Wednesday, April 6, 2011

And then I lost it...

Alternately titled 'The Science Behind It' or 'Because We've Got Nothing to Lose' or....

I had an appointment last week. I sat in the exam room filling out paper work to update my file. My doctor was running behind schedule, which is not rare. But, I guess when you're in the business of delivering babies, that's the way it goes. If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, you're wrong. No, we are not expecting another baby. I was there for my annual exam. I hadn't seen this doctor since my postpartum appointment after I had our youngest, so she asked how I was. I told her about our journey. She had several questions, and I sat there explaining everything just as I've done numerous times before. I retold the stories about the operation and what our new normal is like. She asked about how Patrick was emotionally. I told her he's doing well considering. He's exhausted at times, and he still deals with some emotional side effects occasionally. Who wouldn't? When the appointment was over, she asked if there was anything else I needed from her, if there were any other questions I had. I told her no. She said, 'Well, how about a hug?' And then, I lost it. I held it together the whole time, until she wrapped her arms around me. She didn't need to, but she did. For some reason, I lose it when people hug me. Flashes of our journey come flooding back and I can't hold in the tears.

Having my annual exam wasn't the only reason for the appointment. I needed to discuss a few things with my doctor. I mentioned in a previous post that we didn't know why Patrick had Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the tongue. At the time, we didn't. Now, we have a learned a bit more and have a 'reason' for being on this journey. The biopsy results revealed the culprit. As it turns out, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) took residence in Patrick's body. Of course, we have no idea when.

It only takes contact with one person to contract the virus. The virus can lay dormant for many years. Most often, your body even combats the virus without you ever knowing you had it. HPV is becoming very common. In fact, it is said that more than 50% of people have it, many of them without knowing. There are over 100 strains of HPV, 9 of which cause cancer, several of which cause various types warts, and many that cause benign tumors. A few types including strains 16 and 18 cause cervical cancer. For that reason, they are labeled as 'high risk.' Strain 16, also associated with oral cancer, is what caused Patrick to develop the lesion in his tongue. These high risk strains are spread through mucous membranes. Mucous membranes can be transferred during oral sex, anal sex, vaginal intercourse or even french kissing. Transmission occurs rather easily, so skin-to-skin contact with an individual who has the virus results in a high chance of infection. Again... one encounter, one person, one virus.

As it turns out having a lesion caused by HPV is actually a good thing, in comparison. The chances of a reoccurrence within the next five years is significantly less when the cancer is caused by HPV than when not. Cancer caused by HPV is far less aggressive, so treatments are very successful.

Just like the local news stations, medical journals and doctors have been mentioning, HPV is on the rise. The unfortunate part about this is that there is not an FDA approved test for men. For women, the only way to be tested is by having annual Pap smears where observations are made about abnormal cell growth and a test can be performed to check for HPV. There are two vaccines on the market that are usually give to females between the ages of 9 and 26 that combat the four most common strains of cancer causing HPV.

Oral cancer takes the life of one person every hour of every day. Ask your dentist for an oral cancer screening. If cancer screening is not part of their exam, find a dentist who is committed to checking. If you are a woman, be sure to get your annul exams. Routine screening and early detection are key. The CDC believes that as many as 80% of people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. As I mentioned before, not everyone with HPV will have signs, symptoms, or develop cancer, but be proactive and get routine screenings.

We believe knowledge is power. Not everyone would be willing to lay this information out on the table. We are willing because we want to tell the whole story. We want you to know why we are on this journey because if we can educate one person, encourage one person, change the life of just one person, it will have been worth it. We have been delving into the world wide web in hopes to gather all the answers to our questions about the virus. Because the research on this virus has only begun recently in comparison to other viruses and diseases, not all of our questions can be answered. We hope by sharing some intimate details about our life and our journey that we can spare just one person the pain of a diagnosis of cancer. We hope that by showing you what the face of cancer can look like and how important it is to get routine exams, that just one person will benefit.

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