Resolve To Protect Your Family From Cancer
Jan 09, 2018
By Shaundra L. Hall, Southwest Regional Director, National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC)
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and if you’ve resolved to make healthier choices in 2018, then ensuring your loved ones are vaccinated against the deadly strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) should be on the top of the “resolutions to keep” list.
Cancer prevention is a gift of health for your child’s, and grandchildren’s, future. But it’s only a gift if given early in life.
My journey with HPV began at the age of 17.
My very first Pap smear exam had an abnormal result. Over the next several years, I would have some normal and some abnormal Paps, and it was eventually determined that my cervical dysplasia required medical treatment to remove abnormal cell tissue that might become cancerous. I went on to have multiple procedures over the years – a LEEP/cold knife cone, cryosurgery – you name it, I had it. So many painful treatments chipping away precious tissue from my cervix.
Years later, after my husband and I were married and bought our first house together, we started thinking about starting a family. When pregnancy didn’t happen as quickly as we had hoped, I made a visit to my gynecologist’s office. Back in to the stirrups I go, and with one look heard “Ohhhh…”
My heart sank.
Until we had started trying for a family, I’d had four years of completely normal Pap tests and I felt confident that I was healthy enough to get pregnant. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
During the course of about 10 months, some cancer switch turned on and I went from 4 years of a healthy cervix to invasive cervical cancer. About fourteen days after my doctor’s appointment, I was in the hospital having a hysterectomy to save my life from a HPV related cancer. Not only were my husband and I in our 20s trying to deal with the fact we would never have our own biological kids, but now we had the big “C” staring us in the face. To say it was devastating is an understatement.
I wish I could say that I left all of that sadness from nearly 20 years ago behind me, but the reminders of my battle with HPV related cancer is with me every day. When I see my scar or when my legs, ankles and feet swell due to lymphedema from my missing abdominal lymph nodes, it’s clear that I can’t escape what the cancer has done to me. I think about it when I encourage my husband to keep each and every dental exam to ensure that he is not at risk for HPV related oropharyngeal or head and neck cancer. My husband has been an amazing partner sticking with me through all of the intimacy challenges related to the physical modifications to my body, and I only wish we had the opportunity to be protected from HPV when we were younger.
Thankfully, HPV vaccination has now been available and safely administered in the United States for more than a decade. The HPV vaccine is safe, effective and far less painful than any treatment I experienced. It is effective against the 9 strains of HPV which cause the highest number of HPV related cancers. To protect all children from HPV related cancers, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices currently recommends routine vaccination for both boys and girls between 11-12 years of age. However, parents may be interested in knowing that their children can get vaccinated as early as age 9 and through age 26. Early vaccination is critical if we are to protect our children before any chance of exposure.
I know enough to understand that as a woman without any children of her own, I shouldn’t try to give advice to any parent, but for anyone hesitating whether it is the right thing to get their family vaccinated against HPV, my questions are these:
- Do you want your children to be spared the slash, burn, and poison method that is still the method of most standard cancer treatments?
- Do you want grandchildren?
- Do you want to sleep well at night knowing you have done all you can to keep your family healthy?
If the answer is yes to any one of these questions, then HPV vaccination must be at the top of your resolutions list; make that appointment and immunize them today!
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