Sophie and Other Stories

Sophie, 28

“It feels a bit like an HPV Type Test is the start of a never-ending process as I’ve now had it for at least four years, so the statistic that 9/10 people will get the infection within two years doesn’t help me. I don’t understand why I still have it or why I’m one of those who can’t get it. It makes me feel like my body is letting me down. 

Even though I know it’s not my fault, I keep wondering whether there is something I could have done or not done in the past to prevent this. I have had the HPV vaccine and have used protection with all my sexual partners, too, which makes it harder. 

I can’t help feeling that I will develop cervical cancer or another STD-related cancer at some point just because the infection is still there, and nobody can tell me when it will go away. In my opinion, there is not enough research into why some of us continue to have HPV.”

 We want to see

Investment in research around HPV to provide reassurance and answers. There are wide knowledge gaps around STDs, including why dormant HPV becomes active again, why some people clear the virus when others do not, whether couples with STDs can re-infect one another, and the merits of therapeutic HPV vaccination for those with reinfection.

Pre-cancer: One mom’s story

Stacci Cronk was in her final year of college, focused on the next stage of life when a routine gynaecological exam raised a red flag.

Stacci was told 16 years ago that she had tested positive for the human papillomavirus – or HPV. “I had no idea what that meant,” she recalls.

Her doctor ultimately ordered a biopsy, and a sample of tissue was collected from her cervix. The sample was sent to a laboratory for a closer look at the cells, bringing concerning news. Pre-cancer was suspected, although std testing methods at the time made it impossible for her physician to be sure. Stacci underwent the painful treatment of freezing the cells on her cervix, a procedure known as cryotherapy.

What no one told Stacci was that the treatment could have potentially impacted her fertility and future pregnancy.

“If I had known I was putting my future as a mom at risk, I would have demanded more information about the implications of STD and treatment for cervical disease,” she says.

“Nobody told me anything. You hear ‘pre-cancer’, and you feel scared. I now understand that they make these STD diagnoses based on the appearance of the tissue, which can be subjective or inconclusive. I would have been more reassured had they used a more objective test to give them greater certainty in their diagnosis.”

Better, improved diagnosis

Thankfully, today, Stacci is healthy. She and her husband, Ryan, are the parents of 11-year-old Kellan, who loves video games, reading and music. Stacci, a Roche Diagnostics regulatory team member, enjoys getting out in nature and spending time with family.

While her outcome was positive, Stacci still wonders if she had cervical pre-cancer and if her treatment was necessary. Healthcare providers cannot predict whether an HPV infection over time will regress or progress into a more serious disease. In this case, Stacci followed medical advice and underwent immediate intervention.

Over the past decade, advancements in science and the clinical understanding of STDs and disease progression have resulted in new technology solutions and medical practice changes. Modern diagnostic tests that identify patients at risk for cervical cancer and improve detection and confirmation of high-grade cervical disease from a tissue biopsy might have helped address Stacci’s questions and ease her concerns.

Back then, I didn’t know about HPV, which causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

Stacci, who was inspired to become part of the Roche team dedicated to cervical cancer prevention through diagnostic innovation, will never know if newer tests might have made a difference in her case.

Forging a new path in women’s health

“Now I know a woman’s immune system will usually clear the virus. In some cases, though, if left undetected, it can progress to precancer or cancer. Young girls today are fortunate that HPV Testing and vaccination are available to help prevent them from going through my experience.”

She knows the value of talking to friends, family, and colleagues about the importance of HPV screening and next-generation tests, which can improve healthcare.

The science behind the technology inspires Stacci.

“It was one of the most exciting things about working at Roche,” she says. “I feel like we all have a sense of purpose, and knowing that you’re impacting people’s lives is so important. We are changing the path of healthcare.”

Tamika 

A Virus Story

I was 25 years old, living my dream of being a successful television producer in Washington, DC, when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Even though my cervical cancer was found through screening and was considered “early stage”. I still needed to go through chemotherapy and radiation.

While it was hard to begin to talk about my body and share my story, these individuals made me realize I had to.

A place for support

While we don’t have a cure for cervical cancer, we do have a way to prevent it.

The HPV vaccine is incredible, and I recommend it for all children ages 11-12. That is the best time to protect them from HPV and future related cancers like cervical cancer. We want to vaccinate kids BEFORE they start having sex and expose them to the human papillomavirus.

There is so much misinformation about the HPV vaccine online, and, understandably, there is confusion. That’s why groups like Vaccinate Your Family are important. They help families navigate through the misinformation and get the facts about vaccines.

Life after cancer is beautiful but sometimes difficult.

I am blessed every day that I wake up and get to share my story, and I’m working on a documentary about cervical cancer. Also, I met an incredible man who loves me for me and my journey. I now have an incredible stepdaughter who is one of the lights of my life. But I always think about the child that cancer took away from me. Would she have had my eyes or my husband’s nose?

A new chapter

Although I never thought I’d have the chance to become a mom, life brought me a wonderful surprise in 2022. I now have a beautiful son, Chayton. He came to me through an incredible journey of surrogacy and a donated embryo. My HPV Test journey was made possible through the kindness of strangers, including a fellow cervical cancer survivor who donated her embryos. We lovingly refer to Chayton as our “Cervivor baby” because he has filled the Cervivor community with boundless joy and hope.