A former anti-Gardasil parent talks about why she changed her mind about giving the vaccine to her children.
There’s something about a life-threatening disease that makes you rethink a lot of things. Most often, these thoughts center around what you could have done to prevent yourself from getting a life-threatening disease.
The truth is that for some diseases, there is no prevention. Blame it on bad luck or bad genes, our bodies don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. And it sucks.
On the flip side, there are many diseases and illnesses that can be completed prevented, and we would be horribly negligent if we failed to protect ourselves and others from contracting them. So we do simple things like cook and refrigerate foods to prevent food poisoning, treat our water to get rid of harmful bacteria and pollutants, use repellents to keep ticks and mosquitos from biting us, and we vaccinate against communicable and deadly diseases such as measles, polio and others.
A prevention step I missed – by choice
I’m a bit fanatical about preventing needless suffering and early death. My family takes deliberate steps to eat healthy foods (heart disease,) no one leaves the house without sunscreen (skin cancer,) and everyone wears a helmet when riding a bike (brain splatter.) My kids have had every shot recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and everyone gets a yearly flu shots. Even the dogs are current on all their shots.
But there was one shot I was afraid to give my kids.
My kids were NOT getting the Gardasil shot
When our pediatrician mentioned it, my response was rather self-righteous and misinformed. Gardasil protects against four kinds of human papilloma virus that can cause cervical, vaginal or vulvular cancers, and genital warts. Pediatricians recommend girls get the shot in their early tweens so they have time to develop immunity before they begin sexual activity.
However, the only thing I knew about the vaccine was some girls had died and a few developed neurological problems after the shot, and I was not willing to submit my child to that risk.
He tried to reason with me and explained the rumors about deaths and neurological issues were reviewed and discredited by both the FDA and CDC, but I wouldn’t listen. I called my trusted ob-gyn that afternoon, and he told me both of his daughters received the vaccine. I still didn’t budge.
Cervical cancer is no big deal, right?
I knew several women who had bad Pap smears and lost sections of their ladyparts to biopsies and surgery, but it was no big deal. They married, had children and went on with life. I never heard about anyone actually dying from cervical cancer, so why subject my kid to a vaccine that had risks worse than the disease itself? What did my pediatrician, ob-gyn, the FDA and CDC know, anyway?
My child was not getting the vaccine.
Stephanie Vasofsky changed my mind
Because I so vehemently disagreed with the experts, I took my dilemma to social media.
Dozens of fellow moms shared their opinions, some militantly opposed and others fervently supportive. I scrolled through lines of “it’ll encourage them to have sex earlier,” “it’s a conspiracy started by the drug companies,” and “it’s just another shot, your kid will be fine.” However, one unique comment stood out. It was from Tracie, an old friend from my years in Memphis, told me about her friend, Stephanie Vasofsky, who died in 2008, less than a year after doctors discovered and removed a cancerous polyp from her cervix.
I now knew someone who had died from cervical cancer, and I now knew a little 2-year-old girl would not have had to say goodbye to her mommy if a vaccine had been available just 10 years earlier.
Tracie, a very fervent Christian, had no fears or doubts about vaccinating her own daughter, who was just a year younger than mine. “Please, please consider this,” she said to me. “You could end up saving her life years down the road.”
We can’t protect our kids from EVERY cancer, but we can take action against one that is far too common
My child received the shot, and my pediatrician received an apology.
A few years have gone by since I opted to immunize my child, but the real impact of my decision didn’t hit me until I was diagnosed with cancer just a few months ago.
If there had been a vaccine for my particular kind of cancer, I could have been spared from surgeries, drug regimens, countless lab tests and times of gut-punching anxiety. Would I have taken it when it became available, or would I have thought, “That will never happen to me?” Would I have been scared off by people perpetuating rumors about dangerous – and debunked – side effects?
I know there are hundreds of different cancers my child could develop at some point in her life, but I am so grateful she is now protected from at least one of them.
If you could protect your child from developing cancer would you do it?
*I am currently being treated for thyroid cancer.