I knew so little about HPV I was terrified it would leave me childless

I hadn’t been prepared for anything besides good news, and I didn’t even know what this meant (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

When my first smear test in 2015 came back clear, I didn’t think much about putting it off when a second appointment was due.

It was Christmas and I was busy – although if I am completely honest, I didn’t really appreciate the importance of a smear test. I just assumed my results would be normal again.

I finally went in January 2019. A few weeks later, my mum said an important-looking letter had arrived. It was my results, informing me that I had human papillomavirus – also known as HPV – and cell changes.

My first thoughts were pure panic. What did it mean? I hadn’t been prepared for anything besides good news and I’d never even heard of HPV. I’d felt fine up until now and didn’t think I had any symptoms – whatever they might be – so to be told all of a sudden that I wasn’t well, really blindsided me.

It takes a lot for me to cry, but I broke down, gripped with fear and uncertainty of what was going on inside my body.

My first instinct was to google ‘HPV’, which wasn’t the best move. I was bombarded with lots of conflicting information – some sites told me it was nothing to worry about, while others said it meant I had an STI or cancer. I also came across a myth that only people who sleep around get HPV. I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost five years and we trust each other completely, but it’s scary to think about the damage that could have been done to our relationship if we didn’t.

The truth is that HPV is an extremely common virus which you usually pick up through sexual contact. 80 per cent of us will have it at some point in our lives. In nine out of 10 cases, the immune system will clear HPV without it doing any harm.

Sadly, it didn’t in my case and the virus had caused cells in my cervix to change from normal to abnormal. If not treated, these sort of cells may lead to cause cervical cancer.

Soon after I got the letter I went back to my GP who told me that my cell changes were severe. It wasn’t cancer, but as they’d changed both inside and outside my cervix, I needed treatment to remove them. Called a LLETZ procedure, it involved using a thin wire loop with an electrical current to remove the affected area.

It was only when I started to arm myself with facts about HPV that I realised these fears weren’t true and they began to disappear.

It was scary to think about, but also a huge relief to know that it had been caught in time, before the cells had the chance to progress to cervical cancer.

From all the stuff I’d read on the internet, I was worried that having HPV might somehow affect my ability to have children. My mind raced with thoughts of needing a hysterectomy to get rid of the virus and I felt as though my diagnosis meant my future had already been decided for me.

It was only when I started to arm myself with facts about HPV from reliable sources that I realised none of these fears were true. I’ve done a lot of research since and it’s shocking how little is known about it.

At the time I found it really hard to talk about having the virus – it still is sometimes. When you bring it up with people you always think, ‘how are you going to take this?’ and wonder what they might think of you. I desperately want to share my experience to support others and spread awareness, but sometimes I can’t help but worry about being judged. I’m always waiting to see how someone reacts when I tell them – and that’s something we really need to move away from.

Six months after my treatment the HPV had gone and my cells are back to normal, so being diagnosed with the virus doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something you have to live with forever. In fact, almost everyone will clear it from their body naturally.

I’m due my next smear test in September 2020 and now feel much more comfortable about handling the results, whether they are positive or negative.

But looking back, no one should feel like I did – having HPV doesn’t make you a bad person and it’s not your fault. It’s a natural thing. We need to get rid of the fears that surround the virus and get the facts out.

Smear tests are obviously incredibly important because they can prevent cervical cancer. But then next step is to help people better understand their results so that we are all healthier, both physically and mentally.

We need to get to the point where saying ‘I’ve got HPV’ is as normal and accepted as saying ‘I’ve got a cold’, because that’s just how common it really is.

For more information and support, visit Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website or call the helpline on 0808 802 8000

MORE: New test could diagnose cervical cancer earlier in women with HPV

MORE: School boys to be given HPV jab to wipe out cervical cancer

MORE: How to find out when you’re next due for a smear test


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