Why am I sharing these photos? Well, this year, 2019, marks 15 years since I’ve been working in the field of HPV and cervical cancer. 15 YEARS!! And in these 15 years, incredible advances have been made. My colleagues and I often joke that we’re the only ones sitting on the edges of our seats waiting for breaking news in HPV. But seriously, it’s been an exciting field to be part of because of the progress we’ve made. And it seemed appropriate to recognize this milestone on World Cancer Day!
When I started out in 2004, most people had never even heard of HPV. And it was my job to educate everyone about this virus with a long name – human papillomavirus - that causes cervical cancer. And now, everyone is talking about HPV!
We have tests for HPV – so you can find out if you have the virus that causes cervical cancer.
We have a vaccine for HPV – so you never have to get HPV in the first place.
We have an opportunity to eliminate a cancer from this earth – a cancer that affects more than half a million women every year!
And with all of this positive news, I keep meeting women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer. Nearly every day I hear about another woman.
Women who are in their 20s looking for love and instead ending up in menopause.
Women with young babies who are scared of not seeing their children grow up.
Women who long to have babies and lose their fertility.
Women who get through treatment only to have long-term side effects, like lymphedema and colostomy bags.
And women who are losing their lives to this disease – leaving motherless children, young widowers, and parents burying their daughters.
It’s the women who keep me working in this field. Their stories are what inspire me to work harder. I’ve heard hundreds of stories and each one matters. I’ve shed more tears in this work than in anything I’ve ever done – but I’ve also cried tears of happiness when I hear from someone that they are done with treatment, NED (No Evidence of Disease). Or when their adoption has gone through. Or when they’ve successfully worked to get legislation passed to acknowledge Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Or they’ve just shared their story at their first cancer conference.
This leads back to my opening question. Why am I sharing these photos? Well, after 15 years of working on this and talking about it, my son finally got his HPV vaccine! WOOHOO!! Sounds crazy to be this excited about it, but even if we’re just one small cog in the wheel, we are taking our individual steps to prevent the spread of HPV (herd immunity, for those who care)! This is a BIG deal! (I also threw the photo of my visit in there, because I can’t leave out the importance of getting an HPV test!)
So, for all of you women out there who have shared their stories with me and are out there advocating for the next generation, THANK YOU for letting me be on this journey with you and for giving me the honor of hearing your stories (you know who you are).
And for those who we’ve said goodbye to over the years, while I sat in that doctor’s office I seriously thought of each and every one of you that lost your lives to this disease. I will continue sharing all of your stories so that your lives continue to inspire others.
And for those of you who question whether your story is worth sharing, it definitely is! Even if your story encourages one woman to get an HPV test, one kid to get their HPV shot, one woman to follow-up on a symptom she’s been having, IT IS WORTH IT. You just may save another woman from going through a diagnosis or another child losing his or her mom.
And in 20, 30, 50 years when we eliminate this disease, we can know that we were all part of this fight together and WE MADE A DIFFERENCE.