HPV-Related Cancer Changed My Outlook on Life and Made Me an Advocate for Vaccination

Cancer made me more empathetic, as well as an advocate for the HPV vaccine.

In June 2019, I was diagnosed with stage 2 anal cancer from the HPV 16 strain. For months prior to the diagnosis, I was told by my family doctor that I had hemorrhoids and not to worry.

But, one day the bleeding was so bad that I decided to see a specialist at Hemorrhoid Treatment Centers of America. The doctor took one look and performed an anoscopy. He immediately referred me for a biopsy.

My Cancer Diagnosis

Fortunately, in Atlanta we have resources for excellent cancer care. I became a patient with Winship Cancer Institute at Emory. During my lunch breaks at work, I received radiation for six weeks on my pelvic area. The final two weeks I did 5FU chemotherapy.

I am glad that I decided to work full-time because it helped me keep my mind

off of the side effects. Some of those included going into menopause early, vaginal stenosis, vaginal pain, extreme hip pain, brain fog and fatigue. I also spent one week in the hospital because I could not swallow food or drink due to the mouth sores that I had developed. My cancer only had about a 10% chance of returning because we caught it early.

Then, in October 2021, I was diagnosed with stage 4 anal cancer. I believe that after a period of great traumatic stress due to a child custody case, it created the perfect environment for my cancer to spread. Now, I want to advocate for more awareness of the correlation between stress and cancer metastasis.

I received three months of paclitaxel and carboplatin chemotherapy. In March 2022, I had surgery to remove a tumor in my right lung. Currently, we are watching a 2 mm nodule in my left lung. I am now NED (no evidence of disease), and the plan is to get scans every three months to see if the cancer has spread. I have been researching clinical trials, radically changing my diet and working on decreasing overall stress in my life.

It is amazing the perspective cancer gives you; in a lot of ways, I see my diagnosis as gift because I do not take things for granted as much anymore and I lean in more. I am more patient and empathetic for sure. The grace cancer gives you is mind blowing.

Advice to Others

Do not put off your health because of your job or other reasons. I pray I beat the 34% statistic of living after five years with my stage and type of cancer.

What is disappointing to me is that there needs to be awareness that you can get the HPV vaccine into your 40s. Having cervical dysplasia in my 20s and confirmed HPV16, my gynecologist and primary doctor should have recommended the Gardasil vaccine as well as screening for the types of cancers it causes: cervical, penile, vaginal, anal, head, neck and throat.

READ MORE: 15 Years Later, What Have We Learned About the HPV Vaccine?

To think that if I had gotten the vaccine, I probably would not have cancer is eye-opening, to say the least.

I am grateful that I have insurance and I cannot imagine the circumstances for those who do not. My treatment has now almost reached the $200k mark, but insurance has covered most of it.

I want to thank Cox Media Group for providing amazing health insurance which provided for my initial treatment. All my coworkers at WSB TV were unbelievably supportive.

There are so many family, friends and coworkers to thank. If you have participated in supporting my cancer battle, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Most of all, I want to thank my daughter Amanda Grace for giving me not only the reason but the motivation for living. I will continue researching clinical trials, and ways to keep thriving as a cancer survivor.

This article was written and submitted by Helen Tecklenburg.

This article reflects the views of Helen Tecklenburg and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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