All The Blames

Stefania Ventome

© Copyright 2020 by Stefania Ventome

Photo of a woman lighting a cigarette.
                     Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

I was in a hospital bed, looking at the small TV in front of me, holding myself from crying. I was still wearing my street clothes, looking at my small bag, afraid to unpack it and dress in my pyjamas, frightened to accept my condition. I was staying in the middle bed, alone, hungry and thirsty, not knowing what to expect from that day, only aware that a nurse told me that my mother could not stay with me and that I could only have visitors after the surgery.

I had imagined a different day. From the moment I had found out that I would have the surgery, I kept imagining the preparations. They all began with the night before the surgery. I was imagining myself suffering from terrible insomnia, awake in my bed, turning from one side to another, trying to wake up my boyfriend and ask him to calm me down. In fact, I managed to sleep quite well the night before the surgery, although my dreams seemed strange when I woke up. I forgot them soon after getting up from my bed. My imagination continued with the road to the hospital, the doctors and nurses, the effect of the anaesthesia, the talks I would have with my mom while waiting to go into the surgery room. But from all of the images I had in my mind, I was left with nothing else apart from fear and the sudden realization that I had become part of a statistic.

I now know some facts. I know that on the 23rd of August 2019 I became one of the numbers describing HPV infection statistics. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly all sexually active women and men have been at one point in their life infected with HPV.1 So the fact from that August afternoon is not surprising and could have easily been presumed without any need for an HPV test. The issue was that I had five strains of the HPV virus, three of which were high-risk, two of them being the ones causing 70% of the cases of cervical cancer:2 strains 16 and 18. Another fact I was well aware of was that I was diagnosed with cervical dysplasia and that as a smoker, the risks of cervical cancer were high. The last important information about my new condition was that I had three recommendations to undergo a LEEP surgery.

I am now months later after my diagnosis, three weeks later after my LEEP surgery, waiting impatiently for the results of my biopsy, still a smoker.

But as I am typing these letters, I still feel left in the same hospital bed, with the same anxiety running through my cells, with the same confusion running through my mind. And not only because I cannot accept the fact that I did not quit smoking or because I am still waiting for the results. These are factors that influence my mindset and perspective. But I have also realized scarier aspects of my relationship with HPV and reached terrifying conclusions about our society’s relation with HPV.

Although highly clicheic, it is equally true, that we do not understand the value of prevention, the dangers of disease or the possibility of death at a young age until it happens to us. We are often faced with so many statistics of so many diseases, with so many stories of awful pains and vulnerabilities of our human body, but we refuse to think that they talk about us. We think that they are meant for other people. Or that is the way I had always acted and to a certain degree, still act, even when it comes to my results. It cannot happen to me, I found out early, the chances are low that my dysplasia developed into cancer. But this is no positive thinking. This is our human struggle to accept the inevitable death. By pushing the statistic to other people, never us, our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends.

Because we are special and we all have so many things we want to achieve, so much value that should not be lost. But this applies to everyone, not only to who matters to us. And this is a hard pill to swallow, but it might be the one making us aware that those billboards calling women to go to their anual gynecology checks are not for the anonym woman who dies daily as a result of this awful disease. Replace the face in the commercial with your own and you might understand that the barrier between you and her is nonexistent.

But my cells continue to be invaded by fright and fury. And I start by blaming society for not making more awareness campaigns in my homecountry, Romania. Then I remember how the HPV vaccine was refused by the majority of parents with girls between 10-12 years old between 2010 and 2012 because of irational fears. 3 And then fury wins and it wins rationally. And this time I am only blaming myself.

My sister had two LEEP sugeries caused by HPV infection when I was a teenager, a sexually active one, and I did not even think for a second to do the test or the vaccine. My friends were talking about abnormal PAP results and I was still postponing my annual gynecology exam. Even when my PAP test from 2018 came with an abnormal result I only did the treatment and did not go for a second check. And I am the one to blame.

The ony way to fully prevent HPV infections is by avoiding all sexual contact. I do not blame myself for my sexual life - hopefully no one does - but I blame myself for seeing only numbers and faceless persons in the HPV struggle. Even when it happened to my sister, cancer seemed like such a distant world that I could hardly associate these words. And I blame myself for that and for seeing myself old and surrounded by children, while I still smoke my cigarretes, because cancer is only a number in those reports and not something growing inside me. Or is it?

1 "HPV Statistics | CDC." Accessed 13 Dec. 2019.
2 "Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer." 24 Jan. 2019, Accessed 13 Dec. 2019.
3 "Mass media coverage of HPV vaccination in Romania: a ...." 2 Jun. 2014, Accessed 13 Dec. 2019.

My name is Stefania Ventome, I am a 27 years old Romanian, passionate about writing, history and anthropology.

Writing is a way for me to challenge my past, my imagination and my emotions. 

As a child, it meant playing with my imagination and fighting with my insecurities and shyness. Later, writing became part of my personality and I am now telling the stories of my life, society and world through words.

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