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Hysterectomy Part 3 – Surviving It All

I’ve compared the sudden discovery of pre-cancerous cells and pronouncement by my doctor that I needed a hysterectomy to a tornado whipping through my life.  Unlike a lot of people who find themselves in this situation, I was not gradually building up to this diagnosis due to complaints of symptoms that then led to a discovery of cancer.  There were no cysts or fibroids or mysterious pains we were looking into — the discovery of the pre-cancerous cyst was a “lucky” happenstance of dealing with the anemia from my monthly cycle.  Had it not been for anemia, this would never have been discovered, so the concept of a cyst, much less of cancer, never even crossed my mind.  A hysterectomy at 40 wasn’t even a blip on my intellectual radar.

But the upside of a tornado is that it comes in unexpectedly — without the building dread of a hurricane — does its damage, and then leaves just as quickly as it came.

I had enough time to run through the gamut of emotions — fear, anger, denial, dread, grief, anger, anger, anger, frustration, but not enough time to really dwell on any one of them very long.  I had enough time to rally the troops and get a plan together.  And yes, I blogged.  I had very public obligations that involved a wide group of people I needed to let know what was going on and once I started letting one circle of friends and associates know, I realized I might as well let another.  I decided that the benefit of this experience might as well to be to open it up not only for those who know me in person, but for that person who finds herself in the dark, searching on the Internet for real-world answers like I was a few weeks ago, and is slightly terrified by what she finds.

So this is the fulfillment of that promise.  This is my story, what I went through just before, the day of, and thus far in recovery.  What I hope will be helpful to someone in a similar situation sometime soon.  If  you found this post through such a search, it may help you to read the first two posts to get a little bit of background (Part I and Part II).

Every story is different

Whenever I’m faced with a new, daunting situation, my reporter instincts kick in.  I start asking around to see if anyone has been through something similar and has words of wisdom to share.  While I found the HysterSisters site to be somewhat helpful, I found that very few of them were really going through the same scenario I was — the same diagnosis and the same surgery.  My biggest area of concern was understanding what recovery would be like so I could line up the appropriate resources and I would get all kinds of answers.  This frustrated my Type A desire for concrete information, until a friend who had had a hysterectomy a few years ago told me, “just like everyone’s birth story is different, everyone’s hysterectomy story is going to be different.  You can’t assume your experience will be just like someone else’s.”  This was good advice for me to hear.

Now is the time to accept acts of friendship

I found it difficult to accept a friend’s generous offer to set up a “care calendar” which would allow others to cook meals for my family.  After all, what if I end up not being “that sick” after all?  What if recovery is easier than I thought?  I had a lot of excuses in my head.  Stop the excuses.  If you have friends willing to do this, let them.  It has been a true blessing.  It is not just about the nourishment of the body, but the nourishment of the soul — it means a lot to know that someone cared enough to prepare a meal not only for me but for my family.  It also provides some structure for the day — it is a big “event” in a day that for the patient is one big endless day of pain, pills, and sleep.  Though my mother, a Southern lady, sometimes felt a little displaced at not doing ALL the cooking, I reminded her she could still cook lunches for us and that helped me want to eat things — the smell of home cooking wafting from the kitchen would make me want to come from my pill-induced slumber and eat something.  The desserts so kindly left with the dinners have been a huge treat for the kids and given them something to look forward to each day.  I have not been up to much “visiting” but it has meant the world to me to know that friends have demonstrated their friendship in this way.

Additionally, Facebook has been my little window to the world.  Email is a little too much for me to handle as there is work to be done in the email, but Facebook gives me a chance to read some updates, post updates, and crack a few jokes.  I’ve been astonished that friends who aren’t even necessarily part of my daily back-and-forth on Facebook have kept tabs, offered words of comfort, and traded jokes with me on Facebook.  It’s much easier for me than a phone call right now and it brightens my day (and night) as I can reach over and re-read the comments.

My advice in this area is to figure out some concrete things people can do for you and then if they ask if they can help, let them.  It may be meals, it may be helping drop off or pick up the kids, it may be something else, but people will want to help and not know how.  It’s much easier to line up the help in advance and then cancel it if you don’t need it then to turn it down and the scramble around to look for it at the last minute.  Some people may not be able to do anything more than call or email and that’s okay, too.  Don’t judge your friendships based on how well people can help during this time, other people’s lives go on, but do acknowledge those who pitched in.

