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Home Cervical Cancer Cervical Cancer The Semi Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin: A Chat with Danielle Sepulveres

The Semi Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin: A Chat with Danielle Sepulveres

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“I have already lain on a table with my lady business spread for the world to see with liquid nitrogen being shot up into it, how in the hell could it possibly get any worse. A year ago I would have told you liquid nitrogen is what they use to make the atomic bomb.”

At the age of 23 Danielle Sepulveres was diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer and began what she calls “Three years of fear, love, loss and a lot of therapy.” In her book Losing It: The Semi-Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin, she uses a light touch to chronicle her “coming of age story” that involved grappling with clinic visits, relationships, and self-esteem while navigating a still unfamiliar adult world.

Walk through a timeline of your diagnosis and treatments.
At age 23 I went for my first Pap after becoming sexually active and it came back as abnormal. The clinic said they weren’t sure if maybe the test was misread so I should come in for another one, which I did about a month later: it was abnormal again.

So I had a colposcopy and biopsy and they said things looked ok, they wouldn’t need to do anything except watch me closely. A subsequent Pap a couple of months later still showed abnormal cells that looked suggestive of high-risk HPV. The cell changes were treated with cryotherapy [freezing the cervix with liquid nitrogen], and after yet another Pap was abnormal I had a second round of treatment.

A few months later we checked again, the results were still irregular, so we scheduled the LEEP [Loop electrosurgical excision procedure, using a thin wire to remove cervical tissue]. All this spanned nearly two years from when I was first diagnosed to the follow-ups after the LEEP when they told me everything is clear, there’s no more recurrence of the abnormal cervical cells. Everything has remained clear, and now I’m back to going for exams just once a year, which is kind of a nice change!

Had you ever heard of HPV?
Almost in passing when HPV was mentioned during a course in college it was described as the most common STD, yet no one in the class had even heard of it!

Years later when I was getting rid of stuff in a storage unit I found my old college notebooks and I remember seeing that notes I had taken in that class: HPV is common, men aren’t tested for it, almost 3 out of 4 women can expect to have it at some point. I thought how funny now that I know all this and back then I didn’t pay much attention.

How worried were you about developing cervical cancer?
My doctor made me feel like things were manageable. He told me that HPV and abnormal Paps are common and my condition was something we can deal with. I was worried, though: my thought was if I have precancers at age 23, does the fact it’s showing up this early suggest there’s something genetic that means I’m really at risk?

Talk about the experience of the colposcopy and biopsy.
I tell women it’s like your regular exam to the extreme: colposcopy/biopsy takes longer and hurts more. It’s really awkward because they are looking at things under a microscope, and with me they used a dye. There were medical students observing, so my doctor was explaining to them what was going on!

They’re also saying things like “Ok you see that? Yep, that might be it” and I’m thinking “Great, what do you see?” Also with a regular exam you’re in and out, it’s over quickly with few if any after effects. With a biopsy a woman might have a surgical tampon or need to wear a sanitary napkin for a day or two afterwards.

What about cryotherapy?
It’s not too bad, for me there was some cramping and nausea, but nothing terrible. You have to take it easy afterwards, definitely won’t feel like going to the gym for a while. I took some ibuprofen before the treatment and that helped.

How about the LEEP?
The LEEP wasn’t bad at all; you get the local anesthetic so you don’t really feel anything during the procedure. Once you get home there might be some cramping and nausea, just feeling uncomfortable, similar to what I felt after cryotherapy. It was hard for me to get into a comfortable position when I was trying to sleep. It just takes a few hours for your body to calm and settle down.

What should health care providers know when talking with women diagnosed with HPV and cervical precancers?

I was lucky, my doctor was really good to me, but they have to be careful and pick and choose exactly what to say. The biggest thing that alarmed me was being told they don’t like to do [LEEP] to women my age because of concerns about future pregnancy, such as premature delivery. Partly because I was so young, I heard the worst-case scenario “You’re not having kids” even though that’s not what he said! When talking about treatment options with women of child-bearing years, the issue of pregnancy and carrying to term has to be handled the most delicately of all of it. Perhaps acknowledge the potential for complications but adding that problems aren’t extremely common and we’re every good at monitoring to make sure premature delivery doesn’t happen.

Talk about the emotions that go along with all this.
The emotional part for me was just feeling alone. No one should feel isolated, so it’s important to talk to your friends and family. If you have a significant other it’s ok to talk to them, too, and it’s not unusual if they feel confused and unsure. You can get through it together and everything you both feel, all the emotions, is probably normal even if you think it’s not. It seems like I had every single emotion multiplied by five!

It’s not always easy to talk about HPV, cervical cancer, and “lady business”! Why did you write this book?
It was therapeutic for me. The relationship I was in at that time was souring and I felt the need to hang onto it because of what was happening to me medically, like I need somebody around for this even though it was unhealthy in many respects. I dealt with the medical issues and the relationship at the same time, so it was a big full circle.

I was hesitant to talk about things, so the book came about because I was writing things down when I didn’t know who to talk to!

Ms. Sepulveres, who lives in New York, works in television and film and currently is involved in production of the show The Good Wife.