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A man walks on a path and looks at the darkness behind him.

After a Diagnosis and Treatment, What do I do Now?

I wasn’t expecting to be diagnosed with HIV for my 30th birthday. And I certainly wasn’t planning to be under treatment for HPV-related cancer thirty years later. Yet here I am.

I was so focused on making sure I survived being HIV positive, I may not have fully considered what the long-term consequences of that survival might mean.

I had not given much thought to HPV other than watching the occasional commercial for the vaccine on television. I knew I had been exposed to it and quite possibly had a conversation with my doctor at one point. But I don’t think we ever discussed the likelihood of it causing cancer.

The outlook is good because of an early diagnosis and surgery to remove the lesion in my rectum, but I’m not in the clear yet. It’s only been a few months since my last radiation and chemo session, but I still have a few years of monitoring ahead.

So, what do I do now?


I’ve reminded myself, just as I learned from being a long-term survivor of HIV, that this is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires long-term commitment and constant awareness of where I am on this journey.

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There’s no rushing this. The conclusion will happen only when it does, and I can do nothing about it. I can only control how I act during this time. With patience comes acceptance. Remission and cure are the goals, but I am still monitoring, measuring, and making choices. This is where I am; I must fully live in this moment and not worry about what ‘may’ be ahead.

Distraction by doing

For months, I was in agony. I could not sit straight, I could hardly sleep, and I didn’t want to eat because of the pain associated with defecation. Even after it subsided, there was difficulty moving around. The worst part was that my spirit felt broken.

Slowly, I started doing things that I have always enjoyed. I planned out my garden for the upcoming season, made arrangements to build a nesting shelter for migrating monarchs, picked up a favorite book, and revisited characters I love.

As I felt better, I began decluttering the house. When I felt ready, I returned to the gym and began a new exercise regimen. These distractions kept my mind occupied and helped me return to the patterns of life I had enjoyed before.

Commitment to participate

I must actively engage in my treatment process, keep myself educated, and show up for my appointments. I must ask questions and settle for nothing less than my doctor's full attention.

I have no other option than to immerse myself in my life. I make my own decisions, and I am responsible for the consequences of those choices. I believe this life will unfold exactly how it should, and I will not fight that.

The people around me are also part of my journey. I have a habit of shouldering the burden alone and being too prideful to ask for help. I often push those closest to me away when I should be leaning on them the most. This was the most challenging thing for me, but I had to accept it when I could not stand up or get out of bed without a helping hand.

In every moment, good or bad, something can be discovered that illuminates how magical it can be to be alive. Even in my worst moments of pain, I found myself smiling as the trees in the doctor's office parking lot began to change color with the season. It was a wonderful reminder that time passes, and eventually, I will look back on this with different eyes.

Believe me when I say there hasn’t been a sudden and massive change in my relationship with myself, the world, and the people around me. Like my treatment plan, I will have to watch and work on this over time, but I am hopeful for a positive outcome on all fronts.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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