Let’s hear it for the guys

I worried about talking about “girl parts” so publicly, but I have to say I have been so impressed with not only the general level of support, but the support of the men in my life.  To be clear, I’m a married woman, most of these men are married men, we’re talking strictly platonic and sometimes even business-level friendships here, but the fact that men are comfortable publicly posting on Facebook (a few emailed) to send their good wishes and prayers on a surgery of this nature seems significant.  A few of them referenced the experience their wives have had with this procedure.  I haven’t fully processed what I think this all means — just that I think it is wonderful that men feel fine with expressing their support for a female friend with this kind of a surgery in a public forum.  I don’t think that would’ve happened a generation ago even if the technology existed (and mind you,  I’m talking about men from all generations — Boomers, X and Y).  Women are used to being so vocally supportive, it somehow seems socially significant that the men are stepping up as well — way to go, guys!

Why you should talk about it

Talking about my surgery publicly has allowed other friends to share their stories with me.  Stories about current health issues they are going through (I’m praying for you!)  Stories about recent health issues they’ve undergone.  Stories about things long in the past, but that are a big part of who they are now.  You have to do what you are comfortable with, but for me, being frank and open on all fronts allowed me to be able to not feel like I was hiding anything and also allowed me to deal with some parameters realistically, as in, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that, I will still be recovering from my hysterectomy then.” 

I also had to talk about the surgery with the JavaKids because I knew they’d hear me use the terms with doctors on the phone, with friends, etc.  With my children, being very straightforward and factual is the best way to go.  They are both very scientific minded so I can’t throw a lot of fairy dust into stories.  I simply explained that they found some “bad stuff” in Mommy and they needed to cut it out in a surgery or operation called a hysterectomy.  That I would go into the hospital and they would cut the bad stuff out and then I should be fine but I would have a “boo-boo tummy” for a while.  They asked me some questions so I went a little more in-depth — they wanted to know how they would go into my tummy so I explained they would make some small holes in me, one of which would be in my belly button.  They wanted to know if it would hurt so I explained the doctors would put some numbing stuff on me and that they would give me medicine that would make me go to sleep for a while.  We talked about the fact that I may come home on the same day or I may spend the night at the hospital.  JavaBoy wanted to know more about the instruments used, so I found an animation about the harmonic scalpel online to show him.  Somehow I mentioned that there would be some smoke (water vapor actually) inside me and this led to a silly conversation about whether the smoke would come out my ears or my belly button.  The JavaKids were very disappointed I didn’t come home spouting smoke rings like the caterpillar in Alice In Wonderland after the surgery.  I decided not to go into great detail about the glue holding my incisions together and instructed JavaDad to hide the KrazyGlue just in case the kids got any wise ideas.

I have, at other times, made a point to tell them that if “something should ever happen to Mommy, I will become an angel in heaven and watch down on them always.”  I’ve made sure to reassure them that I don’t expect anything to ever happen to Mommy, but I wanted them to have that to hold onto,  just in case.  Fortunately for us, they find religion a source of comfort and talk of heaven and angels is as normal as talking about ants on a blade of grass, so though it is an emotional thing for me to say, it didn’t seem overly meaning-laden to them.

The day before — Mommy the Grouch

Every story is different.  You may not have to do this, but I had to do a bowel prep, and I’ll spare you the gory details except to say that means swallowing magnesium citrate and drinking only clear liquids starting noon the day before your surgery.  And they don’t mean vodka!

If you have to do this, my best advice is get all your “clear liquids” (clear Italian ice, broth, clear juices, etc.) ready and then isolate yourself from your family and watch TV as much as possible — unless you can maintain a pleasant demeanor while going through this humiliating practice.  It is probably NOT advisable to do what I did and schedule a conference call with your boss.  Fortunately I still have a job.

Before your surgery the hospital/scheduling nurse will probably pester you to death with questions.  This will give you plenty of chances to counter-pester with questions.  By this point I had answered all my questions.  Just keep a keen ear out to make sure everyone seems to be onboard with the same plan you have — if you are removing ovaries, make sure everyone is checking to be sure you are removing ovaries.  Likewise if you are NOT removing ovaries, make sure everyone is saying you are NOT.

