Every year I visit the Womens Health Clinic in Amsterdam. There I have a date with a gynecologist. Lie down, legs in stirrups, duckbill in, swab along, duckbill out. Such an investigation is not pleasant, but hey, it is necessary. I put the day of the results in my diary and then the long wait begins.
I receive the call exactly at the agreed time. So far, those conversations have been disappointing: I have to come back in a year. In my environment I can already list five people who are in this cycle. We all have troubled cells at the cervix, caused by the HPV virus. A virus that can eventually lead to cancer.
HPV is very easy to get. Through sex, unprotected, or protected. And not just through sexual intercourse. Because you don’t get any complaints, you pass the virus on to the next person unnoticed. And if you’re lucky, HPV is discovered by chance and on time. For example, during the population screening or when your GP makes a smear.
I myself was walking through Kalverstraat during rush hour, when my doctor called: infected with the HPV virus. I didn’t see that coming, and then also the kind of HPV that causes cancer. I was referred to the gynecologist for further examination. From that moment on I ended up in the control mill. Unfortunately, there is no treatment against the virus, but I really didn’t have to worry, the doctor assured. “Usually your body clears the virus on its own, after a year or two.”
Of course I started to worry then. Rightly so, as it turns out, because that self-healing ability does not work optimally in every body. And so the virus is still in my body three years later. I have now had about six dates with the gynaecologist. If the cells remain restless, measures will follow, it is now said. Then those rotten cells are cut or burned away. Not pleasant, but necessary, because if my body doesn’t banish the virus, it can produce a huge laundry list of types of cancer within ten to fifteen years. Cancer in the uterus, mouth, pharynx and vagina. Quite intense.
We are dealing with a super slow – super spreading – silent killer, but fighting the HPV virus is very low on the government agenda. Why don’t we get more information about this? In secondary school, during sex education, in the general practice or at the kitchen table: we hear little or no word about it. My friends and I only discovered the existence of HPV when we were diagnosed ourselves. So nice late.
Fortunately, girls have been able to get a vaccine against HPV since 2010. The vaccination is safe and very effective. Because I was already sexually active at the time, the vaccination party was canceled for me. It’s a bit of a shame that I now read that the jab could have protected me. Only a little less than a virgin. Well, I would rather have had a little protection than none at all. In any case, I would have liked to have had the option of a shot: my body, my choice. If I had gotten a vaccine back then, I might not be stuck now.
It may be too late for my generation. Too bad. But the government is still sleeping. We are hopelessly behind other countries in the fight against the HPV virus. It remains very difficult to get a vaccine. And boys only started getting a free vaccine this year, while HPV can cause cancer in them too. Only children between 9 and 18 years old now receive a free shot.
That is why the Health Council of the Netherlands already rebuked three years ago: everyone up to the age of 26 should receive an HPV vaccination for free. But with that urgent advice, our cabinet did exactly nothing. So a large part of the population still has to pay the costs for such a vaccine themselves. How much? 450 euros. Not everyone can do that. Or they can afford it, but don’t see the point of vaccinating. And then you walk around unprotected, until it inevitably hits.
Please provide some more information about the HPV virus. Let people who are sexually active decide for themselves whether they want to be vaccinated. A vaccine that protects well against cancer should be free for everyone. That costs something, but can it be done? Those annual examinations at the gynecologist are a lot more expensive than a single vaccine. So give us that fucking prik.