I'm Lizzi Haas, mom to an amazing young son, and in May 2015, at age 32, I was diagnosed with stage 1b1 cervical cancer. I had received an abnormal pap smear after a well-woman exam in my early 20's. This same sample was also tested for high-risk HPV (human papillomavirus). I found out I was HPV positive, but my doctor did not inform me which strain, or what my risks were. I had never heard of the virus before, and did not really know what it all meant. I didn’t think I could have had one of the high-risk hpv types. My doctor did tell me HPV could cause cancer, but she said that it was very rare and that I shouldn't worry about it, so I did not take it seriously. I remember her being very unconcerned, so I wasn't concerned either. We didn’t discuss high-risk HPV. She said that the infection usually clears on its own, just keep getting my Pap tests (sometimes referred to as a Pap "smear"), so I just assumed it would clear for me too. At the time, my doctor did perform a colposcopy, to look more closely at my cervix, and she collected a biopsy sample. That follow-up test came back with "low grade dysplasia" (cervical pre-cancer) but we didn't do any further treatment at that time, just "watched" it, to see if it would regress on its own. My pap tests eventually went back to normal and I did not continue HPV testing (knowing what I know now, I wish I would have).
Approximately 10 years later, near the end of my pregnancy, I had another abnormal pap. My OB-GYN retested me for high-risk HPV which was positive for HPV 16 and these HPV test results were given to me while I was still in the hospital, right after my son was born. Up until that point, I hadn't had a repeat HPV test until my pregnancy (I hadn't been advised to either) and all my Pap tests had been normal before I was subsequently diagnosed with cancer.
I think today, if I had I known that it was the persistence of the virus that leads to cancer, I would have pushed for continued HPV screening with each Pap test. For my cervical cancer treatment, I was scheduled for a radical trachelectomy, with lymphadenectomy, however when my lymph nodes were removed, they found trace amounts of cancer in my sentinel nodes, so instead of a trachelectomy, I had an ovarian transposition. I then completed 25 rounds of external beam radiation, 5 rounds of brachytherapy, with 6 weeks of concurrent cisplatin chemotherapy. Unfortunately, my ovarian transposition didn't do much to protect my ovaries, so I went through menopause, bummer!
I'm doing well so far, and have my first check-up post treatment Mid-February (2016) in just a few weeks! Most of my cancer support comes from my family and other cervical cancer survivors. I am excited to work with other advocates, for myself and to do more to increase awareness about what should be a completely preventable disease.
Personal Story told 2016.
Learn more about your cervical cancer screening and testing options. The more you know, the better prepared you are to talk to your healthcare provider about your options.