Mercedes: My body and cell changes

My Story or horror 

Mercedes found support on the Jo’s Forum after being diagnosed with cervical cell changes. She shares her experience of treatment and how having HPV made her feel.

I wasn’t nervous at all about STD Exams. I booked in immediately when my letter came. My nurse was lovely and reassuring, and I didn’t think about it again. A month later, I opened my results letter while on the phone with a friend; that’s how confident I was that I’d be fine, given that I was so young and had the vaccine. My letter told me that I had low-grade dyskaryosis and HPV. All I knew about HPV Testing was that there was a link to cervical cancer.

“I was scared, so I brought my mum, which greatly helped.”

Quickly, I found out about Jo’s and was able to read stories on the Forum. I found talking to people who used language like ‘dyskaryosis’ and ‘colposcopy’ helpful. Many women had more serious diagnoses, which put it into perspective for me – it could have been way worse; the doctors had spotted it and were inviting me back.

Due to the HPV exams, they wanted me to come in for a colposcopy. I was scared, so I brought my mum, which greatly helped. It was intimidating as I’d never been in a bed with stirrups, seen the equipment, or even heard of a colposcopy before all this!

“At the colposcopy, I talked with the nurse about the disease.”

The STD test doctor had a look and thought it was all fine. However, a nurse on duty came over and asked whether or not the doctor had looked at one particular section. The doctor said they would take a biopsy from that area but was very calm. The biopsy was quite painful. At the colposcopy, I talked with the nurse about HPV Testing. She explained a bit more about it and told me for the first time that condoms don’t necessarily protect you from the virus. She also mentioned that the amount of partners I had or my partner had made it more likely to come into contact with HPV. This made me feel dirty, like I’d contracted something horrible or that something was wrong with me.

I got a letter two weeks later saying that I had high-grade cell changes, which was scary. I went for a LLETZ procedure. This was pain-free for me due to the pain relief, and the doctors were reassuring. I had some cramping afterwards, but the whole thing was a success.

“The exposure Stacey Solomon had given disease transformed the way that I thought about it.”

I was about to have my six-month STD Test check-up after the LLETZ when I happened to watch Loose Women. In the episode, Stacey Solomon discussed her experience of HPV and cell changes. She explained how her ex-boyfriend had ‘knowingly’ infected her with HPV. This alarmed me quite a bit as it was the first time that a) I had heard of a man being diagnosed with HPV (I know now that there are no formal studies or certified special tests for HPV for men), and b) I’d heard HPV being spoken about in the media like an STD.

The exposure Stacey Solomon had given HPV transformed the way that I thought about it and myself. I started searching online and found that, yes, people regarded it in the same way as an STI, especially in the USA, where it is listed as an STD along with chlamydia, gonorrhoea and more, despite condoms and other protection not being enough to protect you against HPV and despite so many people contracting it at some point in their lives.

The other big issue with the representation of HPV is the link with genital warts. I do not and have never had genital warts. However, the two are spoken about so interchangeably that I fear the people around me will think I have.

My boyfriend (now fiancé) was supportive. This experience had put some stress on the relationship. But he was understanding about not being able to have sex for a while after LLETZ. Even after the six weeks of recovery were over, he always checked that I was ok.

“This doesn’t change the horrible way I felt having this disease. “

At my six-month check-up, I had another smear test, which showed I was clear of cell changes and of HPV, which is great. My body naturally fought off the virus, but this didn’t change the horrible way that I felt having HPV.

I’m now 28 and recently had my third smear test, which came back with borderline changes but no HPV. This is a huge relief, meaning I don’t have to return for another three years. I did want to see a letter saying that the result was totally clear, and it still is a bit scary, but I am relieved there’s no HPV.

I think that people should consider their feelings when they talk about it. It doesn’t matter how many people you’ve been with; you can contact it anytime. The number of partners isn’t relevant.

What’s the deal with this Disease?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus we know you primarily transfer by skin-to-skin sexual contact. It is so common that over 80% of sexually active adults will get HPV at some point in their lives.

While over 150 types of HPV we have identified, only some are high-risk HPV types, which we know cause health problems such as genital warts and cancers. STD Testing positive is not a negative reflection on you, your partner, or your lifestyle.

There is no treatment for the virus. Most high-risk HPV infections you get have no symptoms, are harmless, and are cleared by the body’s immune system within two years. Since there are often no symptoms, a woman may never know that she or her partner has an HPV Test. However, when the presence of HPV continues, certain types of high-risk can progress to precancer or cancer. In women, HPV 16 and HPV 18 are the two highest-risk types, known to cause close to 70% of cervical cancer cases.