Living with HPV

By LISA SPINELLI  |  September 4, 2009

Even rarer are the HPV-caused cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, and, most rarely, the penis. (Basically, if it’s in your pants, it’s vulnerable, though again, your chances of getting those are remote.)

I, however, was traumatized by this Okie doctor and left a blubbering mess. Was I going to die? Would I ever have kids?

Listen: Lisa Spinelli tells her story on WFNX's Sandbox Morning Show (mp3)
Induction into the club
During this time of wait and watch/sit and be tortured, I talked to nearly all my girlfriends across the nation and found out more than a few of them had also had run-ins with HPV.

One friend — we’ll call her Sandy, since she doesn’t want to be named — had sex just one time and got warts. She had to get them frozen off from inside her body using cryotherapy, a process in which doctors put liquid nitrogen on the warts, freeze them, and then scrape them off — a horrible ordeal for one night of not-so-great sex. Luckily for her, she has never seen them again — at least for now.

There are more than 100 known strains of HPV. Sandy, obviously, got one that causes warts. I still did not know for sure if my abnormal PAP meant I had HPV, and didn’t know what strain(s) I carried if I did. I wished like hell that, if I had the disease, I wouldn’t get one of the wart-causing strains, because, “Dirty” though I was, the idea of telling my fiancé we could get warts seemed to me the most unacceptable notion ever. My fear of getting warts was so great that I secretly wished instead for the HPV strains that can cause cancer.

Be careful what you wish for.

After a month of waiting and hoping, the biopsies came back negative for cancer, but the word on the HPV was “yes.” I now was not only sure I had it, but also that I had one of the four strains most found in women with cervical cancer. (There’s that word again!) The lab results read “May be associated with precancerous lesions or cancer of the cervix.” They couldn’t narrow it down, but it was either HPV strain 16, 18, 30, or 33. Cue the waterworks: I cried like a four year old. Guess I got my wish.

According to the Web site for Johns Hopkins Medicine, a leader in HPV research, virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, and around 70 to 80 percent of women with cervical cancer have either HPV strain 16 or 18. I was officially on the pre-cancer team.

Deal with it
I was dumbstruck. “I have a fucking STD” was all I could think to myself, and was sure I was going to get cancer. I started doing the absolute wrong thing: googling symptoms of cervical cancer. I turned into a total cyberchondriac. Cramping? I had that. Pain in my lower back? I had that! Pain when having sex? I had that, too! I resigned myself to the thought that I was going to wind up ill at an early age and lose my uterus, sans babies.

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    The results are “normal.” I breathe a sigh of relief. But should I be relieved? It’s been two years since I heard a registered nurse tell me “You have HPV,” and I am still getting scraped from the inside out, still making appointments to see doctors, and still terrified that I’ll get cancer.

 See all articles by: LISA SPINELLI