I felt the need to post my story here with the intention of helping others. I'm probably not bringing any new information to the table but I know that when I was scouring the internet for information, personal stories really helped me so this is my way of paying it forward.
A little about me: female, non-smoker, age 35, lesbian
5 months ago, I went to the gynecologist for a routine pap smear. A few weeks before the appointment, I developed what looked like a skin tag close to the skin crease between my labia and thigh. There was nothing about it that seemed to indicate that it was anything other than a skin tag (no itching, a finger like papule projection). While I was at the doctors, I asked her to also look at it. I have a few other skin tags in other places on my body so I didn't think too much of it. She took a look, confirmed it was a skin tag, and then removed it right there in the office (cut it off). It took about 4 days for the area to heal which was quite painful. It literally felt like she just sliced out a part of my body and so there was quite a wound for me to heal.
When the pap smear results came back, the lab reported abnormalities on my cervix consistent with HPV. The doctor told me it was high risk HPV which is the one that causes cancer. She decided that I needed to take a sample from my cervix to have it checked so I came back in to have that done. Not an entirely pleasant experience but it wasn't complicated and I was in and out of the office quickly. This procedure was less painful than the skin tag removal.
A week later, the lab results came back and she said it wasn't cancerous and I should just come back in 6 months for another pap smear check. At this point I felt relief; the HPV didn't seem to be the one that caused genital warts and the abnormal cells weren't cancer. I felt great about all that!
Another week after that, I started to develop 3 more "skin tags" all on or close to my outer labia. At this point I started to also feel some discomfort with itching and pain in that area and also on the lower part of my mons pubis. I started to get really worried and I made another appointment with my gynecologist. She took a look at it again and decided (again!) that they were just skin tags. She removed them again with the same method as the first one and sent them off to the lab for analysis. She told me she needed to make sure it wasn't cancerous. So again, I had these gaping wounds that took a week to heal.
A few days later, the lab report came back and this time she called to tell me that I had genital warts. I was absolutely floored. At this point, it's been 3 months since she first diagnosed me with a high risk HPV and skin tag and all along it seems that they were probably genital warts and low risk HPV. In my naivety, I assumed they had done a test to confirm the type of HPV I had but as it turned out, she was just assuming it was high risk (she confirmed this with me). She said that she removed all the warts she could see but I could tell there was still something going on down there (bumps on my mons pubis and a few other areas) so I asked her to prescribe me with something that I could use at home. She prescribed me with 4 weeks worth of Imiquimod (Aldara).
After I let myself cry, get upset, and be depressed for 1 day (seriously, don't let yourself get into a funk for longer than this), I put together a strategy:
1. No more drinking until I'm totally clear. No excuses or exceptions. I was a very regular drinker before (at least 2 drinks a day) but I removed that variable from the equation immediately.
2. Regular exercise. This wasn't too hard for me since I'm training for a marathon, 4 days a week running.
3. Take supplements to boost immune system. For me this is an Astragalus supplement 3 times a day, green tea, and Emergen-C drinks.
4. It should also go without saying that you should be eating healthy and getting plenty of sleep. Oh, and if you're a smoker, quit now.
For the first 2 weeks of using Imiquimod, I didn't see any changes. Nor did I have any of the side effects that other people are reporting (itching, burning, swelling, etc.). I started to get really worried that this just wasn't going to work on me. But at the start of week 3, it started to kick in. A few of the larger bumps that looked like they were turning into skin tags again started to blacken and shrink. Other bumps started to shrink as well and I started to get those side effects everyone was talking about.
The only time that the side effects became bothersome was when I knew that I had put too much of the cream on. You really only should put a small amount directly on the warts. For all the people that say this cream is awful, I think maybe they aren't reading the directions (3 days a week, only on the warts). I suspect people are panicing and slathering the stuff all over themselves every day which causes a very strong reaction. We all want these things to go away immediately but unfortunately it does take a little bit of time so patience is needed.
I just finished my 3rd week of self treatment with Imiquimod and there's no doubt that I'm seeing improvements. The doctor gave me a prescription for 4 weeks worth of treatment and the bumps aren't entirely gone yet so I think I might need another few weeks.
-- Let yourself be upset but don't let it take over your life. It's a natural process of going through anger, grief, and sadness when you're diagnosed with something like this but it's not the end of the world. It's not HIV, it's not cancer, it's NOT something that will kill you. Remind yourself that if you ever feel yourself getting overwhelmed.
-- Don't be ashamed. Remind yourself that there are millions of people that have HPV and/or genital warts. You're very much not alone and it's not going to ruin your life. People just don't talk about it but trust me, it's on the minds of a lot of people.
-- Explain this to your partner. They should understand. It's not a deal breaker by any means. If they haven't gotten it from you already (or was the one that gave it to you), it's very likely they'll eventually get it from someone else anyway.
My treatment isn't complete yet and I'm not entirely wart free as I write this but I'm confident that if I stick to my plan, my body will sort things out. I would like to come back to this thread and let everyone know how it all worked out. One of the things I found frustrating were people who would write "it's working!" after 2 weeks but we never hear from them again.
Thanks for reading and I hope my story helps someone.