UPDATE: I will be speaking on HuffPost Live next Tuesday (09/30) at 12:45 pm EST discussing the More Than Boobs Initiative and women’s health. You can watch me here: http://live.huffingtonpost.com For more details, go here.
As I write this to create awareness for serious women’s diseases that are often misunderstood or ignored, I acknowledge the gravity of breast cancer. Indeed, I have lost someone I love to this illness. I also saw my brave aunt survive both colon and breast cancer in a span of two years. That being said, all month-long, there’s a project you can join on Facebook called the More Than Boobs Initiative. We want to spread awareness for diseases like: polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, uterine cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer. We are trying to paint the town teal by selling shirts for awareness, which you can purchase here. Even if you don’t have any of these diseases, I encourage you to join us.
“It’s Just Your Period”
I was diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 19. (The year before, I was diagnosed with bipolar 2). While there were times I experienced mental health discrimination (“Snap out of it!”), my pain with PCOS was also dismissed by many including (oddly enough) people who were sympathetic to my bipolar struggle. I heard things like, “It’s just your period” from both men and women. Last week, I was bedridden for three days. Once I was bedridden for two weeks due to PCOS.
Why Female Patients Can’t Get Taken Seriously
1) Projection: People project their experiences onto others. If you, your mom, or your sister did not have a painful period, that’s great but not every woman’s experience. Not all women are the same. Furthermore, with every illness, there is a spectrum and not all patients have the same experience.
2) Sexism, plain and simple: Women with chronic illnesses are not taken as seriously as men. In fact, women with diseases that sometimes cause chronic pain (examples: lupus, MS, fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myasthenia Gravis) are often dismissed as “being stressed out.” Compared to men, it takes longer for women to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment for chronic conditions. (For instance, even though women are 50% more likely to die after their first heart attack, they have historically received later diagnoses and less aggressive treatment than men.) I almost died in 2008 because of a late Myasthenia Gravis diagnosis.
3) Ignorance: PCOS is more than just my period. I have this disease 24 hours, 7 days a week. My most prominent symptom is pain. I know many women who experience other symptoms such as acne, substantial weight gain, getting hair on the face and back, and difficulty conceiving. It’s insulting to be told, “You’re just having PMS. It’s only three days out of the month.” On multiple occasions, growing up I missed school or had to leave early from grade school to college. I remember being in the sixth grade and experiencing my first excruciatingly painful period. My female teacher told me, “You’re just stressed out.” From a very young age, women are taught that our pain is not real, all in our heads, or not a big deal. We are marginalized.
What is Dysmenorrhea?
Primary dysmenorrhea is common menstrual cramps that are not due to other illnesses. Pain usually lasts between 12 to 72 hours. Sometimes, women experience nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and even diarrhea.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is pain that is caused by disorders in the reproductive organs.
Some Conditions That Can Cause Painful and/or Irregular Periods
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, PCOS
- Uterine Fibroids
- Pelvic inflammatory disease, PID
- Polycystic Kidney Disease
- Necrotizing Vasculitis
- Premenstrual Syndrome, PMS
Do you have women’s health problems? How have loved ones treated you? Do you have a condition I should add to this article?
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno
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