Virginia Beach cancer survivor urging parents to get children HPV vaccine

Posted at 2:26 PM, Jan 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-29 14:27:15-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Pictures of Tony Arnold with his radiotherapy mask are a strong reminder of his challenging journey to beat cancer.

“It’s been an interesting journey. I’m still here for a reason,” Arnold told News 3 reporter Brian Hill.

Arnold wore the mask for weeks as he went through treatment for head and neck cancer.

“It can be a pretty brutal treatment. You have a hard time swallowing,” he explained.

Part of the 58-year-old’s reason for still being here, he said, is advocating for parents to get their children the human papillomavirus vaccine.

He said HPV is what led to his cancer.

“I like to help parents understand that HPV is ubiquitous,” Dr. LaGora Oliver Brooks, the Clinical Chief of Pediatrics at Sentara Pediatric Physicians, said. “It’s everywhere, and eight out of 10 of us have been exposed to the virus.”

Health officials say the vaccine lowers the spread of some cancers and decreases HPV infections.

“Human papillomavirus has several different strains. Many of the strains can cause oral, neck and throat cancer. They can also cause cervical and genital cancers,” Brooks explained.

A 2007 bill passed by Virginia lawmakers requires rising sixth-grade girls get the vaccine. However, parents can opt out because the bill states the virus is “not communicable in school setting.”

“It’s just difficult for me to understand why. I respect everyone’s choice, but as a parent it's difficult for me to understand,” Arnold told us.

Boys are not required to get the shot, but there has been a push in recent years for them to get vaccinated.

Related: Suffolk cancer survivor shares story, aims to empower others to take control of their health 

“Those that don’t, we just continue to talk to at each visit to help them understand the importance of it,” Brooks said.

She encourages everyone ages 9 to 26 to get the vaccine, but the younger you are, the better.

It’s an option that wasn’t available for Arnold in his youth.

Click here to learn more about the virus.