Surgery – it’s showtime

Since we had to be at the hospital at 6am, I said goodbye to the kids at bedtime.  And later I went back in and kissed their sleeping heads again.  As much as I tried not to go there, I did briefly allow myself to think, “what if…”  What if something goes wrong on the table and I don’t wake up.  What if they find really horrible cancer in the muscle of the uterus?  What if this is the first step in a journey I don’t want to take?  I forced myself to just move forward — it’s out of my hands.  I have a strong personal faith, but I am a control freak, so this is a constant struggle for me.  I had to trust that what was meant to be would be.

At this point you’ve mostly lost control of the ball.  Remain hypervigilant about everyone who comes in and what they say, but you have to trust that you are in good hands at some point and now is a good time.  The anesthesiologist was going to great pains to reassure me of all the safeguards they had in place, and since I’ve been through a few surgeries, I looked her in the eyes and said, “I trust you to take care of me.”  If you haven’t had anesthesia before, feel free to ask all the questions you need in order to get comfortable, but this wasn’t my first rodeo and I’ve come to see anesthesia as the best possible nap.

Our minister came to be with us and I’m hoping he wasn’t offput by the fact that JavaDad and I had hit the goofy joking stage of stress at this point.  Pastor had been with us through two c-sections and a few scary hospital visits, we appreciated his comforting presence and prayers.  I think we’d hit the point where we felt like it was all up to God and the docs and we might as well have a few laughs along the way.  As Pastor reminded me, I had two jobs at this point, “Go to sleep.  And wake up!”

As usual, all I remember is the “We’re going to give you a little bit of oxygen….” and then next thing I know I’m in the recovery room wondering who ripped the hell out of my organs.  Keep in mind at this point I’d gone 23 hours without a Diet Coke, so someone wisely gave me a Percocet and a Diet Coke.  I don’t think I actually crushed the can with my bare hands after finishing it, but somehow a second Diet Coke appeared out of thin air.  May God bless whomever stocks the recovery room fridge.

JavaDad also appeared (I notice, not until after the first Diet Coke…) and told me the first pathology report looked good.  I’m pretty sure I said some horrible things and muttered something about food, pain pills, and Diet Coke.  I hope I told him I love him.

I was pretty dopey but after I was done being dopey I was more aware of the pain and I said so.  I may have threatened someone’s life if they didn’t give JavaDad a script for decent drugs, or that may have just been in my head.  Either way, we left with a script for Percocet and no actual violence occurred.  We left the hospital 3 hours after my surgery.  So far I haven’t met anyone else who has left that fast after a hysterectomy so I figure it gives me mad bragging rights and street cred.  “Oh yeah, well I’m so tough they ripped all my girly parts out of me and I was home by lunch!” 

Homecoming

An extremely chipper volunteer wheeled me out to the car and I have a vague recollection of JavaDad calling someone to say we were on our way home.  I walked in the door expecting the JavaKids to give me a huge welcome and instead, they called out, “Oh, hi Mom!” from the other room where they were playing with their grandmother.   Your kids may love you more than mine love me.  (I joke, I joke.)  Take note: Grandmas visiting from Florida will trump a mom who has only been gone for a few hours even if she’s had all her girly parts taken away any day.  Especially if you can’t blow smoke out of your belly button.

You may be hoarse from the tube from anesthesia — which EVERY person you speak to on the phone will comment on.

The pain?  Let’s just say I felt bad for every cat we had had spayed.  I really hoped their drugs were better than mine and I will endlessly question the vet about this on any future cat spayings.  What followed was a blur of days/nights of popping pain pills and sleeping when the pain would allow me to.  Too much pain and too little focus to read more than a trashy magazine.  Falling asleep in the middle of tv shows.  Sitting up in chairs sometimes put too much pressure on the internal stitches.  I was told walking would be good and would help restart the digestive system, but it hurt and it is easy to get tired. Because it is blazing hot outside, I made two field trips to extend my walking to more than just inside my house — one trip to the used bookstore, and one trip to the library.  I am a wild child.  Sometime in the next week I plan to go to a Hair Cuttery and let them wash my hair for me.  I’m living it up!

