Hey kids! I’ve got a special treat for you today! In honor of Cervical Health Awareness Month (aka January), I have a guest post by the amazing Danielle Sepulveres.
As some of you might know, I work for a biotech company that makes assays to detect cancers and infectious diseases. Earlier this month, Danielle came on site to talk about her experience with HPV and to share her book, LOSING IT: The Semi Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin. And lucky for me (and you), Danielle was generous enough to write a guest post!
The Virgin Chronicles
By Danielle Sepulveres
“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.”–Lucille Ball
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote. For most of my life I’ve been more of the mindset that there’s no such thing as a “regret”. I prefer to interpret everything as an experience that leads me to new knowledge or providing a lesson necessary to continue onward and hopefully upward.
I spent most of my childhood into early adulthood trying to wrap my head around always doing the right thing. With a Jewish mother and Catholic father (and known amongst my friends as a Cashew or Pizzabagel) I had two times the guilt weighing on my conscience. And I barely ever even set foot into a religious establishment!
As strait edge as possible, I didn’t even have a legitimate experience with intoxication (that’s my obnoxious way of saying getting drunk) until I was almost eighteen. Meanwhile most of my friends had been experimenting with alcohol since the age of thirteen. And when it came to sex? Forget it! I believed for a long time that I would wait for marriage since that seemed like the “right thing” to do. Health class in school perpetuated this idea in the manner of scaring the hell out of me with only one of two options resulting from sex. Pregnancy or death. Literally. That was what I gleaned from health class. Sex before marriage equals pregnancy or death. Or possibly both. Coupled with my father’s infamous sex advice of “AIDS will kill you and herpes is forever” before shipping me off to college, I was really only equipped to make one decision. And that decision was to wait.
So I waited.
And then at the ripe old age of twenty-three I fell in love for the first time. He was twenty-eight and swooped in on me, tall, handsome and smooth–which coincidentally was even his nickname (and should have tipped me off). We had an intense physical attraction to each other, which in my inexperience coaxed me into believing he loved me as much as I loved him.
I could go into the details of our tumultuous romance but suffice it to say that it was a dangerous combination of love and infatuation that I believe happens to everyone at least once in their life. The kind of intoxicating love that makes every decision tie back to that person and you start to lose your sense of self and who you are without them.
During this time I went for my annual check-up at my gynecologist and was told that something had come up irregular in my Pap test. A couple more Pap tests and a biopsy of my cervix confirmed that I in fact was positive for HPV and potentially high risk for cervical cancer.
WHAT. THE. HELL.
That pretty fairly sums up my initial reaction to the diagnosis. I had waited. I had slept with one person. I had used condoms. I had been monogamous. Where did I go wrong??!
And the answer is that HPV doesn’t care. It doesn’t care if you’ve slept your way through a frat house in college or if you’re a fifty year old woman who’s been married to the same man for twenty two years. Or if you’re twenty-three like I was and think you’ve found the guy who will put a shiny diamond ring on your finger. That was my first wake up call. I had been in my smug little sheltered world of making “right” decisions and now was thrust into a parallel universe where people assumed I slept around and I personally felt damaged and alone. And condoms did not provide the kind of protection I had taken for granted in my quest to be responsible.
After two unsuccessful rounds of cryosurgery–liquid nitrogen being shot up inside me to freeze the pre-cancerous cells and one LEEP procedure–a minor surgical removal of the tip of my cervix–I was soon out of the woods in terms of danger. But my life felt completely different.
I realized part of my anger, sadness, frustration and numerous other emotions stemmed from an adolescent urge to stamp my foot and yell, “It’s not fair!” It’s not fair that in my early twenties when I was just discovering myself and what I wanted in life, this huge unexpected roadblock came out of nowhere to derail my confidence, my health and potentially my future. How could I date again after this? How could I not panic the next time I wanted to engage in an intimate relationship? What would happen when I got married one day and wanted to have children? I didn’t have any answers.
But life isn’t fair. We all know that. But we also feel invincible when we’re young. HPV was something that would happen to someone else, not me. And so was cancer. But I have friends who have had radical hysterectomies at the age of twenty-five because of cervical cancer. They too believed, these are the kinds of things that happen to other people. Not them.
I believe that one day with all the information we have and the building towards education and awareness, cervical cancer won’t be something that happens to us or other people.
I hope that it won’t happen to anyone.
Following the guidelines for a Pap and HPV test and detecting risk early is the preemptive cure. And the emergence of groups like Tamika & Friends along with their offshoot project Cervivor.org provide communities with understanding, support and most of all information.
So I don’t regret what I experienced. I don’t regret all the nights I cried myself to sleep, terrified of test results and doctor’s appointments and uncomfortable procedures. I don’t regret meeting the guy who would turn my life upside down at such a young age.
I would only regret if I had chosen to not speak out. It’s important to me to make sure no one ever has to feel like I did. And I don’t even regret the crushing loneliness I felt at that time. Because it’s that feeling that drives me to continue onward in this journey.
And hopefully upward.
I hope y’all enjoyed her post (I sure did)! I’m not here to tell you what to do or how to live your life, but I will encourage you to get educated about HPV! Read some articles, share this post or her book with a friend or family member. Something!
About the Author:
Danielle Sepulveres is the author of LOSING IT: The Semi Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin, and an advocate for building awareness and education about cervical cancer. Her book can be purchased on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She works behind the scenes on the crew for CBS’s hit show THE GOOD WIFE and you can follow her on Twitter @ellesep and Tumblr ellesep.tumblr.com