FORT WORTH, Texas — Each year in the U.S., more than 35,000 men and women are diagnosed with one of six cancers caused by the human papillomavirus. It is an infection with no treatment.
In February 2020, Jose Hernandez noticed a small bump on his neck. He thought little of it, but made an appointment with his doctor. Hernandez thought the doctor would prescribe him antibiotics and that the issue would resolve itself.
His doctor informed him it was oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma, and he would need to see an oncologist.
“That’s when you fall in this shock mode of, ‘What is it? What’s causing it? I need to understand more about what type of cancer it is,’” Hernandez said.
Hernandez opted against chemotherapy. He underwent surgery to remove the cancerous lymph nodes and 30 rounds of radiation. He spent 15 days in the hospital after he had complications due to his feeding tube.
“What I had to go through, we can kind of say it was like hell,” he said.
The father of two held on to his faith and strength of his wife to recover. They were unaware of the HPV vaccine.
“The doctors [asked] me if [my] kids have the vaccine, and I said no,” said Jose Hernandez, “They said it’s better for them to have it because it could be a trigger that they could get it.”
Doctors recommended the HPV vaccine for children ages 9 to 12, but young adults up to age 26 can get the vaccine as well. Texas has the largest number of U.S. teens not protected against HPV.
“We’ve been fighting cancer for 108 years,” said Jeff Fehlis, executive vice president of the American Cancer Society. “We have a vaccine that can prevent cancer and that’s what makes the HPV vaccine so important.”
For Ashley, Hernandez’s youngest daughter, there was no question about getting vaccinated.
“I wanted to make sure I was safe,” she said. “Because you never know when you’re going to get the cancer — it’s unpredictable.”
According to the American Cancer Society, HPV vaccination can prevent more than 90% of HPV cancers, which include throat, cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal and penile cancer.
Jose Hernandez and his family hope others will see his story and opt to get vaccinated against HPV.
“Why wait in the future for problems, when you can prevent it now and not worry?” said Ashley Hernandez.