Monday, November 8, 2010

HPV and Anal Cancer

In the 1980s, we still had not been introduced to the Internet. Who would have thought everyone would spend countless hours playing solitaire for the sole purpose of watching the cards spring from the page. There was no electronic mail or GPS devices, no iPods, iPhones or iPads and no “Google.” There was however one very significant discovery. After decades of devoting his life to research, Professor Harald zur Hausen, MD (photo featured above) discovered that it was the human papillomavirus (HPV); more specifically HPV strains 16 and 18, which were responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers.

Unlike bacteria, a virus is capable of remaining dormant in the body for months or even years and it does not respond to antibiotics. By the close of the 1980s, medical science was able to test for the virus along with the Pap smear and also to do more in depth studies to determine just which strain of the virus a person had. The request had been made by Professor zur Hausen to work on the development of a vaccine against this virus but was declined.

It was October 1991 when I was diagnosed with HPV-induced cancer even though my initial diagnosis was in 1987. From 1987 until 1991 the precancerous lesions caused by this virus had remained localized mainly to the vulva though there was the occasional vaginal and cervical lesion. Imagine my utter shock when I was informed, after what was to be a routine hemorrhoidectomy after the birth of my daughter, that I had invasive anal cancer.

As an RN I had very close ties to the medical community, I even managed a local radiology practice in Northern New Jersey making physicians in New York within easy reach. My boss became my radiation oncologist as I endured both radiation and chemotherapy. I was 33.

My treatment was complicated by the fact that there was no vast wealth of knowledge regarding HPV related cancers nor was the information which existed, easily accessible. Never-the-less, that treatment, along with surgery and regular post-treatment follow-ups, kept me cancer free – at least temporarily.

In 2008, seventeen years later, I was once again diagnosed with invasive anal cancer. I thought that now things would surely be different. We had the Internet, a means of disseminating all the research results culminated in the almost two decades prior. A means for the average individual, in the comfort of their own home, to “Google” for HPV and cancer.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that there wasn’t information to be found. It’s just that the information I found to often be incorrect, misleading and in some cases downright wrong! Women in particular still were not urged to obtain the vaccine against the two most proliferative strains of the virus which had since been developed, and doctors in general were remiss in their overall knowledge of HPV – frighteningly so.

It was for this reason that I decided to write Any Mother’s Daughter. I was not only upset, but angry over the fact that after two decades it was as difficult for women to find out about the virus and the dangers it posed as it had been initially for me in 1991 and this had to change.

I chose to incorporate my own story into the book, allowing the reader someone with whom to connect, while at the same time learning about the virus, how it causes cancer, the diagnosis, treatments and procedures accompanying the diagnosis of high risk HPV. It became my goal, to educate women and others (men and the healthcare professionals) regarding HPV, as well as, to become advocates for their own healthcare in the process.

Bonnie was recently featured in the Orlando Woman Newspaper:
Any Mother's Daughter~One Woman's Lifelong Struggle With HPV: Page 8: