Today I watched an ultrasound of my son’s heart. (It was a follow-up standard thing as part of making a decision about surgery on his sternum to correct his combination pectus excavatum and pectus carinatum.)
The last time I was in a room with an ultrasound machine, I was pregnant with the boy who was now lying on the table, watching his tiny heart beat inside him, inside me. Now that heart pumps blood for a 6-foot-tall almost-man, who is still and will always be my baby.
The doctor pointed out valves, chambers, and blood flow. It was all very cool — and also, for me, not exactly a spiritual moment, but … a “wow” moment. My boy. His actual heart. Right there on the screen. Valves rhythmically opening and closing, blood flowing in and being pumped out, a chunk of untiring muscle that keeps alive one of the people I love best in the world.
If a vaccine became available that would stop 70% of breast cancer, I have no doubt that 99% of parents would line up with their daughters to get the shots. As parents, we want desperately to protect our children from pain — from illness — from anything that might hurt them. Cancer is close to the top of most people’s personal list of Scary Things That We Do Not Want Associated With Our Kids, and breast cancer is a much-publicized and frightening slayer of women young and old; so providing our daughters with protection against such a scourge would be a no-brainer.
But guess what? When I took my daughter on Friday to get the first of a series of three Gardasil shots, the nurse said to her, “You know, you’re lucky to have a mom who’s letting you get these shots. A lot of mothers won’t.”
I find this so staggeringly mind-blowing that it’s nearly impossible to comprehend. I’m a mom who’s letting my daughter have a vaccination that will protect her from the HPV viruses that cause 70% of cervical cancer (and 90% of genital warts). I’m a mom who’s letting my daughter avoid the things that I’ve gone through:
- The stress each and every year when it’s time for my Pap test
- The anxiety of receiving phone calls that my test results were abnormal and I need to be retested (this has happened three times)
- The stabbing pain of a cervical biopsy (this has happened twice)
- The panic at being told that I have severe precancerous cervical dysplasia and that immediate treatment is necessary (only once — so far)
- Surgery during which a sizable portion of my cervix was burned away with a laser to destroy the abnormal cells
You’re damn right I’m a mom who’s letting my daughter be protected against all these things — and against the worst of them all, the one I fear and will have to continue fearing my entire life: being one of the thousands of women who die each year in the U.S. from cervical cancer.
In some inexplicable manner, many parents have got it in their heads that letting their daughters have the Gardasil vaccine will give them license to run amuck sexually. I beg these people to remember that when they first considered having sex, the risk of the HPV virus and cervical cancer was not even on their radar. The sex-related argument against these shots is utterly specious — a fabrication of twisted, overly zealous minds.
Friday was one of the happiest days of my life, because I was able to personally help ensure my daughter’s protection against a killer. To be unwilling to do so — to deny this protection to a daughter — is surely tantamount to child abuse.
Nine years ago, a terrible, silent beast pulled me into a dark abyss. The creature’s name was Depression.