Thursday, May 26, 2011

Things That Go Bump in the Night

What I did on my summer vacation. August, 2009
Cancer changed me. But it doesn’t have to change you, or the lives of your children. There is a vaccine out there now to prevent the kind of cancer that side-railed my life for the last two years. The vaccine guards against human pampilloma virus (HPV) which is transmitted sexually. I know that your daughters and sons are far more virtuous than I was, but know this: sexual transmission of HPV can occur with beginner stuff—French kissing. The latest research suggests that boys should be vaccinated, too. HPV most frequently causes cervical cancer in women, but has now been clearly linked to throat cancer in women and, more often, in men.
    It has now been established that the path that brings people to oral cancer contains at least two distinct causes; one through tobacco and alcohol, and another via the HPV virus, particularly version 16.  Evidence shows that two-thirds of cancers of the tongue and tonsils are caused by HPV—and 80% of these cases occur in men. My cancer was at the base of the tongue. According to the Centers for Disease Control the HPV positive group is the fastest growing segment of the oral cancer population. That’s scary.
The morning after four hours of surgery. April, 2010. Thanks Dr. Arnold.
    This research and new information has been unfolding in the two years since my own cancer was diagnosed. Because I am not a smoker or a drinker I figured my cancer was probably HPV related, and this week I learned that my tumor did test positive for HPV 16. That’s good news. Such good news that when my surgeon, Dr. David Arnold, talked to the pathologist on the phone, I cheered when he confirmed HPV 16.
    “Yaaaaay!” I yelled.
    “That’s the patient cheering,” Dr. Arnold told the pathologist, smiling broadly. Then he hung up the phone and smacked me a big high five. Like I’d won the lottery.
    What I’ve won is a better prognosis. HPV-related throat cancer in people who don’t smoke or drink responds well to treatment. One researcher says that the survival rate for people like me is 85%. That’s big news. That’s a high five for sure. 
    People sometimes talk about a cure for cancer as if it will be a whiz-bang thing. Instant. But I think that curing cancer will continue to come in little ways, a tiny bit at a time. My Key West radiologist, Dr. Sandy Shultz, says that cancer is every bit as cunning an enemy as Al-Qaeda.
Our beloved friend, Eileen Reeve, RN. August, 2010
    If you have a lump or bump that doesn’t go away in 21 days, you need to tell your doctor. The bump in my neck was painless, tiny and deadly. I mentioned my bumpy lymph node to my doctor only because I figured after so many years of sterling, and therefore boring, good health, I owed her something. I wouldn’t be here today had I not brought it to her attention. She saved my life. We saved my life. Don’t ignore stuff that wasn’t there before. Don’t expect cancer to offer any clues. Remember, it’s cunning and often silent until it’s too late.
    Second, please do some research and decide whether or not you see the value in vaccinating your children for HPV. Scientists are now concluding that boys should be vaccinated, too. Ask your doctor. Go on line. Check it out. You might save a life.
    As my wise son said, when I considered whether or not to have the just-in-case chemotherapy after my cancer was surgically removed: “Mom, why wouldn’t you?”


  1. June, aside from being perfectly written-- of course! as always!--this article should be required reading for anyone who has sex. Can I post a link to it on the WomanKind website?

  2. Kim, Yes by all means you can post this to your website. I hope that parents will consider having their children vaccinated against this virus, which is the closest link scientists have yet found between a virus and cancer. Wow! Remember, most of us are carriers, already infected. The vaccine needs to be administered before any sexual activity, which, to my horror, includes necking and French kissing. Otherwise, HPV16 can do a lot of harm before it becomes evident. It can happen to anyone. Many sex partners increases the chances, but it only takes one . . .

  3. Great article,June. I am sending it as I write to my brothers and sister.

  4. Informative, up front honest and life-saving information June. You continue to rule. Thanks for spreading this valuable information. xx