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“You have HPV. You’ll have it for the rest of your life.”
Those 12 words, delivered through the clinical drip of a telephone line, made my blood run cold.
“You also have cell abnormalities on your cervix; these are considered precancerous. The next step would be to undergo a LLETZ procedure.”
The whole conversation took less than five minutes. By the time I got off the phone with the GP who had administered my first ever pap smear a week before, I was shaking.
“Welcome to the club,” said a friend, when I emotionally confided in her. This wasn’t particularly reassuring.
Now, it’s important to note here that prior to this diagnosis I had very little idea of what exactly the purpose of a pap smear was. At the age of 25, this was my first one and I had largely avoided adhering to these check-ups previously on account of my limited sexual encounters in my early 20s. However, two years into a committed relationship I had decided it was time to opt into the annual medical protocol advised for women.
And it’s a good thing I did.
The first day after my diagnosis I went into a flat tailspin of teary phone calls and reeling thoughts. The stigma of having contracted an STI blacked out almost everything else with an ugly, clogging emphasis.
Within 24 hours, however, I had done enough research to inform myself that HPV is considered the common cold of STIs. And that there are hundreds of strains of HPV, the majority of which won’t even present themselves before the body eradicates them from its system. Approximately 80 percent of sexually active adults will contract HPV at least once in their lifetime. There is also no testing method for men, and therefore no way to trace where one may have contracted it.
And, most importantly, in spite of my GP’s casual diagnosis, there were thousands of cases of high-risk HPV being eradicated from the body.
Within two weeks of rigorous research, I had identified exactly why HPV is a direct cause of cervical dysplasia—and thus cervical cancer—and, after several consultations with varied doctors of traditional and non-traditional methods, established a clear protocol for the next six months.
I gave myself these six months for several reasons. Firstly, cervical dysplasia progresses slowly. It can take five to 10 years for it to develop into cervical cancer. Secondly, I felt like I wanted to give my body a chance to heal on its own, after which I would wholeheartedly consider the LLETZ procedure if no improvement was reflected on my next pap smear.
I threw myself into an intensive course of supplements, vitamins, herbs, and dietary changes for the next three months. After this allotted time, the constant pill popping got the better of me and, after a fortuitous encounter with a friend who suggested Ozone therapy, I opted for this instead.
But this isn’t a story about my alternative approach to healing my cervix. This is a story about the importance, as a woman, of being informed when it comes to my own reproductive health.
How many women can honestly say they are fully in the know when it comes to why we go for annual pap smears?
How many women can explain the risk factors of HPV?
Have you ever heard of cervical dysplasia?
Do you know that there are multifold ways of approaching your reproductive health which spills into everything from diet, to birth control, to your mental health, to—and this is a wild one—your relationship to your sexuality?
If you had asked me any of those questions seven months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to answer a single one.
This is why I am writing this story. Because a woman has the right to know her own body, to be informed when it comes to the common ailments we navigate, and to become aware of just how detrimental it is for women at large to remain unaware of the subtle nuances of their own bodies.
So here’s the thing: yes, we are unique. Our constitutions are unique, our genetic make up is unique, and issues we face on a personal level are unique. However, the fundamental functioning of a healthy reproductive system remains fairly consistent across the board.
I read somewhere recently (don’t ask me where—I’ve been down far too many rabbit holes, on and off the internet) that we, as women, suffer from so many reproductive ailments that we have normalised them.
Uncontrollable, emotional PMS? Normal.
Crippling cramping during menses? No one bats an eyelid.
Multiple cases of HPV? That’s to be expected.
Severe fatigue pre and post menses? Push on through.
Multiple miscarriages? What unfortunate luck.
The article went on to say that we have normalised these ailments to such a degree that we are completely unaware that our bodies are crying out for help. There is something fundamentally out of balance when it comes to our reproductive systems.
There is something wrong.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am not trying to keyboard diagnose anyone with the above listed issues. However, I have had personal experience in identifying a progesterone imbalance which was causing irrational mood swings, unfounded anger, and crippling anxiety for up to 10 days before my period. Once I identified this, I went on an herbal, natural progesterone supplement and my next period arrived without a hint of PMS—and this was after years of battling monthly with debilitating emotionality.
Our bodies are incredibly intelligent and have complex mechanisms to inform us of imbalances and diseases inhibiting their natural function. What I’m urging you to do is pay attention. Get uncomfortably honest about issues you sweep under the rug, pain you normalise, patterns which are quietly chipping away at your physical health.
More so than ever, women are stepping up to the challenge. I see it every day—women talking about things we’ve never felt we could touch on, comparing experiences, identifying what within us is fundamentally out of balance, and informing ourselves into empowerment.
Spaces such as Temple, facilitated by Jessica Fawn, create platforms for women to candidly discuss harsh realities. Denell Randall has written a book and facilitates multiple courses focused on cervical wellness.
And if going deep with others isn’t your thing, that’s okay too! The point isn’t to force yourself into harshly uncomfortable spaces; it’s about kindling a desire to know more.
In late March 2023, seven months after my initial diagnosis of cervical dysplasia and HPV, I went for my first follow-up pap smear. The results arrived within days.
No cell abnormalities. Negative for HPV.
I did that.
In seven months, I had reversed what was considered a pre-cancerous, possibly permanent diagnosis to 100 percent clear.
And I did this through being informed and sovereign to my own body, and following my gut instinct, which advised me to give my own body the chance and facilities to heal itself.