Remaining questions

I did have my ovaries removed, so I supposedly will start early menopause.  Sometimes I feel hot — are those hotflashes or is that the result of the pain medication?  I don’t know.  We won’t start any hormone replacement therapy just yet until my body heals a little more. 

The final pathology report came in.  JavaDad took the call because I was asleep, so I didn’t get the thrill of receiving the news myself nor did I get to quiz the doctor.  All I know is the report was clear – no cancer.  This is good news.  It does play a slight headgame with you when you are still in pain from the surgery — why did I do all this then?  We had already removed the pre-cancerous cyst.  Should I have gone ahead and removed the ovaries?  Intellectually I know this was the right decision — I will never have to worry about cancer in these areas, where pre-cancerous cells once existed, more could’ve cropped up any time.  I have the added benefit of not having any monthly female troubles and though I had not gone in to complain about monthly pain, I did have a lot of monthly pain.  But the human mind can’t help but play the what if game.  I am a lucky, lucky, lucky woman and I don’t mean to play down how lucky and grateful I am.  I am blessed.

I’m still recovering.  Impatiently so.  Still tired.  Still have pain, but less of the “come here and let me scratch your eyes out” level of pain.  I’ve kicked JavaDad out of bed as I seem to require all of the bed and all of the pillows.  I want to do more than I can.  I’ll think, “hey, why don’t I walk across the room and reorganize that bookcase?!”  Which will become, “In ten minutes I’ll do that.”  Which ultimately becomes a matter of me maybe moving three books around sometime that day and then going back to bed.

I cannot thank my family and friends enough for riding out this tornado with me.  I do believe in the power of prayer and I think your prayers help make this turn out to be a best case scenario.  From the meals to the comments and emails to reading the posts, each of you have supported me in your own way and it meant a lot.  I’ll be glad when the glue dissolves and the incisions heal, but most of all I hope that my experience can be used to help ease someone else’s journey, so please share my story with anyone who needs it and I’m happy to answer questions to be the best of my ability.

Disclosure:  I’m a patient, not a doctor and cannot provide medical advice.  All information in this post is based solely on my individual experience and sh0uld not be substituted for advice from your doctor.

His And Her Sleep Apnea

I have been a long-suffering wife putting up with JavaDad’s sleep apnea.  He often forgets to put on his CPAP mask or sometimes manages to snore in spite of it.  Imagine my mortification when I shared a hotel room with a girlfriend while at a conference and she told me I snored and made strange noises in my sleep!  I made several excuses at first — I have a cold, Sudafed would take care of it, yadda, yadda.  But when she started flinging pillows at me in the middle of the second night, much like I would at JavaDad, I realized the situation was far worse than a simple stuffed nose.  As we would be traveling together frequently for several conferences over the next year, and since I knew I was already battling insomnia, after discussing the issue with my doctor, I quickly made an appointment at a local sleep clinic.

I was surprised, when I posted about my pending appointment on Facebook, how many of my friends wanted to hear about the details about the process as they suspected that either they had sleep apnea or that their husbands did.  So I decided to put my reporter’s hat on and document the journey.

Now my husband had painted a pretty grim picture of his experience — he was diagnosed in 2002 and described his sleep lab as quite clinical and uncomfortable — a white room with a bed in it.  So I had my doubts when the person on the phone for 1st Class Sleep Clinics in Centreville told me that the experience would be much like checking into “a very nice hotel.”  After all, the address was essentially an office building with a Dunkin Doughnuts on the ground floor. 

My first impression was when I walked out of the elevator and was greeted by a welcome sign.

Nice touch.  But it still looked like an office building, until I rounded the corner. 

 Oh, perhaps  not quite like where my husband went!

For a sleep-deprived mother, the bedroom was frankly, more like a retreat.  Room darkening shades, a Sleep Number bed, DirectTV on a wall-mounted TV, and remotes for absolutely everything, including the ceiling fan and overhead light.  If it weren’t for the ceiling mounted camera (to watch you sleep) and the speakers and microphone on the nightstand (so the technicians can record any snoring and communicate with you), it would be easy to imagine you were on vacation somewhere.

The staff was exceedingly polite, everything was “Miss JavaMom” this and “Miss JavaMom that.”  They brought me water and made sure I was comfortable in every way possible.  I certainly never receive this kind of service at home!

