Turkish Women Affected by HPV – I Feel Like a Fool: The Impact of HPV on Turkish Women

Hüsna Sarıca Çevik, MD, a Family Medicine Specialist in Ankara, Turkey, has often treated women whose lives have been blighted by human papillomavirus (HPV) and the diseases it can cause.

To examine the impact that the virus can have, she spoke to four of her patients, some of whom have had lucky escapes and been caught before they developed full-blown cancer.

They talked about how they have had to live with the consequences of HPV-related disease, not only in terms of the medical problems it causes but also the effect on how they and others see themselves.

And they were all united in their desire for HPV vaccination to become available as part of the national routine vaccination schedule.

The Near Miss

I am a 29-year-old medical doctor. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I haven’t had time to take care of anything other than work. One day a week, I do paintings on wood to relax.

One day, I felt something like acne when I was in the shower. When I picked at it, it bled extremely badly. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw HPV-like lesions.

I previously had two smear tests that were clear, but I was very worried when I went to my appointment with the gynaecologist. When I was diagnosed with HPV, I was very sad, and very angry with myself. I could guess where it came from, and I regretted not drawing lines for myself.

When I talked to my colleagues, I was told it was a problem that could last for my whole life. I was very upset. I wish I had been vaccinated, and I was angry at the delay in the vaccine being available. My doctor told me that, although the lesions were removed, I could still be vaccinated, and I will be.

All of this disturbed my sleep, and I was anxious for a long time. It made me stay away from my boyfriend because I couldn’t share my health problems with him. Also, the treatment was very expensive.

Now, I am fine. After the lesions disappeared, I could get back to a normal life. I also take vitamin supplements, which I hope will strengthen my immune system.

I support the administration of the HPV vaccine to women and men, and I hope it is included in the routine vaccination schedule in Turkey. I would like obstetrics and gynaecology specialists and family medicine doctors to help broaden its uptake.

In addition, there should be a public health campaign to raise awareness, and classes promoting the HPV vaccine in high schools.

The Fear and Worry of a Diagnosis

I am a 61-year-old housewife, and I spend most of the day at home, doing housework and cooking, etc. I also like to walk.

When I was 56 years old, I had vaginal bleeding. I went to the hospital and the doctor said there was a problem in my cervix. They performed colposcopy and cervical conization, and sent the tissue to the pathology. I was told there was a low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion caused by HPV type 16.

When I first heard that, I was very scared and worried. I talked to some doctors in my family and I wondered whether the whole uterus should be removed. In the end, it was decided to perform cervical shaving. After that, I had check-ups every six months.

Since then, I have been able to resume my normal life. My anxiety has gone and, although I am still afraid, there is nothing I can do. After my last visit to the doctor, I feel more comfortable.

My advice to women is: Do not delay having a check-up.

If I had known earlier that an HPV vaccine was available, I would have wanted to have it. If I had been vaccinated, I wouldn’t have had to go through all this worry.

Of course I would like administration of the vaccine to become widespread, and be available for both men and women. I would like my own daughters and grandchildren to have the vaccine as well.

The government should make the vaccine more widely available, and to raise awareness. If I had not experienced this disease, I would never have known about it and we wouldn’t have been able to give it to my children.

However, the price of the HPV vaccine is high in Turkey, and I would like to see it included in the routine vaccination schedule.

The Fear of Death Gripped Me

I am a 37-year-old computer sciences graduate, although I have never used those skills. I worked as a hostess for a long time and now I am raising my daughter. I like to travel, discover new places and dance.

I was diagnosed with HPV four years ago, when we were living abroad. We had come back to Turkey for a holiday.

I went for a routine check-up. After the resulting smear and HPV type test, I was diagnosed with grade 1/2 cervical intraepithelial neoplasia caused by HPV type 16. Conization was performed upon the recommendation of the doctor.

I still remember how worried I was when the doctor reviewed the pathology report and said it was a pre-cancerous lesion. I cried for hours when I learned there were cellular changes in the cervix.

