I went for a routine smear test in 2016, after putting it off for a couple of months. I was told in my letter that I had severe dyskaryosis requiring further treatment. This was scary enough in itself.
I also read that I had been diagnosed as being HPV positive. I thought this was related to HIV as those were the only three letters I’d heard of before. Cue instant panic and logic going out of the window. When I Googled it, I found a lot of the information quite alien. I saw it was an STI and then automatically thought that my partner had been cheating on me. I felt extremely angry and then thought the worst case scenario, thinking it was so unfair that he would be able to see our children grow and I wouldn’t.
After reading the letter, I remember vividly sitting on my bathroom floor sobbing. I didn’t what was upsetting me more, the possibility that I could have cancer or that my partner of a decade had been unfaithful and put me in this position. As well as thinking the worst, I blamed myself, as I presumed that I hadn’t been careful enough. Why had I contracted this? Why had my body not cleared this? Had I done something to put myself at danger of cervical cancer?
Even when I was talking about my cancer diagnosis with other women, there was still a feeling of shame and embarrassment. I was at the school gates once when I told one of the other mums about the positive HPV, and she just looked me up and down with a horrible look.
Reflecting back and now knowing what I know, I there was no need for me to be so angry, but at the time that was a very lonely place to be in with no one to turn to. I read more about HPV on places such as the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website, which took the weight of the world off of my shoulders.
When I realised how common HPV was, my guilt subsided and I was really shocked. I realised that there wasn’t much else I could have done to protect myself from HPV. The HPV vaccine wasn’t available when I was at school so there wasn’t much I could have done, it was just my body didn’t clear it, unfortunately for me. This virus is more common than any virus I’d heard of, and yet so little people knew about it. Everyone I spoke to had never heard of it and yet most of us are going to contract this.
I want to reassure women that if they’re told they’ve got HPV, it’s not something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. It’s natural to have questions, and to want to find out more information about it. I didn’t realise it could lay dormant for years and years, so it wasn’t necessarily my partner who had passed me the HPV infection. When I learnt that HPV was as common as the common cold and that I wasn’t going to have deal with infidelity as well as the cancer, I felt much stronger.
We need to normalise HPV so that people who have it don’t jump to conclusions like I did!