health

One woman's story about what it's like living with HPV.

Image via iStock.

When I came out of a bad relationship of three years, I thought my troubles were finally over. Little did I know the pain he had caused would endure for years to come.

A couple of months after my ex and I had broken up, I was due for my regular pap smear. No big deal; I always had it done regularly. This time was a lot different though. I received a call back from my doctor’s office asking me to come in for a follow up appointment. The doctor said I had a very high number of irregular cells in my cervix.

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“What does this mean?” I asked the doctor. He told me not to worry, but that he was giving me a referral to a gynaecologist.

The gynaecologist took a biopsy of my cervix and performed another, more in depth kind of smear. The results again showed I had an extremely high number of irregular cells. The gynaecologist told me that I was lucky for coming in when I did, because if I had left it much longer, it probably would have turned cancerous. On top of this, he had one more surprise.

“You have HPV- Human Papilloma Virus,” he told me.

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It turned out my ex-boyfriend had also cheated on me. The only way to get rid of the dangerous cells and the HPV was to have them literally burnt out of me while I was under anaesthetic.

“Finally it can be over with and I can move on with my life,” I thought to myself.

I didn’t try to have sex again with anyone for another 12 months. The night I tried I was quite drunk, but the sex REALLY hurt and I bled. I thought it was odd, but figured because I hadn’t had sex for a year, maybe my vagina was just really tight.

Sex was like having razor blades “down there”. (Image via iStock)
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I tried again another six months later. This time, the pain was so bad I screamed. It was like having razor blades “down there”. I bled so much, the guy I was with was frightened I was really hurt.

Again, back to the gynaecologist I went. He performed a ‘cotton bud’ test on me, which is basically where the doctor uses a cotton bud and touches various parts of your vulva. When he touched my vagina, I cried out in pain and started to cry. The doctor said I had a condition he didn’t know too much about, but was referring to onto another specialist in Melbourne.

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This specialist was so highly sought after; it took me six months to get an appointment. He assessed me and could tell straight away I had a condition known as Provoked Vestibulodynia. Basically, my vagina had become so highly sensitive that it received every sensation as extreme pain. The doctor told me it had been a complication caused from the previous operation to get rid of the irregular cells and HPV.

The specialist prescribed me some medication that he’d hoped would help and told me to come back in six months. It didn’t do a thing…

Six months later I went back and he put me on a special cream that I had to order in from Melbourne to help and again, told me to come back in six months. No difference… (Post continues after gallery.)

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This went on for the next two and a half years. I tried all sorts of medications, creams, and I even had to see a specialist physio every few weeks. None of it made any difference.

Finally, last May I went back to the specialist in tears.

“Please help me” I begged. The condition had begun to take over my life. I couldn't date as I didn't see how any guy would want to be with someone who couldn’t be intimate. It affected my self-esteem; my mental health took a big turn (I’d already developed depression from the bad relationship). I felt completely useless.

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The specialist said there was one last hope. I could have surgery to remove the hyper-sensitive cells. He explained it may not work and there could be complications, but I didn’t care. By this point, I was desperate.

So last July, I went in for the surgery at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, and I can tell you, they were absolutely brilliant. Although, I can honestly say, I’ve never had so many people stare at my vagina before. The surgery went quite well and I came out with thirty or so stitches “down there”.

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For the next few weeks, I couldn’t sit, lift my legs or bend. It was a similar feeling to getting stitches after having a baby I would imagine. After three months, I had to start using dilators to re-train and stretch my cervix every few days.

RELATED:Could your extreme vagina pain be vulvodynia?

I went back to the doctors at three months post-op and he repeated the cotton bud test with a much more positive reaction. He was sure I would fully recover.

At six months post-op, I finally plucked up the nerve to try to have sex with someone again. When we had finished, I felt the relief sweep over my whole body. Very little pain and no bleeding! I was so happy that when I got home and told my house mate, I started crying. It was like it was finally over. The control my ex still had over my body years after we had broken up was finally finished. I could finally move on with my life.

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I still use the dilators once a week or so, just to keep re-training my cervix, but I think in the bigger picture, that’s a minor detail.
My journey has been a long, tiresome one, but I want to tell women out there that if they are experiencing pain during sex, that there is hope. You don’t have to just accept it; there is help out there available.

And always, ALWAYS keep up with regular pap smears!

One of the benefits of pain free sex...

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