Happy International Women’s Day!
I wanted to honour this wonderful day by writing about uteruses and periods, because for most people this is still an uncomfortable and awkward subject. 51% of the world have a womb, a vagina and periods. Yet God forbid anyone talk about it! As a woman with a gynae tumour, society’s attitude to discussing women’s bodies and bodily functions has been a hinderance to my health and eradicating this stigma could save thousands of lives. So ladies lets BE BOLD and start talking; men stop squirming and listen.
Most of the symptoms of gynaecological cancers revolve around periods and bleeding (not such a huge surprise). Yet women suffer in silence. This leads to late diagnosis and a poor prognosis for many. A lot of women (with or without cancer) suffer from horrendous periods at one stage in their lives. The sort that quite literally have people bent over in pain unable to move, throwing up from shock and agony, or house bound in case they bleed all over the bus.
Before my diagnosis I suffered with heavy periods for what seems like years, just putting up with them silently, as so many of us do. If we lived in the open world I hope will one day be reality where women are equal and their bodies were talked about then perhaps I would have been diagnosed sooner.
I felt a sense that heavy periods and abnormal bleeding were just accepted as something that happened to some women, sometimes.
On one horrifying occasion I suffered a very heavy immediate bleed, completely independent of any period, moon, tide or syncing. The sort which is definitely NOT healthy, the sort that might make you think you have cancer. I stood there, in the passport queue at Stansted, after bleeding down to my knees on a flight, for 40 MINUTES! Covered with a long coat and the most intense fear and mortifying embarrassment, silently queueing and not making a fuss. I was too embarrassed to tell a male member of staff I needed to get through the queue immediately and go to the toilet, or better yet to a hospital. After finally getting to a doctor some week and a half later (thank you government underfunding), they refused to give me a scan for a one off event, even though it was known I had an apparent ‘fibroid’. At the time I felt a sense that heavy periods and abnormal bleeding were just accepted as something that happened to some women, sometimes. That it wasn’t a cause for concern purely because 51% of us do it every month. Even after mustering all of the words I could find to explain how abnormal it was to a male doctor; it was still put down as an odd period, probably stress induced.
It took around two and half years of various doctors appointments for gynae issues before my fibroid was removed and found out to be a tumour. I had been anaemic spending several months barely leaving bed, bled all over the place in public on several occasions, gone to A&E passed out for hours and yet I was continuously dismissed by health professionals. By the time I was taken seriously, my tumour had decided to make a little tumour baby, somewhere nice and safe in the wall of my womb where it couldn’t be removed. If I had been more prepared to openly discuss my symptoms and if issues with women’s vaginas and periods were taken more seriously, I could have been diagnosed sooner and the outlook for my treatment and fertility would be brighter.
women are diagnosed late and struggle through their symptoms alone
Unfortunately my story is not an unusual one for women with gynae cancers, it is far too often the case that women are diagnosed late and struggle through their symptoms alone. More than a quarter of young women don’t attend a smear test due to embarrassment, this has to change.
All hope is not lost and it feels like the ripples of change are appearing, with women free bleeding for the cause (you go girls), and the demise of the alpha male. We are slowly getting somewhere, but lets start talking about it more, BE BOLD, lets make sure the next generation of boys don’t wince and laugh at the word ‘period’, lets make sure women are more familiar with the symptoms of gynae cancer, lets make sure women are heard and end the stigma.