Frances Masterman's Story

How to Cope: Finding Out That You Have HPV

As told by Frances Masterman

When I learned at a networking breakfast that high-risk strains of HPV (human papillomavirus) are what cause cervical cancer, that women 30 and older are most at risk for the disease (the age group I fell into) and that the Pap isn’t always enough, it was an eye-opening moment. It prompted me to request the HPV test along with my usual Pap at my next annual exam. But when my test results showed I indeed had a high-risk form of HPV I felt confused, uncertain and afraid. Now that I knew, what did it mean and what action was I meant to take?

My most-immediate response was fear: Did this mean that I would get cervical cancer? My gynecologist was new to HPV testing and had never seen my situation before – a woman with a normal Pap but high-risk HPV. So, he didn’t know what to recommend. I contacted my internist, and he was also in the dark, so I felt completely isolated. I spent about a week reviewing my options. Should I have a colposcopy (a procedure which allows doctors to better see your cervix) or shorten the time until my next exam and get re-tested? But then I remembered that the speakers at the breakfast meeting I attended said not to panic in this situation because it’s only when HPV infections don’t go away on their own – like they usually do – that abnormal cells may start to form.

So I calmed myself down, took control of the decision and determined that I would go back and get re-tested several months later. Did I continue to worry? Of course, but at least I reminded myself of the facts and had a plan of action.

Re-testing later showed the infection had gone away – or at least it was no longer active. And then my emotion was relief. While I know that the chance of having a persistent HPV infection that turns into cervical cancer is small, I’m glad I "chose to know" my HPV status in the first place. I wouldn’t want to be one of the women who slips through the cracks.

What kept me going through the months-long process is that I understood that I could take control and that I’d done all that I can to prevent cervical cancer.