Yes, I have Herpes: One Physician’s Personal Experience to Shed the Shame

Yes, I have Herpes: One Physician's Personal Experience to Shed the Shame

 “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.” Brené Brown

The practice of medicine is changing. There is a growing understanding of the psychology of disease. Medical schools and training programs are expanding education for medical providers by discussing the psychology of illness. My own training emphasizes a mind, body, spirit evaluation of the patient. Often times, a patient’s diagnosis carries with it a sense of shame, fear and a sense of disempowerment.

Patients often need support and time to understand the science of their illness. Support in the form of scientific information, as well as psychological support, can help patients regain a sense of empowerment and control. The difficulty comes in the lack of available time to spend with patients. Often times, medical providers are overburdened with heavy patient loads and lack the time they’d like to spend counseling patients regarding a new diagnosis. Information is available to patients at their fingertips, including the internet, pamphlets, literature and support groups. However, a new trend has begun to emerge. Physicians are opting to open and share their own stories, their own diagnosis, in order to provide support not only for their own patients but for other patients dealing with the confusion of a new diagnosis. 

Dr. Sheila Loanzon is one such physician. A successful board-certified physician in Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loanzon, Dr. Loanzon shares her story to provide guidance — as a patient herself, as a physician, and as a friend. In her book: Yes, I have Herpes: A Gynecologist’s Perspective In and Out of the StirrupsDr. Loanzon, aka the “Compassionate Gynecologist”, shares her experience of acceptance, self-love, and empowerment with patients worldwide. Sharing a story of transformation from a patient who was carrying shame regarding her diagnosis of herpes, to a woman filled with pride and worthiness who was no longer defined by it. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Loanzon regarding her book.

Yes, I Have Herpes: A Gynecologist's Perspective In and Out of the Stirrups
Yes, I Have Herpes: A Gynecologist’s Perspective In and Out of the Stirrups ($14.95)

Why was it important to write this book?

“After my divorce, I noticed I was attracting a certain kind of man. Working with a coach, I realized that feeling dirty or unclean was at the root of feeling ashamed.” Dr. Loanzon realized that her diagnosis of herpes at a young age of 20 as at the root of her shame and sense of unworthiness. She wanted to share the tools she acquired while working with a coach with her patients. “I just wanted to help touch one soul out there.” Dr. Loanzon wanted to show patients that they were “not alone” by sharing her own story. Dr. Loanzon felt it was important to “convert the thought process from feeling like you’re dirty or needing to hide your diagnosis, to it being that something that could be discussed openly.

What can people expect to gain from reading the book?

“Physicians may not have the time to explore their patients’ depth, fears, and questions. I wanted to provide the information regarding the diagnosis as well as the support emotionally from a Board Certified source.”

Why do you feel herpes is such an important topic to discuss? Why did you devote an entire book to the topic?

“There is a real lack of support groups for herpes. HIV is life-threatening and has extensive research and support attached to it. gonorrhea and chlamydia are curable.” Dr. Loanzon felt that, compared to other sexually transmitted infections, herpes is a “lost diagnosis lacking support and information for patients. I wanted to create visibility for the diagnosis by putting myself out there.”

Why were you willing to put yourself out there in such a raw manner?

“The mental breakdown is part of the issue.” The emotional and psychological side effects of being diagnosed with such a stigmatized illness were something Dr. Loanzon wanted to address and provide reassurance for. As a patient, Dr. Loanzon felt this “breakdown” first hand. She wanted to make sure that her patients felt seen and heard by her not only as a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist but as a person who struggled with the illness. She wanted to personalize the stigmatized topic, providing empathy in the process of providing medical care.

How did your acceptance of your diagnosis change your outlook on life?

“It was so powerful for me to accept my diagnosis of herpes. I began to attract a different type of man because I finally felt worthy.” The book provides a bigger acknowledgment of the process of breaking down barriers to self-love, including shame. Dr. Loanzon hopes the book communicates that self-love and acceptance are at the root of success in all parts of life.

You recently collaborated with Lisa Lin for a CNN digital series, “This is Sex,” due to be released in the fall. Tell us about that.

“I was contacted by a CNN producer to share my story as a physician thriving with a commonly stigmatized STD. Lisa Ling was in the process of creating a documentary on STDs in the United States and felt I had a unique stance as both a clinician and a patient.” The special provides an important insight into the topic because she provides two perspectives, one as a patient and one as a physician treating patients.

So what’s next on the horizon for you? Another book?=

Dr. Loanzon’s next book is in the works. “The topic will be abnormal pap smears as well as understanding and navigating HPV.”

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. This information is intended to provide general information only and does not intend to offer medical advice, diagnose health problems or make decisions regarding treatment of medical issues. Dr. Tina Ashrafzadeh makes no representation and assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of the information contained within this article and such information is subject to change without notice. You are encouraged to confirm any information obtained from this article with other sources and review all information regarding medical conditions and treatment with your physician. The reader will maintain all relationships and make all decisions regarding healthcare, with a licensed physician and or qualified healthcare provider. Dr. Tina Ashrafzadeh DO, Board Certified Family Medicine and OMT President-Pacific Coast Osteopathy Inc.