Of course the vacation scenario illusion was spoiled when they had me watch a DVD about sleep apnea and how a CPAP machine works.  Then they came in and applied various sensors to my body — some to my head with a rubber cement-like substance (do not plan on going straight from the sleep lab to any important appointments the next day — you will need to go home and do some serious scrubbing to get that stuff out of your hair!), some pads to my chest, and some to my legs.  They then applied then hooked these sensors up to various wires which were connected to a portable box that I could take with me to the bathroom if I needed to during the night.  (Yes — I had pictures of this, but there is only so much humiliation I will put up with for my readers!!)  I wore my own pajamas and climbed into the bed, where I settled in for the first part of the study, which was to observe how it was I slept and how often I would snore or stop breathing (which is what sleep apnea is — actually interrupted breathing.)  Even with the odd sensors, it actually wasn’t too bad.

Although they had hoped to do both parts of the study that evening, it took a while to gather all the data they needed (it is hard for me to fall asleep for one thing).  But I was diagnosed as having severe apnea — waking up briefly 32-35 times and hour and apparently stopping breathing for as long as 2 minutes.

It took me a while to return for my follow-up study, the part where they observe you while you sleep with a CPAP machine and test different sizes of masks due to scheduling issues, but I finally returned at the end of May.  Unfortunately I returned the night of a horrific thunderstorm so the TV was in and out, I had a bit of a cold so I wasn’t feeling great to begin with, and it was a bit of a chaotic night in the lab as they were training someone new, there was a child there being studied for night terrors, and being on the top floor, the sound of the rain banging on the roof was a bit distracting for me.  I slept with a mask on that night, but I have struggled with adjusting to the mask since having it at home and am trying out JavaDad’s mask as well (they are interchangable) and have emailed the clinic to see if I can try a few others out at home.  I do think I sleep better during the hours that I can keep the mask on, but I haven’t made it an entire night with it on.  I’ve spoken to many people newly diagnosed with sleep apnea who find that it is difficult to adjust to the mask.  I will continue to persevere, however, as sleep apnea is not only annoying to your spouse (take it from me!) but can be detrimental to your health — it puts a strain on your heart and your circulatory system.  A benefit of sleeping with the machine is that it has a built in humidifier, with heat if you like, and since I am prone to sinus infections, this actually helps me on the nights when I have a stuffy nose.

Having duelling CPAP masks in the bedroom has brought about humorous moments.  Our kids have always seen JavaDad with his mask, so when they saw me wearing one, they thought I had co-opted his!  A very indignant JavaGirl started telling me to return the one I was wearing to Daddy right away.  Once she saw him put on his, she realized there were two.  Then when she saw my mask was smaller than his, she grew quite concerned, first thinking his had shrunk, then decided his must have had a baby!  I periodically catch the children in our room, playing with the masks on and giggling hysterically as the air automatically comes on.  But my favorite mental picture is what would happen should a burglar ever invade our home and come in and see both of us with our Darth Vader-like masks on, with the slight hissing noise in the background.  I figure that ought to be enough of a sight to send someone screaming out the door!

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Photo credit:  CPAP mask image is from the Philips Respironics web site.   All other photos are my own.  I received no compensation for mentioning 1st Class Sleep Clinics — but many friends were interested in where I went and I did receive excellent service there.

Back on the scale again…

I have rejoined and dropped out of Weight Watchers so many times, I feel like I should wear dark glasses and a big floppy hat when I go back to rejoin.  My inability to see it through has nothing to do with their program and everything to do with the lack of balance in my life.  But like an old friend, Weight Watchers is always there for me.

I joined Weight Watchers the first time my senior year in college, while I was already on tv as reporter and anchor and had to watch every pound carefully.  I remember quite vividly buying a toaster oven so I could cook frozen grilled fish fillets in the sorority annex.  This, by the way, did not go over well with my sisters.  Fish smells are even worse than burned popcorn smells.

I’ve been a member in four states and across a span of weights I won’t even confess to you.  I have become thin on the plan, but have never managed to stick around long enough for the honor of making “lifetime” (I’ve moved, gotten too caught up in work, or whatever).  But bless the organization and the people, not once have I ever felt like they roll their eyes and say, “Oh it’s HER again…”

It’s been a week.  I’ve muddled through it.  It hasn’t been nearly as painful as usual.  And I’ve lost 2.9 pounds.  That’s with the big floppy hat and sunglasses on.

