Fox Business Network anchor Gerri Willis will be undergoing a hysterectomy after pre-cancer cells were discovered on her cervix.
In a Fox News op-ed published on Tuesday, Willis, 60, revealed that she has contracted the human papillomavirus three-and-a-half years after her breast cancer battle.
“I’m writing ahead of another surgery. This feeling of anticipation and not a little anxiety is all too familiar — and so is the culprit. Cancer,” she began the piece.
Willis said that her doctor found the cells last summer.
“In this case, more pre-cancer cells have been discovered on my cervix. I told you about my struggle to contain these cells just a few months after my doctor found them late last summer. I thought a simple cone biopsy had removed them. But as luck would have it, the virus that is creating these cells, HPV-18, is still in my body and creating more of these problem cells,” she wrote.
“I’m no stranger to cancer and have been very public about my story with Stage 3 lobular breast cancer diagnosed just three and a half years ago. I’m still breast cancer-free thanks to the efforts by my incredible doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering, but now, I have another foe: HPV or human papillomavirus,” she said.
“I debated whether to talk about this publicly,” she admitted. “After all, HPV is transmitted by sexual contact. It’s embarrassing. Not the topic of polite cocktail chatter. I didn’t want our Fox family to think less of me.”
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, with 3 million new cases in the U.S. each year. While many people will live their lives without ever knowing that they have HPV, for some, it can develop into cancer.
While she was initially hesitant about opening up about her recent diagnosis, Willis ultimately “decided to share my experience for two reasons.”
“One, the HPV infection can be prevented with a simple inoculation of Gardasil. The CDC recommends children aged 11 to 12 receive the shots. That’s a solution as simple as a trip to your primary care physician’s office to protect your kids,” she explained.
Second, “the other reason I wanted to share my story is that HPV is as common as rainwater,” she continued. “The CDC says that nearly all American men and women will get some strain of HPV in their lifetime. That’s a lot of ticking time bombs. The good news is that most of these strains are harmless. But for a few of us who contract HPV, one of nine cancers threaten. HPV is the culprit in 35,000 cancer cases diagnosed every year. More than 9 of 10 cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.”
Willis said her doctor found the pre-cancer cells during “a routine PAP smear.”
“Early detection is critical. Please, take my advice, ladies. I know it can be hard to find the time for these simple tests but your life may quite literally depend on it,” she implored. “It all comes down to the same things when trying to prevent cancer. Early screening. Vigilance. What I’ve learned in my cancer journey is this — we can’t stop for a minute in our efforts to rid the world of cancer. The disease is relentless.”
Looking ahead, Willis is preparing for surgery to remove her uterus.
“I’ll have a hysterectomy this week. My bosses at Fox are giving me the time I need to recover and heal before getting back into action down at the New York Stock Exchange,” she said.
She also isn’t letting the diagnosis bring her spirits down.
“I am upbeat and optimistic because this surgery is preventative. I’m in front of the curve this time in my fight — being treated before an actual cancer has time to develop,” she concluded. “So, I’ll see you in a few weeks. Don’t worry. We’ve got this. But do me a favor, take care of yourself and your family. HPV is a cancer you have tools to fight.”
“I know there are people who are ashamed. You have cancer! Do you have to then also feel ashamed? Like you did something bad, you know, because it took up residence in your anus?” said Cross, who wants people to stop feeling embarrassed about the disease. “I mean, come on, really. There’s enough on your plate.”
Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a board-certified OB/GYN at Yale University School of Medicine and member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad who did not treat Cross or her husband, said that they “would have passed the HPV by sexual contact,” of any kind.
“She may have been carrying it for years,” Minkin said. “You can go your whole life and not know that you have it.”
And for many people, they can go their whole life with HPV and not develop cancer.
“HPV does not mean cancer,” Minkin said. “There are about 100 strains of HPV, but not all of them are cancer causing. Some strains cause genital warts, but those aren’t the ones that cause cervical cancer. You could even be with a partner who has it and not get it. And we don’t know why. Some people have this superimmune system and they just fight it off.”
But Minkin said that people should get tested for HPV, and women should get a pap smear every three years.
“If you’re known to be a carrier of high-risk HPV, then you want to get regular pap smears to check for cancer,” she said.