My daughter was just two years old at the time. I didn’t know what would happen and I thought of my daughter being left all alone if something happened to me.

The fear of death gripped me.

I was very worried when I learned that certain HPV types are high-risk for cervical cancer. I didn’t expect that. I had just gone to the doctor for a routine check-up. I used to think I was astute in these matters but what happened to me made me realise I was not at all.

I am fine now. I go to all my routine check-ups. Fortunately, I was able to return to my normal life.

If I had known about the HPV vaccine before the diagnosis, of course I would have been vaccinated.

I have to say I am a little sceptical when I listen to and watch groups on the internet who are against the HPV vaccine. But I care more about what the doctors say.

When I think about my life and that of my daughter, I would like the vaccine to be given to girls especially. I am lucky because I have the means to buy the vaccine for my daughter. But the cost here is very high. However, it is cheaper than treatment and surgery for HPV-related cancer.

I wish the Ministry of Health would include the HPV vaccine in its routine vaccination schedule. Just like the other childhood vaccines, it would be nice to give it to our children in family health centres.

I Feel Like a Fool

I am a 30-year-old sociology graduate who has lived alone in Istanbul for years.

I had an abnormal smear test when I was 28 years of age. An HPV test was also performed and four or five lesions associated with HPV type 16 were found very close to my uterus. Since I was already in the high-risk group, urgent intervention was required and I underwent cervical conization five days later.

Although I currently have no ongoing treatment, I have been advised to change my lifestyle and eat healthily, and to take vitamins.

How do I feel? I feel like a fool. I am a woman who is protected three ways in my sexual relationships:

  1. Condoms
  2. Oral contraceptive
  3. Withdrawal

I never have sexual intercourse without all of these. And I don’t have one night stands.

When I learned about my diagnosis, I cried non-stop for two days. It was all the more shocking for me, as I am always protected and attentive. The worst part is that the man in my life did not even know where he got it from. We may have been together for a year, but he was unaware.

So, you have to face the fact that you have an ignorant person in your life, and you are condemned to feel like a fool for the rest of your life. The man I caught HPV from didn’t know what HPV was and didn’t understand that it could turn into cancer or risk infecting other women.

For my first surgery, I felt a lot of hatred and was very angry. When I saw my boyfriend next to me when I got out of surgery, it made me sick. I couldn’t have sexual intercourse with him for months. I felt like I was going to get dirty just by touching his skin.

Since then, I have had two more surgeries, and I still have the same anger, the same hatred.

The diagnosis caused a physical and mental collapse. At the beginning, I hesitated over going to the toilet in other people’s homes, even though I knew it couldn’t spread like that. Although I slowly overcame the compulsion not to go to the bathroom, I still feel like I’m going to have a panic attack when I get close to someone.

I am still uncomfortable with myself. I am scratching my skin right now. When I start dating someone, the first thing I think about is: “What if it goes all the way to making love?” Unfortunately, I will probably think that way for the rest of my life.

Vaccination should be given to every individual, regardless of gender, before sexual intercourse starts, at the age of 12. Regardless of anyone’s sexual orientation, we all have the right to be healthy.

This should be achieved without harming each other, without polluting each other, without throwing each other into endless despair.

As someone carrying this virus, I don’t even want to think about someone who rejects that idea.

Unfortunately, very little is known about HPV, including among my family and friends. They are not even aware of the necessity of the vaccine.

The fact that the Ministry of Health does not include it in the routine vaccination schedule is nothing short of ignorance. It is an indisputable and ugly truth.

To other people, I would say: Please be honest. Please talk about this before having sexual intercourse, and do not play with the life of your partner or anyone else. Health is much, much more important than five minutes of pleasure. Many people live without being aware of the danger, or even caring.

Talk about this to your children, if you have them, and don’t let them grow up in ignorance. And wouldn’t it be nice if politicians did not bury their heads in the sand like an ostrich and stopped putting people’s lives in danger?

Maybe that’s nothing more than a dream.