I just may win the pool at Loser Moms after all.  More importantly, maybe this year, I’ll finally make “lifetime.”

Restless Nights

My family has always called me a night owl. My college roommates would concur. My children have actually come in and yelled at me for keeping them awake (or waking them up) by typing in the middle of the night. In my California days, I consulted with a nutritionist who said I had the most whacked out Circadian rhythm she’s ever seen.

I don’t sleep well at night.

There are different types of insomnia, but essentially there’s the kind that means it is hard to get to sleep and the kind where you fall asleep but once you wake up, you can’t go back to sleep. I have both of those. Yeah, it’s a b*$ch. And I’ve had it all my life, as near as I can tell. It gets worse if I am worried or anxious about something. And even worse if I’m sick or having any sort of pain. Pregnancy was a ton of fun!

If I am allowed to, my best hours of sleep are when the world doesn’t want me to — between 7am and 10 am. And my most productive hours are between 10pm and 2am. Not really a terrific schedule for work or a mother. So I cope. And I sleep very little, something I’m used to.

But sometimes my body really rebels and I get virtually no sleep. The clock keeps going by and I watch as it is 3am, 4am, 5am, 6am, my mind and body tensing as I know I will be a grouch with no sleep, and yet I know the day is about to start. This week has been one of those weeks.

Over the years I’ve talked to various doctors about it, who sort of shrug their shoulders, tell me to exercise more, cut out caffeine, maybe prescribe a sleeping pill. This is the year I’ve decided I can’t live this way any more. This is the year I’m going to hunt down someone who really understands this kind of a problem and helps me find a better way.

Because I love interacting with all my West Coast friends on Twitter and Facebook in real-time. But I’d love a “normal” night’s sleep more.

Get Smart, Get Screened

If you knew how to prevent more than 4,000 women from dying from cancer this year, would you take action? By the end of this post, you’ll know the answer.  And this post is not just for women — men, I urge you to read this so you can be educated enough to make sure the women in your life (that means wives, DAUGHTERS, mothers, aunts, sisters, yes, even grandmothers, best friends — any woman in your life) are following the new health guidelines for screening and preventing cervical cancer.

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month  and the Pearl of Wisdom Campaign to Prevent Cervical Cancer is helping spread the word via a web site and pearl pins it hopes women will buy and give to their friends as a way to open conversation and as a reminder of the steps needed to screen for and prevent cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide. In the U.S., the American Cancer Society estimated that in 2009, 11,270 women would be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,070 women would die of the disease.  Many more women will lose their fertility or experience pregnancy complications as a result of treatment for cervical cancer or cervical disease.

High-risk strains of a very common sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer.  And if think you have never been exposed or never will be exposed to this, keep in mind that the Pearl of Wisdom Campaign says that 3 out of every 4 adults have had HPV at some time in their lives and the Centers for Disease Control say, “Approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. Another 6 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.”  Everywhere I’ve researched the number, it has ranged between 50-80% of the population being infected with HPV at some point in time.

There are hundreds of strains of HPV, about 40 of which cause forms of cancer (include cervical, oral and anal cancer), and MOST forms of HPV are asymptomatic to the naked eye.  In other words, most people are completely unaware they’ve ever been infected.  Most HPV infections heal on their own, but some do not and cause cells on a woman’s cervix to change and become abnormal.  This can cause cervical dysplasia, and if allowed to continue to change, may cause cervical cancer.

However, with proper screening, cervical cancer can be prevented.  And the Pearl of Wisdom people also say vaccination is part of the solution  — which I will treat separately in this post.

Screening:  Pap Test AND HPV Test

The highest form of routine screening for cervical cancer is a Pap Test AND an HPV Test.  A Pap test only looks for abnormal cells, so a woman can get a “normal” Pap test while an HPV Test can reveal that there is HPV present.  If your HPV test is positive, it does not mean you have abnormal cells or cervical cancer. It just means that you have HPV and that your healthcare provider will want to follow you more closely to see if that HPV infection clears on its own, or develops into abnormal cells.

