When you’ve been with the same partner for more than 20 years, the last thing you expect to be told is that you’ve got a sexually transmitted virus. But that’s what happened to 47-year-old Lisa Spiller, following a smear test two years ago.
Lisa, who works in customer services, was invited for a smear as part of a free NHS health check offered every five years to over-40s, despite having had a normal smear test result just one year earlier. Within three weeks though, she was told she had a high risk strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV) – the virus which causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer – as well as cervical cell changes, and needed a follow-up appointment.
“It made me realise how vulnerable you can be if you don’t keep on top of things, and I was keeping on top of things,” Lisa tells i .”It was a complete shock, especially when they said I had HPV. I knew nothing about it. Being my age, it wasn’t something we were taught at school, and the only time I’d heard about it before was when a colleague at my previous job was also diagnosed.
“She’d just started a new relationship, so she assumed she’d picked it up from the new boyfriend – but I’ve been with my partner for nearly 25 years! The first thing I did was freak out and go ‘how on earth did this happen?’ As far as I knew he’d not had any other partners while we’d been together, and I certainly hadn’t. My brain went into meltdown.”
Lisa isn’t the only woman to have been blindsided by an HPV diagnosis. Research published by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, as part of their annual #SmearForSmear campaign during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (20-26 January), found high levels of stigma, misunderstanding and anxiety surrounding the virus. More than half of women said they would suspect their partner of being unfaithful to them if they were diagnosed with HPV, while one in five said they would feel embarrassed and one in 10 said they would feel dirty.