kept asking God what I
A UH student faces the
pain of a sexually
transmitted disease -
and of keeping it a secret
Because of a request for anonymity, the name of the subject of this story has been changed.
For "Annie," a University of Houston student living with a sexually transmitted disease, keeping that secret makes her feel like she's going to explode.
"I figure I'll live for another 60 or so years, but that's 60 years of crying to myself," she said.
Annie was infected with condyloma a year and a half ago by her unfaithful and now ex-boyfriend. "We were supposed to only be with each other," she said with a smile of disbelief on her face.
Condyloma is an STD caused by the human papilloma virus. This means Annie will never be completely cured since no permanent treatment exists for that virus. It can be caused by sexual contact or by mucous membrane contact with genital warts according to Susan Leitner Prihoda, a certified nurse practitioner at the Women's Health Center at UH. In other words, it can only be spread from penis to vagina or vagina to penis, either by having sex or through other contact.
"Condyloma is something we see regularly at the center," Prihoda said.
"It's not like we actually had unprotected sex," Annie explained. "It was just a matter of seconds before he put the condom on. But that was the worst mistake of my life - that and getting back together with him after we had already been broken up three months.
"I didn't know you could get an STD without actually having sex," she added. "Had I known more about STDs, I would have been a lot more cautious and made sure he put (the condom) on from the beginning.
"The only thing I ever head about was AIDS and pregnancies. I always protected myself against those," she said with remorse.
Prihoda speculated that if more attention were directed toward STDs and not just AIDS, the number of people infected with STDs would dwindle.
STDs account for 85 percent of infectious diseases reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and over 12 million Americans are infected with STDs.
"I was in such denial that someone like me could get this that it took me two months to go see a doctor," Annie said. "Also, the fact that I had never gone to a gynecologist delayed my going."
"Even though you're supposed to go see a gynecologist when you turn 18 or when you become sexually active, in my culture it's just not common to go see one until you get married," she continued. "Now I see one about two to three times a year - if I'm lucky."
Symptoms of the disease include small bumpy warts in the vaginal area or on the penis, sometimes so tiny as to be barely noticeable, according to a Wellness Center STD education guide.
Condyloma does not limit itself to a particular race, gender or age group. Anyone having unprotected sex is at risk. "Always use a latex condom and know your partner well," Leitner Prihoda suggested.
Annie has chosen not to tell her parents or her new boyfriend of seven months about her disease.
"My parents would just break down and cry if I told them, 'Mom, Dad, I have a sexually transmitted disease,'" she said. "There's nothing I can do, and I would rather they didn't worry about it.
"Unfortunately, because of that, I can't use their health insurance, and treatment is pretty expensive. Luckily, I do have a great doctor who has been giving me a financial break.
"As for my boyfriend, we're not having sex yet, so there's no need to tell him now. I'm waiting for the right time so that it doesn't affect our performance at school. I love him and I'm dying to tell him because I need his emotional support desperately."
Annie said keeping the secret to herself has been anguish. "I have one friend who I've confided in, but it's still hard to talk about it with her," she said.
"When I first found out, I cried for days and kept asking God what I did wrong, why he was punishing me ... I thought I was a pretty good girl."
Though support groups to help patients deal with their feelings can be found through a school or community medical center or through an individual doctor, Annie said she has trouble discussing her condition with a group.
"I guess I've finally come to terms with it, except on the drive back from the doctor's when I'm in the car all by myself. That's when I start crying again," she said.
"You know, sometimes it just doesn't even feel like my life. It feels too much like a movie. I guess I should talk to somebody professionally about my feelings, but I can't. Not now."
Contrary to beliefs, condyloma does not cause infertility, Prihoda said.
"Even though I was only 20 when I found out, I immediately thought about how this would affect having kids. I've always wanted kids, and I immediately thought I wouldn't be able to have any now, which made me even sadder," she said.
"My doctor explained to me that I could still have kids, but that there was a one out of 100 chance the baby could be born with warts in his throat," Annie continued.
"All kinds of ideas rushed through my head, but she said that surgery could be performed on the baby with some risk to his larynx, but that after that, he wouldn't have any problems.
"That was a slight relief, because I can't imagine not being a mom or even worse yet, having to tell my kids they have warts in their throats because of a stupid mistake when I was 20."
She said one of the most difficult parts of coping with the disease was self-acceptance. "Before I got infected, I always thought anybody with an STD was some kind of slut who slept around and was dirty. I started to think that way about myself, so I finally had to change my way of thinking.
"I'm not a slut. As a matter of fact, I've only had one sex partner. So this is just proof that you don't have to sleep around to get an STD.
"I think the best thing I've done since I found out I have this is to forgive him - my ex-boyfriend. I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt me, and I can't have anger built up inside myself.
"I have a sexually transmitted disease, and that's who I am now."