there.  For days.  For almost a week.  I had to sleep with it in my arm.  Do you remember how hard it was for all of us?  How we had to leave our apartment and live with Grandma and Grandpa?  How I couldn’t take care of you?”  I hate reminding her of this.  I hate reminding myself of this.  I wonder if this is the right thing to say.  “This shot they are going to give you today, the one you don’t want, it will protect you from getting the sickness I had.  This shot will protect you so you won’t have to go through the sickness that I had.  This shot will prevent you from possibly needing many others and getting poked with many more needles.  That is why you have to get it.  That is why it is not a choice.  That is why we are doing it.”

Zoe: “Then why didn’t you get it when you were a kid?”

Me: “Doctors didn’t have this shot when I was kid.  I wish they had, but they didn’t.  You are lucky that they have it now.  You are lucky to be able to get this shot!”

Zoe: “Will Isaac have to get it?”

Me: “100%.”

 

As for Isaac, he is currently 9 years old. My insurance will cover him receiving the HPV vaccination when he turns 11.  He will, 100%, be getting this vaccination as well.

The choice to vaccinate my son against HPV is just as uncomplicated and straightforward as the choice to vaccinate my daughter.  Almost every person who is sexually active will become infected with HPV at some point in their lives, if they do not receive the vaccination they will be left at risk for the high risk cancer causing strands of HPV.  “Most men who get HPV never develop symptoms and the infection usually goes away completely by itself. However, if HPV does not go away, it can cause genital warts or certain kinds of cancer,” (cdc.gov).  Someday, my 9-year-old son will have a partner.  Someday he will be sexually active.  I want to protect not only my son, but his future partner as well.  HPV is spread through skin to skin contact, so even if he and his partner practice safe sex, there is a high likelihood, that if not vaccinated he would spread HPV.  HPV can cause not only cervical cancer in women, but penile cancer, anal cancer, vulvar cancer, and oral cancers.  While women can be screened during their annual pap exams for HPV, there is no test for HPV in men, and usually, men who carry HPV show no sign or symptoms of the virus.  He would never know if he had the virus.  So, my son, if not vaccinated, would unknowingly be passing this virus on to his partner, and could potentially be at risk for cancer himself.

Many people wish for a cure for cancer.  People discuss and post prayers and thoughts for cures all the time.  But, we have a vaccination now that can prevent specific types of cancer from ever occurring!  Isn’t that better than a cure?  If you could prevent your child from having to suffer, why would you ever make the choice not to? The risks for the HPV vaccination are negligible, especially when compared to the likelihood of contracting the virus, and the horribleness of actual cancer treatments. Choosing to vaccinate both my daughter and my son against HPV is a no brainer.

In the doctor’s office

Zoe: “I don’t want to get this shot, but I know I have to.”

Me: “Yes.  You have to, because I love you to the moon and back, and I never ever want you to be as sick as I was.”

 

I know I will say the same thing to my son when it is his turn to get the HPV vaccination.

Do you have questions about HPV and the HPV vaccine?  Take a look at these resources for more information.

Cervivor:  http://cervivor.org/hpv-and-cervical-cancer/understanding-hpv/

CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv-and-men.htm

Read more about Ana here:  http://cervivor.org/stories/ana/

 

“We’re In!”

I started treatment for cervical cancer in spring of 2016. One of the first things I did was start searching for those with my cancer. When I found Cervivor, I immediately knew it was special.  It was a sisterhood of survivors, but they were also advocates! Cervivor was dedicated to eradicating our cancer. It wasn’t just a group of women looking for support, but it was a group of women who had been through it and were DOING something! I like to say that joining Cervivor and being trained at Cervivor School has given me advocacy wings.  I have had many opportunities both in my community and on the national level to participate in events as a Cervivor Ambassador. Most recently I was asked to represent our organization at the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable, in Atlanta. I had interacted on the Roundtable’s Facebook page, and felt like I had working knowledge of the collaboration. They are about stopping HPV…sign me up!

The Roundtable meeting began with a lunch. I arrived alongside Tamika Felder, Cervivor’s founder. The first thing I noticed was that we could hardly get to a spot at a table because everyone was wanting to speak with Tamika. They would greet her, as lifelong friends. Many of them had questions about Cervivor and other projects Tamika has in the works. Attendees were quickly inquiring about me and my role. They were interested in me as a Cervivor Ambassador and very excited to meet an HPV cancer survivor. I began to realize what it meant to be at this meeting. These were the countries top doctors, healthcare professionals, and researchers who had worked in this space for years! These were representatives from other organizations, our (Cervivor’s) partners in eradicating HPV and HPV related cancers! Tamika and Cervivor had been part of this collaborative group since it’s inception! I was so proud to be a part of a cancer nonprofit that is so well respected in this space. It further affirmed my initial feeling that when I found Cervivor, I found something special.

“Empowering Parents and Allies” task group

The meeting was an exciting two days packed with a lot of information and a lot of work! Each organization that is part of the Roundtable sends at least one representative. Those representatives are broken into task groups of their choosing. The task groups are just that, groups with an assigned task to help advance vaccination rates in the U.S. and spread awareness, education, and facts about HPV and the vaccine. The public educator in me was drawn to the “Empowering Parents and Allies” task group, as reaching families with knowledge is at the heart of many things I do. Most of the first day was spent in our task groups, reviewing previous work and annual goals, as well as setting new goals and collaborating with other task teams that may be partner groups in reaching these milestones. Our first evening was full of dinner presentations with updates from each task group and a celebration of the hard work and victories achieved by the Roundtable throughout the year.

The second day of the meeting was just as full. Each moment was packed with presentations from medical teams who are on the front line of vaccinating in the family practice setting, to panel discussions from research scientists on how the social media statistics can work in favor of our messaging. We had a working “Jeffersonian Lunch,” ensuring that time was purposeful and well spent. Every second was full of collaboration, information, and getting to the center of how we can change the HPV vaccination narrative in our country and strive to significantly reduce HPV cancer rates.To be honest there was so much information, that I joked with one of the other attendees at our table about how absolutely full my brain was by the end of lunch on day two. It felt as though it could not hold one more piece of information, fact, or even tidbit. I had officially hit my limit and the “meeting glaze” took over. You know, the glaze you get when the presenter’s voice starts sounding like the Charlie Brown teacher?

It was an honor to work with such an amazing group of professionals. My eyes were opened and faces were given to the people who are diligently working to spread the truth about HPV and a vaccine that is cancer prevention. How exciting to see the position that Cervivor holds among the nations top scientists, doctors, and cancer organizations. We are part of that! We are on the front lines of eradicating HPV! Cervivor is right there, side by side, elbow to elbow! We are rolling up our sleeves and deep into the space of changing the narrative on this virus and educating the public on how acting now can impact generations to come! I was so proud to be a part of this National Roundtable, but I was even prouder to be representing Cervivor. We’re in!

 

Holly Lawson is a two year cervical cancer survivor. Cancer has left her with many challenges, including Chronic Kidney Disease, but she is fighting for her survivorship and currently training with the Ulman Cancer Fund in the Cancer to 5K Program. She is an active Cervivor Ambassdor, who is finding healing in advocacy and sharing her story.