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Nina was diagnosed with cervical cell changes (abnormal cells) in 2019. She shares her experience of treatment and confusion around the HPV virus.
My first smear test, at the age of 24, in 2015 came back clear. In January 2019, I had my three year smear after putting it off for a few months as it was Christmas and I was too busy. If I am being completely honest, I didn't really appreciate the importance of a smear test and assumed my results would always come back completely normal.
A few weeks later, I got a phone call from my mum to tell me an important looking letter had arrived and I asked her to open it for me. The results showed I had cell changes and HPV. It takes a lot for me to cry, but hearing this news made my break down in tears. I was gripped with fear and uncertainty of what was going on inside my body. I had no idea what HPV was or how I had got it.
I was referred for a colposcopy in February 2019 where I was diagnosed with both CIN and CGIN. A biopsy was taken and, due to the glandular cell changes, my case was referred to a team of pathologists for discussion. In March, the biopsy results came back showing CIN3 in the outer cervix and high grade CGIN. I was scared, sad and grateful all in one.
A week later, I had a pre-op assessment to prepare me for LLETZ treatment under general anaesthetic. Whilst the day of the treatment was frightening, the wonderful nurses and incredible women I met who were having similar experiences to me made things much more bearable. We spoke about our cervixes as comfortably and as naturally as if we were discussing EastEnders. I will forever be grateful to the inspiring ladies I met that day.
When I first found out that I had cell changes and HPV, my boyfriend and I initially freaked out about it. I carried out a Google search for 'What is HPV?' and the result read 'HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI)'. I was alarmed and confused, as I didn't understand how I could have caught an STI having been with my boyfriend for over four years. The diagnosis made me feel vulnerable as my own body didn't show me any symptoms of having HPV. I was also frightened as I thought HPV could cause complications such as requiring a hysterectomy or potentially affect my chances of having children later in life, the way some STI's can. I felt as though the HPV diagnosis meant part of my future had been decided for me and there was nothing I could do about it.
It was only when I started to learn a bit more about the virus that my fears began to disappear. Since my treatment, I’ve done a lot of research about HPV and I’ve been really shocked by how little is known about HPV and how much stigma there is around it, especially when it is so common. I also recently received the results of my smear test in September 2019, 6 months after my LLETZ treatment. These showed I had no cell changes and also no HPV - so being diagnosed with HPV once doesn't necessarily mean you'll have it forever! I am now due my next smear test in September 2020 and since learning more about HPV I feel much more comfortable about handling the results, whether they are positive or negative.
I’m so determined to raise awareness of the importance of screening and HPV. I’ve been sharing my experience on social media to make my friends and family more aware. However, I never anticipated how far my story would be shared or that women from all over the country would message me privately to share their own experiences or ask questions about mine. I want to ensure that women keep talking, so that the stigmas and fears associated with HPV become a thing of the past!