There is a lot of controversy over the new vaccination "Gardasil®" that prevents women from contracting human papillomavirus (HPV).
Many mothers don't want to vaccinate their daughters because they believe approving a vaccination that prevents a sexually transmitted disease is the same as giving the go-ahead for their daughter to engage in unprotected sex. If this vaccine prevented brain tumors or bone cancer, the controversy would be limited to the safety of the drug itself, which can be proven over time.
My secret is that I already have HPV. I have had it since I was 18 years old, and I contracted it from my first sexual partner, the man who would later become my husband. John was promiscuous in his teens, but I was not. Like many young adults, we had our ups and downs in our young relationship. We broke up and got back together several times. John dated and had sex with other girls, but I always waited for him. We eventually got married and had three children.
I will never forget the first time a nurse called me to tell me that I had "cancer cells" on my recent pap smear. I was at work, and I started crying uncontrollably. The nurse didn't explain to me that, at least at that point, it was treatable. I thought I was going to die.
Since that time, I have had at least three biopsies, two procedures to remove pre-cancerous cells, and I had to have my cervix sewn up when I was pregnant with my third child (my only daughter) because it was weak from all of the previous procedures.
Many women complain about the cost of Gardasil®, an understandable concern. The cost has been estimated to be $360-$500. However, the cost of one biopsy to confirm or rule out cervical cancer easily falls into this price range. Then there is the cost of treating cervical cancer if the biopsy is positive; and the emotional cost all of this takes on a woman and her family is immeasurable.
But, back to the controversy over sexual promiscuity, what about the girls and women who are raped every year? No one wants to think that they can become a victim, that something that terrible could happen to them or to their children, but it does happen. Having protection against HPV is one less thing to worry about during a terrible situation. Carrying HPV is a lifelong reminder of a mistake or a tragedy.
My daughter will get Gardasil®, the vaccine that prevents transmission of HPV. She will know that she is protected from certain types of cancer. She will know that this type of cancer is something that women can get from having sex. She will know that there are other diseases that she can get from having sex. I will make sure she understands that I don't approve of promiscuity and that having the vaccine protects her future, not her present. When she is old enough to understand, I will tell her that I have HPV.
My secret is HPV. I hope my daughter will be "one less" woman who has to carry that secret.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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