“I was 26 years old in 2015 when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I had gone for the dreaded pap smear that June (my first in 3 years) and when the results came back abnormal, I didn’t think anything of it because I knew I had HPV when I was 19. Then, I put off the follow-up colposcopy for months because I had a new job and trip planned to the Bahamas. I couldn’t be bothered with something as harmless as a few abnormal cells. There was practically no indication I was sick – I felt fine, worked out regularly, and went to happy hours and out on weekends like we all do.
I learned from my OB/GYN that the tumor in my cervix grew slowly over the course of 3 years, as a result of the HPV virus strain I contracted when I was 19. On top of that, I also learned that it could have easily been prevented had I gotten pap smears more frequently or simply received the HPV vaccine. I later found that virtually all cervical cancer cases (and 95% of anal cancer cases) are a direct result of HPV, and thus, just as preventable as mine would have been.
“Women should only receive pap smears once every 3 years, and it’s even less so for women over the age of 30.” according to the US Preventive Services Task Force. It’s a guideline that can prove dangerous. I didn’t know enough to demand an exam when my OB/GYN (a different doctor than the one who diagnosed me) followed this guideline and turned me away at 22, even after a history of abnormal results. Through my treatment, I’ve learned more than I ever imagined I would about cancer, HPV, and how to be my own health advocate.”