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Our latest research found nearly half of women would be worried that their partner had cheated on them if they were told that they had HPV, over half would feel embarrassed and a third simply don’t know what HPV means. With the cervical screening programme moving to HPV primary testing, we want to normalise HPV and reduce myths and stigma associated with the virus.
Laura, was diagnosed with Stage 1a1 cervical cancer in 2016 aged 29. She shares her experience of being told she had high-risk HPV.
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. Instant panic and logic went out of the window. When I googled what HPV was, 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 know 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 know that 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. Once I read more about HPV, it 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 that is more common than any virus I’d heard of, and yet so little people knew about it. Everyone I spoke 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!
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus affecting 4 out of 5 of us in our lives. There are no symptoms for HPV and there are around 200 types; the majority of people won’t know they have the infection. Out of these 200 types, approximately 13 of these (high-risk HPV) can cause cervical cancer. In most cases, the body will naturally be able to clear the infection. However for a small number of women, their immune system will not be able to get rid of the HPV, which can lead onto cervical cancer.