Concern for my partner

Hello, and thank you for taking the time to read my message.
My partner is currently in China, her country of origin, undergoing a series of tests for pre-cancerous HPV levels and cervical cancer. We’re both worried, as you can imagine, and being apart has made things even more stressful. Tomorrow my partner, who is 31 years old, has what I believe is a biopsy. But part of my personal struggle, aside from the distance, has been with language: while my partner is fluent in English, technical medical terms aren’t easy to translate. And all of this is unfolding in real time: rehashing the details and hunting for vocabulary is understandably stressful for her right now. So I’m hoping for whatever light you might be able to shed on her situation as I understand it, and for any reassurance you might be able to offer.

Three or four months ago my partner suddenly began experiencing pain in her tailbone/coccyx. Previously, she had been diagnosed with a uterine cyst, which has since cleared up on its own, according to her physician. I was concerned about a connection between the two, and read the one of the causes of pain around the coccyx can be the presence of cyst pressing on nerves. Her physician prescribed ibuprofen and rest, which struck us both as an inadequate answer. After an X-Ray showed nothing, we requested an MRI about a month ago. Immediately following the MRI we met with a physician who said that the results showed nothing out of the ordinary.

Because the back pain persisted, my partner decided to go back to China to get second opinions and treatment in her native language and cultural context. I’m a little foggy on this point, but I believe that, after reviewing the X-Ray and MRI, her physician said that herbs, rest and light exercise would do the trick, but that it would take a while for her condition to improve. As I recall, there was also no real diagnosis at this stage (nor has there been up to today).

Then, during an exam, my partner’s gynecologist detected what she described as high concentrations of cancer-causing HPV. I believe this took place during a colposcopy. Because my girlfriend was also experiencing bleeding connected to her menstrual cycle, the doctor set up an appointment for a later date to do a biopsy (this will take place tomorrow).

Having done some research online, I’m concerned that my partner’s symptoms line up with those listed for advanced stage cervical cancer: lower back pain, fatigue, difficulty gaining weight and pain during or after sexual intercourse.

We’ll know more tomorrow, and in the following days, but I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on my partner’s case. Of course, I am hoping that we are dealing with something – anything – other than cancer: pre-cancerous HPV (alone) and infection, polyps related to this… I’m also wondering how advanced cervical cancer – or even early stage cancer – would go unnoticed in an MRI? And is it even possible to have pre-cancerous HPV and developed cancer cells simultaneously?

I hope you’ll forgive the length of my query as well as the lack of more concrete details. I’ll be grateful for any thoughts you have.

Hello and so sorry to read about what you and your partner are going through. I would think that the MRI would have picked something up, particularly if there was a sinister cancerous growth. Small cell changes don't always show up, but something larger I would expect would do. There are of course some scary stories of things missed, but these are extremely rare these days. It is very easy once cancer is mentioned at all, even pre cancer, to assume every pain or illness experienced in the past few years or months is related - but, it often isn't. I had every symptom going and assumed I was going to be told I was riddled with disease...but I wasn't. If, and it's a big if, your partner does have cervical cancer, the prognosis is good and the treatments doable and effective. I would expect that your partner will now have the biopsy - which may well remove all the troublesome cells, or may show more treatment is needed. Waiting and wondering is absolutely the hardest part, and the language difficulties will no doubt make it harder from your end. Best wishes.