How my story begins: At age 26, they found abnormal cells on my cervix. I can still remember when my first GYN told me I had HPV, his exact words were “You have pre-cancer cells that are due to a STI (sexually transmitted infection).” He then proceeded to do a very poor drawing of my cervix. He explained very vaguely what HPV was and then sent me home with my birth control pills, which were the reason I had made the appointment in the first place.
How I felt after diagnosis: I found myself trying to understand what was going on. This doctor tells me I have pre-cancer cells that are due to a STI. Even a condom wouldn’t have prevented it. And I’m supposed to wait 6 months to see him? I was confused. I wasn't promiscuous. Only promiscuous people get STIs, right?
Telling my family and friends: Back in 2006, it wasn’t something that was talked about much. The times I did try to explain what I was going through to my friends and family, I would feel judged. I started saying I had problems in my ovaries instead of HPV.
My treatment: Between 2005 and 2010, I had many small procedures. I had several colposcopies, two cryotherapies, three laser therapies, one cone biopsy and one LEEP procedure.
I finally received a clear Pap almost 5 yrs after my first HPV diagnosis. Around three months later, in February 2011, I found out I was pregnant with my second child. (I had a daughter prior to being diagnosed with HPV). I had so many different emotions - happy, excited, but most of all, I was scared. The doctor’s had advised me that I would be considered high risk due to my history with the HPV and the many small procedures I endured. I was on bed rest since I was around 12 weeks pregnant. Fortunately, I was able to deliver a healthy boy.
How I felt after treatment: Different thoughts kept coming to mind. What if I hadn’t been persistent? What if I hadn’t changed doctors? What if I had never made that appointment back in 2005 for birth control pills? What if?? … Maybe I wouldn’t be here today, or maybe I wouldn’t have been able to have my son.
What was most difficult for me: Accepting I didn't have anything to be ashamed of. In fact, as women, 8 out of 10 of us carry high-risk HPV at some time in our lives.
What I did to help myself: With my first doctor, I constantly felt I was bothering him, that he had better patients to see. I felt alone and ashamed. I ended up changing doctors to a female. If I hadn’t been so persistent and continued with my follow-ups, my story now could have been different.
Where I am today: It took me a long time to feel comfortable to share my story. I felt I didn’t have the right to complain. I felt I didn’t have a story to tell. I didn’t get cancer, didn’t have to get chemo or radiation, didn’t lose my hair and I was able to have a child after being diagnosed with HPV. Until one day, I realized - I’m what Cervivor is fighting for. For women not to have to go thru a cancer diagnosis and lose their hair or their fertility. Now I proudly accept any chance I get to share my story, with the hope that by sharing my story, I could save at least one woman's life or fertility by reminding them to get their Pap test and HPV test and encouraging them to be persistent.
What I want other women to know: We Hispanics have the highest rates of cervical cancer out of all groups of women. We have the second highest mortality rate after African American women. The more information Latina communities have about HPV and cervical cancer, the faster we can erase the stigma around HPV.