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Alex, 32

I have been having regular Pap smears since I was 16 with no issues. I was roughly 18 when I got the HPV vaccination. I received all three shots over the allocated time frame. My mum first told me about cervical screening. I remember telling her when I went for the first time and she was very proud I organised and did it for myself. I felt nervous for my first screen but I selected a doctor I felt comfortable with and after the first screen I knew what to expect. I have moved around a lot since then and have always struggled to find a doctor I'm happy with. For my cervical screens I always call ahead and ask for a female as I feel more comfortable with a female nurse or doctor.

One and a half years ago I had a routine Pap smear and during this appointment the doctor advised me that cervical screens were switching to every 5 years. A week later I got a letter in the mail to book another appointment, I found this odd so I called up and said I always get my results over the phone. I was advised that as my test was abnormal I had to attend in person. I got a sickening feeling.

I booked in the very next day and was advised that I had HPV. I had to hold back the tears. I knew nothing about it. I asked the doctor if it would affect my ability to have children and she said no, it should clear itself up in a year and if it doesn't then they will take next steps. I told her that I had the HPV vaccine to prevent this to which the doctor replied that could have helped in preventing it from being HPV 16, which is more threatening.

I read up about it that night and asked my friends. The very next week, one friend was told she had HPV 16 and went in for surgery next day. Honestly I was still quite confused.

I decided to change doctors as I wasn't completely happy with this doctor. When I saw the new doctor, I asked all the same questions. The new doctor told me the same thing as the last and this made me feel better, so I waited the year for my next screen. I live in Victoria and by that time it was stage 4 restrictions due to COVID-19. When I called to make an appointment, I told them that it was serious and they booked me in for a Cervical Screening Test. The test came back and I still had HPV. I was devastated. The doctor took the next steps and booked me an appointment at the Royal Women's Hospital. I got a call two days later from my doctor advising me that they weren’t seeing patients with HPV during COVID and to wait a year to see if it went away on its own. They said that after review they have found it can normally take 2 to 3 years for your body to get rid of it anyway. I was angry and felt like COVID-19 was an excuse. It had already been in the back of my mind for a year and I believed that it would pass in that time. I still felt nervous as my partner and I want to start trying for a baby, but the doctor assured me that it should not affect my fertility.

So now I’m in the unknown, still stressing and there is nothing I can do but wait and trust the doctor’s advice. I'm so grateful I did get checked at that time and feel better that I took all the precautions I could have and now it's up to the doctors.

My advice to other young people is that it's scarier not to know. I feel a sense of relief knowing I'm up to date with my screens and I have done everything I can do. I look at it like getting a wax and that women go through childbirth and this is a lot simpler. If you get a Cervical Screening Test result that you don’t understand, ask questions until you understand, talk to your friends about it and change doctors if you want a different opinion. As I said, it’s scarier not knowing.

Alex Stones

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