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I have HPV, now what?

I got the cervical dysplasia diagnosis in that same appointment room where over the course of a year I had two Paps and one colposcopy, so definitely not my favorite room.

They do a good job of being as friendly and warm as possible, but the items in the room are still clinical (the IUD models are informative, but creepy) and damn, why can’t they ever make the temperature warm-ish? The stirrups, uggh. I am always slightly entertained when the nurse says, “Sit wherever you want.”

Me: So, it doesn’t seem to be going away. What do I do now?

Gyn: (without a second of hesitation) You can go ahead and schedule a LEEP procedure with reception on your way out.

Me: Is this an out-patient thing?

Gyn: Oh, yes, just right here in the office. It’s as common as sliced bread.

Me: What is LEEP exactly?

Gyn: (shaping his hands to mimic a cervix, indicating how much length was involved) It’s an electric current that takes off about a half-inch of the cervix, removing the abnormal cells.

Me: (now feeling my gut tightening thinking about cutting off a half-inch of my body, down there, in there) So, I understand what I have is not cancer, right? So why would I do this now?

Gyn: In my thirty years of practice, I’ve never seen a woman your age regress.

Wait, what?

I am too old to heal from this? Ever?

I stood up and mumbled something resembling the tones of thank you and goodbye and bolted past the receptionist with some strange degree of guilt and shame for ignoring the opportunity to expediently schedule the common-as-sliced-bread procedure. I slinked into the safe and snug sanctum of my car and hunkered down with my friend Google.

Me: What is cervical dysplasia and HPV?

Google: Abnormal cells on cervix, stage zero cancer

Me: Treatments.

Google: cone biopsy, LEEP, Cold-knife

Me: (WTF? Cold-knife?) What is LEEP?

Google: pain medications, low-voltage electrical current, wire removing abnormal areas of cervix, 5-30 percent fail rate.Want to see pictures? Video?

Me: Did I just get prescribed a treatment that can fail one-third of the time?

First, I felt like there was nothing wrong with me. Essentially, physically, I felt fine. Better than fine, actually. Second, tell me again why I would remove a portion of my cervix when I felt fine? Jesus, was this my life now? Starting the downhill progression of screenings and treatments?

I'm well beyond vaccination (thank God my daughter was vaccinated!) and before cancer

and there doesn't seem to be a lot of information for this piggy-in-the-middle place.

Now what?

Three things you can do to move forward in healing high-risk HPV and cervical lesions :

1. Embrace the freak out.

This is about your cervix, it's personal! The information the internet serves up on this topic is unsettling in its contradictions. Statements like 'most cases clear on their own' and 'can lead to cancer' are often all in one sentence. It's serious, but not serious. You know the screenings are important and you stuck with them. Your care providers advice used to be 'just come back for another screening in a year, it will likely be gone by then' and now what you are hearing is 'setup a time to remove 1/2 your cervix'. It's easy to understand why literally all of the women I interviewed who found themselves in this position did a least a little freaking out. I don't think it can really be suppressed:

You might as well take this opportunity to really listen to your fears.

Your gut reaction is a good indicator of what's important to you.

Acknowledging what is important to you will help inform your choice-making as you move forward from here.

Tip: give yourself a time frame to allow those freak-out feelings to express themselves. When the time is over, leave behind the wild self-talk and associated emotions - and focus on how you will move forward.

2. Talk about it.

When I explicitly asked my gyn if I should disclose the high-risk HPV lab results with my intimate partners

he said, "it's not really anything you need to talk about." So I didn't.

Turns out, that's a mistake.

If you are having intimate interactions with another person where genitals are part of skin-to-skin contact (mouth included!) insist upon mutual disclosure of anything known about STI screenings including high-risk HPV. For sex to be truly consensual it must be fully informed. Avoiding additional exposure to HPV strains you might not have yet, improves your chances of cervical dysplasia regression. Your partners wants to avoid any additional exposure too!

Let your loved ones know what you are going through. Receiving their loving support is a powerful contribution to your healing. Make a commitment to yourself and the world around you to not allow shame to enter your situation. Increased awareness can help reduce social shame and stigma around HPV, cervical dysplasia, cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV. Talk about it. Increase the loving support for women like us facing this diagnosis.

3. Decide to act.

You have already committed to HPV and cancer screening - good on you! It's a natural progression of your current way of thinking to continue taking positive steps toward preventing cervical cancer. Now that the limited time of freaking out is over, there are things you can do.

***Be actively involved your treatment decisions so you feel confident the treatment will heal you. If standard treatments like LEEP or cryotherapy don't feel right for you, explore alternative treatments. Consider treatments offered by a reputable naturopath. Tip: with your care provider, set a time frame for treatment investigations. When the time is over, commit to your top choice and measure your healing progress with subsequent screenings, make course corrections as needed. The important thing is to act with confidence so you can own the results and move forward on your path to full health.

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