Living with HPV

By LISA SPINELLI  |  September 4, 2009

“Only one to two percent of women with even a high-risk strain actually develop cancer,” says Dr. Barton. No one bothered to tell me that.

No, instead, my Oklahoma City doctor advised that I take the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, which he said might help me get rid of the infection. I highly considered taking it, looking for anything that could help. But I’m happy I didn’t, because that doctor was full of crap and this vaccine is highly controversial.

Gardasil is given to women between 11 and 26 years old and immunizes them against catching two of the four strains I possibly have. But heed this: a study published just two weeks ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that there is a disproportionate number of girls getting blood clots and fainting spells after taking the vaccine. This past June, the Food and Drug Administration also required Gardasil’s warning label to note that individuals who faint after receiving the vaccine sometimes have “tonic-clonic (jerking) movements and seizure-like activity.” In other words, the vaccine can cause seizures.

If it has any prophylactic benefit, the HPV vaccine is intended for women who have not yet been exposed to the virus. As a monogamous woman about to be married and already carrying one of the strains the vaccine protects against (and marrying a guy who likely has it, too), it made no sense for me — especially with these risk factors that have now come to light.

I opted to forgo the vaccine and instead devised my own logical, though not medically prescribed, approach, which was to get as healthy as possible, figuring if I did, I could probably exercise the infection out of me. I quit smoking entirely after 15 years, went to the gym, ate right — all that good-for-you crap. Three months later, in 2008, I went back to yet another gyno for a colposcopy.

“Everything looks good,” she told me afterward. Fantabulous! I had my PAP done and sent off. The result? LSIL cells still present. Dammit! Still waiting and watching? Yup. I felt like Sisyphus, condemned to continuously work hard, only to find myself back in the same toilsome spot. For a person who loves quick results and hates waiting, this disease was mentally killing me.

“Hopefully, this time everything will come back normal,” I kept finding myself saying over and over again. Until one day, in the summer of 2008, that’s what magically happened. I was elated, ecstatic. I thought I had finally beaten this bad boy down.

“In some cases, the immune system clears the infection,” says nurse Lau from Planned Parenthood. “But it is possible they [the person] will wind up having another infection later on.”

Why I was celebrating I’m not exactly sure, because, as mentioned earlier, it is possible that the disease can come back — even worse than before.

Movin’ on up
In July 2008, my husband and I moved to Boston. We were so happy to be out of Oklahoma that we were acting like bunny rabbits. I noticed some blood, but I blamed it on the frisky behavior.

“Are you kidding me, Lisa?” my mother barked at me. “You better go to the doctor immediately.”

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