HPV vaccine: Lessons from a mother on vaccination

By Michelle Brown

Michelle Brown works at a pharmacy in Annapolis County and lives with her family in Melvern Square.

My 13-year old son, Logan, recently came home and said that he had to get a needle at school this year.  Thinking about the vaccinations he is going to receive this year, including for Human papillomavirus (HPV), I was reminded of when Logan was born and my experience as a first-time mother.

 Back then, the idea of my baby boy having a needle of any kind scared me. I looked at vaccinations simply as mandatory and all that I worried about was my baby being in pain and him crying in the doctor’s office.

The day before his two-month needles I took Logan to our family doctor because he had not been eating or sleeping well.  We soon learned that Logan had Bilateral Wilms Tumours – cancer in both kidneys.  

Logan’s diagnosis was followed by chemo, radiation and multiple surgeries; needless to say, I quickly overcame my fear of needles. Although his vaccinations were put on hold due to treatment, the doctors and nurses at the IWK Health Centre reminded us how important they were to his overall health. These amazing health care providers saved our son’s life and we knew their advice was with Logan’s best interest in mind.  

When Logan turned one, his treatments were complete and he was able to catch up on his vaccines.  Our family also began getting annual flu shots that year, to help protect Logan and ourselves.

Fast forward to 12 years later – sitting at the kitchen table chatting with Logan and his younger sister about why vaccinations are important to their health.  The kids grumbled but they both agreed that it was worth being poked if it meant that they wouldn't get sick in the future – simple as that.  

It was also important to me that Logan understand what HPV is and why he would get the vaccination, which was added for Grade 7 boys in Nova Scotia this year. Naturally, this led to the subject of sex and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. I admittedly did all of the talking on this subject but I know my son, and I could tell that he was listening and interested in knowing some facts.  

This conversation reminded of our opportunity as parents to not let these topics be embarrassing.  We don’t know what the future holds for our kids and if we can help protect and educate them, we need to do it now. Building a strong immune response before our children become sexually active can prevent them from contracting HPV and passing it on to their partners. Research has shown that the HPV vaccine is well-tolerated and safe; we also know that preventing the spread of HPV to young women can reduce the number of women who develop cervical cancer.  

My son recently reached his tenth year of living cancer-free.  But it has always been a deep-rooted fear that he may have to go through it all again one day. He is prone to secondary cancers and protecting him from infections is doubly important for me and my family.  

Logan’s cancer experience has forever changed my perspective on the importance of our children receiving vaccinations. For parents who may have doubts or concerns, I hope they won’t have to go through the same in order to reach the same conclusion:

We love our kids, let’s protect them.

If you have questions about the HPV or other vaccinations, please call your local Public Health office or speak with your family physician/nurse practitioner.