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My Personal History With Cancerous Cells and Its Stigma

My Personal History With Cancerous Cells and Its Stigma


Imagine being diagnosed with a virus that can turn into cervical cancer. Imagine that your cells are, in fact, abnormal. And that a specialist has to remove a part of your cervix to prevent it from happening. All as you’re fully awake and aware of what’s going on. Now imagine that all you worry about is the stigma and not your health.

The Discovery

That was me about a year ago (you forget many of the details when it’s something you no longer have to lose sleep over). Two years before that, I received a letter from the NHS inviting me to attend a cervical screening. So, I did. A few weeks later, the results came back. I tested positive for HPV.

To this day, I find it weird how common HPV is, yet most people don’t even know what it is. It sounds ominous, almost like HIV. In a way, you’re right if you fear it because it can lead to cancer. However, in most cases, it clears up within a year or two without ever showing symptoms and causing problems. I’m not ashamed to say that I, too, wasn’t completely familiar with HPV. But, I blame the lack of sexual education in schools.

A nurse told me it was nothing to worry about and that I didn’t have to tell potential partners about it. I disagreed. There was a lot to worry about: HPV can be passed on even when you have sex with protection, which is why it’s so unavoidable. Most sexually active people will have it at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, even after the removal of cancerous cells, the virus will persist and won’t clear up for a few more months. This meant that if I wanted to date with a clear conscience, I had to inform my partners.

stigma cervical cancer

The Stigma

As I was having a part of my cervix shaved off, I didn’t worry that the cells would come back or spread further. I worried that my dating life was over (at least temporarily) because people’s reactions were worse than the trauma of having a wire loop inside of my vagina.

A lot of men told me that they were ‘clean’, so they wouldn’t risk dating someone who had HPV. The irony is that there’s no HPV test for men, which is because it rarely affects them. However, it creates a double standard. Men get to tell you that they don’t have it and ostracise you when you ‘confess’. Some will also happily insist on having unprotected sex with a stranger without discussing sexual health beforehand. I hated the hypocrisy.

Even though HPV is nothing like HIV, it gave me a glimpse of what it’s like to live with it: others often treat you like a leper and judge you instead of being willing to learn more about the topic. I had it easy enough – I wouldn’t have had HPV forever, but two years did feel like forever.

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And it made me wonder: what happens after I test negative? How do I tell if a potential date is ignorant or not if it seems like nearly everyone is? How do I avoid dating someone who would remove me from his life as soon as I tested positive for HPV? Since HPV has so many strains, it’s possible to have it more than once throughout your life.

stigma cervical cancer

The Conclusions

In the end, I was lucky enough to meet someone who didn’t mind (he worked in healthcare but still). He helped me realise that HPV wasn’t a big deal. If someone thought it was, that’s just because they weren’t educated on the topic and not worth my time anyway.

Even though I don’t have HPV anymore, my heart breaks for all other women who have to go through medical procedures and disclosure. And even though I rarely think about HPV these days, sometimes I still explain it to people in hopes that they’ll understand and listen if their partner happens to test positive for it too. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll all become more educated and open-minded.

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