Although both tests combined is the most cautious way to screen, recent guidelines came out from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that recommends Pap tests for women ages 21 to 29 every other year and then Pap test and the HPV test for women 30 and older every three years.  The reason for waiting until after age 30 for adding the HPV test has to do with avoiding overly aggressive treatment of HPV infections that may clear on their own at a period of time in a woman’s life when the treatments — which can lead to infertility — may do more harm than good, based on what I understood from a conference call with Dr. Marie Savard, ABC News medical contributor and author of “Ask Dr. Marie: Straight Talk and Reassuring Answers to Your Most Private Questions.”  She has an article on the topic here.

The Pap test and HPV test are done at the same time from the same sample if you do a liquid (“thin prep”) Pap test, so do request it at the time of your scheduled Pap test.

Preventing HPV at the Source

Okay — I’ll admit that when I first started my blog, the following sentences were not part of what I envisioned I’d be saying, but it is information you need to know:  HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact.  Which means that it does not necessarily require intercourse.  And that a condom does not necessarily prevent it because surrounding skin may carry the virus.

I am not anti-vaccine, nor am I the type of a parent to automatically follow the vaccination protocol without question.  I research things and I am a bit leery of relatively new vaccines.  With all the commercials for Gardasil, I did not understand why this vaccine was practically being crammed down the public’s throats and why at such a young age for girls.  After talking to the Pearl of Wisdom people (who are a non-profit group, not a front for a vaccine company) and Dr. Marie, I am understanding it a little more, although I have not made a personal decision on where I stand on the cervical cancer vaccines yet.  There are two now — Gardasil, which vaccinates against four types of HPV and Cervarix, which vaccinates against two — each of them vaccinate against the two most common types of high-risk HPV, 16 and 18, which are said to cause about 70% of all cervical cancers.  HPV vaccinations are approved for girls as young as age 9  up to women age 26 (according to the Gardasil site).  Because the vaccines do not prevent ALL high-risk HPV infections, they do not completely eliminate the risk of cervical cancer, and so these girls/women should still be screened to prevent cancer.

Vaccines are always a hot topic of debate. I recommend researching the pros and cons for yourself when making the decision about whether to vaccinate your daughter as this particular vaccine has generated a lot of passion online. Neither just take your doctor’s word nor fall for scare tactics — read, research and come up with a decision you are comfortable with.

What You Can Do

The Pearl of Wisdom Campaign to Prevent Cervical Cancer is trying to reach at least 4070 women (the number of women estimated to die of cervical cancer in 2009) this month and get them to the take the Pearl Pledge.  It’s really easy:

  • Call and make  your appointment for your routine screening  — if you are a man, remind the important women in your life to make that appointment
  • Go to: http://www.pearlofwisdom.us/pledge and check off “I’ve made my appointment!”
  • Email a reminder to 5 friends to do the same
  • Wear a pearl – earrings, necklace, whatever you have!  Or buy one (proceeds support the campaign) from the Pearl of Wisdom campaign.

Are you ready to take action?  Let me know by commenting below.

Giveaway!  The Pearl of Wisdom Campaign is providing 5 pearl pins to my readers — I’ll select the readers from those who comment through midnight January 22, 2010 ET and use random.org to help me choose the winners.  To be eligible, you will need to provide your email address so I may contact you to let you know you are the winner and get your snail mail address so they can send you your pin.

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Disclosures :  I am not a doctor nor do I have a medical background.  Any medical information should be discussed with your doctor, I relied on information provided by the Pearl of Wisdom Campaign, Dr. Marie Savard, the Centers for Disease Control, Gardasil, Cervarix and/or their web sites and reported it to the best of my layman’s understanding.  Your specific health should be discussed with your personal doctor.  As part of participating in an informational conference call with Dr. Marie Savard and the Pass the Pearl Campaign representatives, I received a copy of her book for more background information — which I found informative and useful, but did not impact my decision to write this post or what to write.  I have linked to her book using my blog’s Amazon  Associates link.  Purchases made through Amazon affiliate links on this blog yield a small referral fee. This applies to all purchases made on Amazon regardless of whether the product the consumer purchased was mentioned by me or not. The consumer’s purchases are confidential; I don’t know who has purchased items using my blog’s Amazon Associate links.