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'Four doctors told me this would kill me': The devastating effect HPV can have on men and women

A heartbreaking US documentary ‘Someone You Love – The HPV Epidemic’ premiered in Dublin last night.

MORE PEOPLE GET the HPV virus than get the flu.

But, the vast majority of the time, it doesn’t develop into anything serious.

‘Someone You Love – The HPV Epidemic’ is a documentary that shows what happens when it does. It follows five women who developed cervical cancer because of the HPV virus.

IMAG3196 The five women featured in the documentary Someone You Love - The HPV Vaccine. Source: Grainne Ní Aodha/TheJournal.ie

Susie, a mother-of-two, who didn’t understand what HPV was until it developed into something sinister. Her husband and childhood sweetheart, began verbally abusing her for having the HPV virus, thinking it meant she’d been unfaithful.

Tamika, a television producer, who hadn’t heard of HPV before either, and when told cells were changing on her cervix, asked “Where’s my cervix?” She had her womb removed, and raises awareness of the virus among the African-American community, which have much lower rates of getting checked.

Kristen, who was diagnosed at 23, died of cervical cancer. The documentary interviews her parents and her best friend about dealing with her loss.

And Kelly, who was recently married, a former diver and gymnast, and who was meant to be the ‘feel-good story’ of the documentary.

She went through treatment for cervical cancer and was the most positive – cracking jokes and staying upbeat. She was cleared of cancer at the end of the treatment – but six weeks later, it had returned to the same lymph nodes.

“In seven days, four different doctors told me that this would kill me,” she says in the documentary. “The doctor at Northwestern was saying chemo won’t kill it and the chances that you will die are pretty good.”

Despite her fighting spirit, in February 2014 it did kill her.

When she received her terminal diagnosis it prompted the director, Frank Lumiere, to put an end to the filming, but Kelly asked that it continue to raise awareness of HPV and cervical cancer.

Source: Lumiere Media/YouTube

Christine Baze is the fifth woman featured in the film, which premiered in Europe last night in Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema.

She travelled from Boston to attend the first showing outside the US.

She says the prompt to film this came from a chat the director had at an event, where he heard about HPV for the first time, and was astounded there wasn’t more awareness of it.

Now his documentary, vastly different from the work he’d done before, is being used by health departments in various US states to be viewed for free by anyone looking to learn about HPV.

But what’s caused all the misconceptions around the virus? Why don’t we know more about it?

IMAG3192 Christine Baze tours with her band, raising awareness of cervical health by telling her story between songs.

“I think it’s because it’s to do with what’s below the belt,” Christine tells TheJournal.ie. “We automatically think ‘Oh, they’ve been out and about’.”

Christine had passed 13 screens in-a-row before she was diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer in 2000 – aged 31.

After having part of her vagina, her cervix, her ovaries and her Fallopian tubes removed, as well as lymphatic nodes, she’s now in the clear.

But she’s not done, as she works hard at raising awareness of the HPV virus and cervical cancer.

Facts

This year in Ireland, more than 280 Irish women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 90 women will succumb to their disease.

More than 6,500 women in Ireland receive invasive treatment to remove HPV-caused pre-cancers each year, and one in 10 women will need treatment in their lifetime because of an HPV infection.

Another thing most people don’t realise is the HPV virus can cause throat, anal or penile cancer in men.

In fact, in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of throat cancers associated with HPV among young men.

shutterstock_568343443 Source: Shutterstock/Christian Horz

The ‘v’ word

The good news is there’s a vaccine that can prevent people from getting the HPV and going through the harsh process that the five women above had to.

This vaccine, injected into the arm, helps the body recognise HPV and once it does recognise it, helps to produce the antibodies to fight it.

“If there was a vaccine for breast cancer, you bet we’d be handing it out no problem,” Christine says.

“It’s a miracle we have a prevention cure for a cancer,” Dr Robert O’Connor of the Irish Cancer Society adds.

The bad news is of course that rumours and misinformation have persevered in Ireland, that have dramatically lowered the number of Irish girls getting the HPV vaccine for free – from 87% of eligible girls getting it in the first year to just 70% last year.

The original plan for the free HPV vaccine in Ireland was that once it had been introduced in schools for girls, it would then be rolled out for boys too.

But because of the fight to educate about the HPV vaccine to stop the drop-off rate among girls, the vaccine hasn’t been made available for free for school boys yet.

As has been proven time and time again, there’s no independent, robust evidence that shows that the HPV vaccine is dangerous.

O’Connor says that whenever there’s uncertainty around what to do when it comes to medicine, look at what doctors do. “Doctors get their kids vaccinated against the HPV virus – their sons and daughters.

“What you have to ask yourself is, What would you give up so someone doesn’t have to go through [cancer treatment]?”

The HPV vaccine is available for free to girls in secondary schools. There are proposals before the Department of Health to extend the HPV vaccine to boys at school.

The HPV vaccine is also available for free to men who have sex with men under the age of 26.

FactCheck: No, the reported side effects of the HPV vaccine do NOT outweigh the proven benefits

Read: Woman who helped raise $300m for cancer research dies from breast cancer

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