Friday Faves: True Story – I Have HPV
I met him my first night of college. Although not the fairytale every girl imagines, we hit it off in the basement of a fraternity house. It was a passionate, whirlwind love affair that lasted about a month. Long story short, we don’t speak any more. I took it as a learning experience about relationships and the healing process was not easy.
It was an early morning over winter break when I got the call from my gynecologist. I was expecting the phone call and was prepared for her to tell me that I was perfectly normal and she’ll see me in a year for a checkup. She was reading through the list of diseases saying they all came back negative, until she said, “But, your HPV test came back positive. You have what’s called high risk HPV.” I couldn’t think of anything other than getting out of hearing range of everybody in the house. So, I ran into the kitchen and asked, “What do I do now?” She seemed so calm about the whole situation and just insisted that I make sure to come back in three months for a follow-up appointment, and to call her if I had any questions.
As I hung up the phone my whole first semester flashed through my mind. My birthday, Halloween, my best friends’ birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas… I had this disease the entire time. The girl down the hall had supposedly reached the double digit mark for people she had slept with, and I had only been with one person the whole semester. I kept thinking, “Why me?” But, I already knew the answer. The girl down the hall probably used a condom every time. I remembered all those times when I brushed off the need for a condom because I was on birth control. An 18-year-old would never be able to get an STD, I told myself, especially when she only chooses to have sex with the “good” guys. But, it happened and I realized that I was not invincible, like I thought I was.
Ignorantly, I entertained the idea of not telling my mother because I didn’t want her to be disappointed in me. As I put the phone back on the hook she asked me from the other room why the gynecologist called and if everything was okay, I responded yes, but immediately knew I couldn’t lie. I walked into her bedroom and lay down on her bed and said, “Mom, everything’s not okay with me. I have HPV.” She simply said, “Oh…” and held me as we both cried. She shared stories with me about several of our family members, including her, having STDs. I felt not as alone as I had before. Together, we made an appointment with my doctor for an informational session.
The time came for my appointment. My mother had a list of things to ask the doctor. When she met with us she seemed extremely calm, and very optimistic about the whole situation. She said that she had seen it go away in patients before, and the only thing I need to worry about is keeping up my immune system so it has a chance to fight off my disease. Feeling slightly better about my situation, I left the doctor.
Now I was “that girl” that everybody jokes about, who goes to college and comes home with an STD. Except now it is no longer a joke, it’s my life. It is a shame how little this disease is talked about, though. This is the most common STD and over 50% of sexually active people will have it in their lifetime. Most people don’t realize that the low-risk type of HPV, or the human papillomavirus, causes genital warts. But, I have the high-risk type. That means that there is a chance that this disease could alter my cells and ultimately result in cervical cancer. This all depends on whether my immune system can fight it off or not. There is no medication available yet for people who have this disease. The good news is that there is a low chance I will develop cancer since we caught it and I will continue with my check-ups.
The scary part about all of this is that there are absolutely no symptoms of high-risk HPV, and there is no test for men. (The guy that gave it to me doesn’t know he has it, and probably never will.) So, there is no way to know if you’re putting yourself at risk by deciding to ditch the condoms with your longtime boyfriend, who might have contracted the disease before he met you.
I no longer drink frequently, and if I do it’s a beer or two. I need to stay in on a Saturday night if it’s too cold out and there’s a chance of me getting sick. I have sworn off sex for the time being. Although it gets hard sometimes, I keep living my life every day with this disease. I remind myself that it is not what defines me.
I go back to the doctor in March. If the tests show that I still have HPV it turns into a waiting game. I will wait for another six months, and if the test comes back positive again, then I’ll wait some more. Sometimes I feel left out when I can’t take part in a lot of the normal “college experiences” and frustrated at the constant waiting. But, I know these are the consequences I face for making the decision to have unsafe sex.
For more information on HPV go to http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/
[A special thanks to Anna, a CollegeCandy reader, for sharing her story.]