Eighty percent of women will contract HPV at some point in their lives, Ashley Eldridge said one of her 11 doctors told her.
“If you are sexually active you are probably going to get it,” she said.
Eldridge was a 25-year-old UT alumna when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer from human papillomavirus. She has endured rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, an experimental surgery to remove a ping-pong ball sized tumor and has lost her ability to naturally bear children.
In spite of all of this, she has committed her time to service.
In January, just after her hysterectomy, she embarked on a journey to do 365 hours of volunteer service in the course of a year. Now in remission, she is three months into her project and has volunteered as a tutor, at nursing homes and helped freed prisoners reacclimate to society.
“When you hear that you have cancer you have a lot of time to sit back and reflect on what your life means to other people — what you want to put out in the world,” she said. “I felt the need to get out there and do something for the greater good with the time that I have.”
Eldridge said Tamika and Friends, a cervical cancer resource center, has been a great resource for her. The group’s founder Tamika Felder said when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2001, people were not as familiar with the virus or its relation to cancer.
“When I was diagnosed there wasn’t anyone talking about it and there really wasn’t support so I felt alone and I wanted other women with that diagnosis to never feel the way that I felt,” Felder said.
Felder said she got together with friends and started the organization in 2005. With headquarters in Washington, D.C., the center is a volunteer nonprofit organization with volunteers around the country, including Austin. They offer emotional and financial support, as well as preventive education and is one of few cervical cancer resource centers.
Jill Grimes, an Austin family physician and author of “Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs,” said there is a huge misconception that only the “fringe of society” gets sexually transmitted diseases.
Grimes said she is a proponent of the Gardasil vaccine that is available for males and females and protects against both the virus and genital warts. She said she believes doctors can do a better job dispelling the myth that there is danger associated with preventative vaccines.
“I know more about this vaccine than any other vaccine I give,” she said. “We have really good adverse events reporting systems and there really, truly have been no patterns associated with it.”
Eldridge said if she had only one thing to tell people about HPV it would be that it is something that should be taken seriously and that can be prevented.
“It is very important for the university audience to know that there is a lot of misinformation out there, but this is something that you can get and it affects us in a very real way,” she said.