Averbuck: A lesson in a test

Last year, while I was home for spring break, I received a call from Yale University Health Services informing me that my pap smear was abnormal. This could indicate, the nurse told me, either Human Papillomavirus or cancer. I calmly asked her what I should do next, but on the other side of the phone, I was crumbling. Both options sounded terrifying. As soon as I hung up, I ran to my parent’s room to tell them. The next day I went to my gynecologist to redo my pap, take a microbiopsy of my uterus and do an HPV exam. I didn’t have cancer, but I had HPV.

Through treatment that resembles chemical peeling of the uterus, I was able to remove the abnormal cells. The specialist told me that the disease immediately became inactive and that pap smears in the future could confirm that it was gone. I’ve had three smears since and no signs of abnormal cells, indicating that I no longer have HPV and cannot transmit it to sexual partners in the future.

That’s a recap of my sexually transmitted infection, but there’s a lot more to the story. I only got tested to support a friend, who was too scared to get tested on her own. I had a boyfriend to whom I was faithful, and he was the only person I’d had sex with since I’d come to Yale. After the first month or so, we had stopped using condoms since we had both been tested in the past. I walked into the testing room confident that I was “clean.” Turns out I was wrong — big time. I thought I didn’t need the testing and my friend did. It turns out I was the one with HPV, and she was healthy. If you’re sexually active you need to get tested, regardless of how careful you’ve been or how sure you are of your health and the health of your partner. We may assume we know someone, and maybe we do, but they might not know themselves. My boyfriend at the time told me he did not know he had HPV, and I believe him.

HPV, like many STIs, is tricky in that most times it goes undetected. HPV is unique in that unless you have a specific type (a type which the Gardasil vaccine makes you immune to), chances are it will cure itself. My type of HPV would have cured itself if I hadn’t found it. Most STIs, however, do not go away by themselves. But most are easily curable if you catch them early enough, which is why getting tested is so important. If my HPV had been one of the kinds that could have led to cervical cancer, my doctor told me that the infection was recent enough that they would have been able to prevent it.

Sex Week at Yale is upon us and the Reproductive Rights Action League at Yale has organized an amazing campaign that makes getting tested even easier than before. Take advantage of this resource and get your testing done. It’s quick, it’s painless and it will help keep you healthy. Knowing what is going on in your body is crucial to your sexual health — go find out.

Julia Averbuck is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College and the volunteer coordinator of Sex Week at Yale.

Comments

  • 1y2

    this is such a courageous piece. thank you for writing it!

  • ’10

    A similar thing happened to me. I found out I had HPV, only after getting tested because I agreed to be a part of the “Get Tested” campaign. I’m so glad I did, now know, and can do something about it.

    Thank you for this piece. And thank you to RALY for launching such an important campaign.

    Everyone, please, get tested.

  • Come on.

    Why did you publish a piece in the paper that lets everybody on campus know that your ex-boyfriend has HPV? Did it not occur to you that he might not have wanted to broadcast something like that?

  • Julia Averbuck

    Dear Come on,

    What you might not have realized, is that I ran this by him before publishing it and being the great guy that he is he supported me in this because he also believes in the cause. What you also didn’t take into consideration, is that he, much like myself, no longer has HPV. So in writing this, I wasn’t offending him, just endorsing something that he also believes in.

  • Kathryn O

    Great piece Julia, you rock.

  • ES ’12

    This was an extremely brave article. I commend you for sharing this very personal story to help others realize the importance of getting tested.

  • WH

    Useful piece. Well done.

  • Emma g-s

    your candidness is so great- i hope others take note of this piece. nice work!

  • yalie

    this is great. thanks for speaking out!

  • Yalie2

    Great article. However, I heard HPV is forever?

  • Eli’11

    Like Yalie2, I thought you always had HPV?

  • julia Averbuck

    Like every virus, you never get rid of it. But it becomes inactive and non-transmissible.