Earlier this year, at the age of 27, I had my first pap smear. Blame it on fear, blame it on my mom, who didn’t think it was important to take me, blame it on whatever or whoever, but years after knowing that I should go see a gynecologist, I did. My doctor was wonderful and talked me through every step of the way. And after about fifteen minutes, I was done and she was reassuring me that the results would most likely come back normal, and I’d see her back in a year. But it wasn’t that simple. When my results came back, I had abnormal cells on my cervis, and I had tested positive for HPV, the human papilloma virus. Now, I had choices for treatment.
Around the same time, the FDA approved the first HPV vaccine and Merck & Co. put Gardasil on the market. Suddenly, the “Tell Someone” campaigns began to appear all over… in magazines, pamphlets, tv and radio commercials, internet banners, and e-cards in your inbox. The timing felt very ironic to me. What if the vaccine had been available a year ago? Maybe I wouldn’t be in the position that I was in now. Yet, in all honesty, would I truly have paid $360 for three shots, to keep me safe from one of the most common STDs? An STD that men don’t even have a test for?
Recently, I clicked on one of those “Tell Someone” banners and was curious to read the personal narratives posted. I wondered, “Would these women have similar feelings of shame, embarrassment, and anger?” It was then, that I saw the fine print on the website. Those narratives were nothing but “dramatizations”. They were nothing but fictionalized stories to sell information from Merck & Co. and their HPV vaccine. Merck & Co. created hpv.com, not to simply educate the public about HPV, but to sell their product. Posting those fictional stories makes a mockery of the last six months of my life and the lives of other women infected with HPV and dealing with cervical dyspasia and cancer.
Let me tell you about the fears that living with high risk strains of HPV brings. Let me tell you about the repeated tests, the numerous procedures, the countless hours of worry and tears. Let me tell you how it’s effected my self-esteem and relationships with loved ones.
Post real stories instead of belittling our experiences to nothing but hits on a website and interest in drugs. You don’t need to hire writers or actors to dramatize something that is already very real and frightening.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.