Gerri Willis: My upcoming cancer surgery -- Lessons for every woman

I’m writing ahead of another surgery. This feeling of anticipation and not a little anxiety is all too familiar — and so is the culprit. Cancer.

In this case, more pre-cancer cells have been discovered on my cervix. I told you about my struggle to contain these cells just a few months after my doctor found them late last summer. I thought a simple cone biopsy had removed them. But as luck would have it, the virus that is creating these cells, HPV-18, is still in my body and creating more of these problem cells.

I’m no stranger to cancer and have been very public about my story with Stage 3 lobular breast cancer diagnosed just three and a half years ago. I’m still breast cancer-free thanks to the efforts by my incredible doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering, but now, I have another foe: HPV or human papillomavirus.

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I debated whether to talk about this publicly. After all, HPV is transmitted by sexual contact. It’s embarrassing. Not the topic of polite cocktail chatter. I didn’t want our Fox family to think less of me.

I am upbeat and optimistic because this surgery is preventative. I’m in front of the curve this time in my fight — being treated before an actual cancer has time to develop.

But the truth is, HPV is worth talking about simply because it is ignored. Fear of the virus sometimes makes us reluctant to get the facts. That was me. I knew nothing beyond the ads I saw on television. What I have learned since is that HPV can lay dormant for decades. And, then, when you least expect it, unmask itself. That’s what happened to me.

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I decided to share my experience for two reasons. One, the HPV infection can be prevented with a simple inoculation of Gardasil. The CDC recommends children aged 11 to 12 receive the shots. That’s a solution as simple as a trip to your primary care physician’s office to protect your kids.

But the other reason I wanted to share my story is that HPV is as common as rainwater. The CDC says that nearly all American men and women will get some strain of HPV in their lifetime. That’s a lot of ticking time bombs. The good news is that most of these strains are harmless. But for a few of us who contract HPV, one of nine cancers threaten. HPV is the culprit in 35,000 cancer cases diagnosed every year. More than 9 of 10 cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.

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My pre-cancerous cells were found by a routine PAP smear. Early detection is critical. Please, take my advice, ladies. I know it can be hard to find the time for these simple tests but your life may quite literally depend on it.

It all comes down to the same things when trying to prevent cancer. Early screening. Vigilance. What I’ve learned in my cancer journey is this — we can’t stop for a  minute in our efforts to rid the world of cancer. The disease is relentless.

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For me, the next steps are straightforward. I’ll have a hysterectomy this week. My bosses at Fox are giving me the time I need to recover and heal before getting back into action down at the New York Stock Exchange.

I am upbeat and optimistic because this surgery is preventative. I’m in front of the curve this time in my fight — being treated before an actual cancer has time to develop.

So, I’ll see you in a few weeks. Don’t worry. We’ve got this. But do me a favor, take care of yourself and your family. HPV is a cancer you have tools to fight.

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