Lucy Phillips never thought she would get cancer, and she never dreamed that it would come from HPV, but when she got the results back from a regular screening pap smear, her whole world changed.
“The words, ‘You have cancer,’ is…it’s so life changing. Everything stops. Time stands still and you immediately, you go into fight mode. I didn’t have time to worry, to stress about it, to go home and cry. I had four kids who were depending on me,” explains Phillips.
Her cervical cancer was in stage two, but she knew she had to do everything she could to stay alive for her family.
“I did five sessions of chemotherapy, 25 sessions of external beam radiation, and then five sessions of internal radiation,” says Phillips.
She finished the treatment and started to move on with her life. She got married to her high school sweetheart and things were starting to feel more normal, until she went in for a check-up and faced another bombshell.
“About two weeks after I got married, I had a follow-up pet scan just to make sure all the cancer was gone and we found out that my original cancer was gone, but it had actually metastasized to my lower left lung,” states Phillips.
Determined to live a long life for her new husband and children, she underwent surgery and had the bottom half of her left lung removed and is now going through menopause, but she couldn’t help thinking that this could’ve all been prevented if she’d only known more about HPV and less about the stigma.
“It’s one of those things that when I was in school, nobody talked about. They related it with ‘Oh, if you have HPV you have genital warts,’ when HPV has hundreds of strains and not all strains cause symptoms,” says Phillips.
But radiation oncologist Chance Matthiesen explains that the HPV vaccine can prevent the strains that cause cancer.
“If you vaccinate for the HPV strains that are the most commonly associated with the cancer then you can reduce the incidents rates of the cancer,” states Matthiesen.
As a mother, and now a cancer survivor, Phillips feels compelled to keep advocating awareness for HPV vaccination.
“If I can get other women to protect themselves, to protect their kids, all sorts of that, then we could completely eradicate HPV-related cancers, and this would never be a thing years to come,” says Phillips.
Coming November of this year, Lucy Phillips will be one year cancer free. Matthiesen says that the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the small risk of any negative side effects.