This week’s roundup of news and views on sexism and dismissal in women’s health
Hello and welcome to another weekend roundup delayed by a bank holiday! It’s going to be quite a struggle come June when we have to go back to working 5-day weeks again.
Last week in women’s health news, The Eve Appeal launched their annual Get Lippy campaign to raise awareness and funds for gynaecological cancers; scientists discovered the gene which may cause polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), maternity services at two Welsh hospitals were put into special measures following the deaths of several babies; and a trial found that urine testing could be as good as a smear test for detecting HPV (although I couldn’t help but wonder if researchers might have started looking at alternative screening approaches earlier if cervical cancer affected cis men!)
In other news…
My womb cancer was mistaken for gluten intolerance – I want to improve the discussion about women’s health
I wrote for The i newspaper about Dafina Malovska, a 39-year-old woman whose womb cancer was missed and mistaken for gluten intolerance. I obviously hear and read a lot of these types of stories, but Dafina’s was particularly upsetting because, at 35 years old, she was left infertile after having a full hysterectomy to remove her cancer and save her life. What’s also really interesting about Dafina’s story is that, subsequently, she’s begun a campaign for the NHS to introduce in-depth annual gynaecological examinations – of the kind women have access to in the US, France, Germany, Dafina’s home country of Macedonia, and elsewhere around the world. While it’s probably not a feasible approach for the UK, as The Eve Appeal’s Athena Lamnisos explains in my article, it was interesting also to think about the different ways in which women’s health is approached around the world…
Dafina Malovska was 35 when she started experiencing severe and persistent bloating four years ago, which she says her GP put down to gluten intolerance. When cutting out wheat made no difference, and a gastroenterologist’s tests found nothing wrong with her stomach, Dafina was simply advised to “eat Activia yoghurts” to beat the bloat.
“Every time I went back to see my GP, I could tell from her reaction that she thought I was a hypochondriac. She never actually touched my abdomen or examined me, not even once,” Dafina says. It wasn’t until she started bleeding between periods, four months later, that her GP referred her to a gynaecologist.
While still waiting for her NHS appointment to come through, Dafina – who has lived and worked in London for 14 years – flew to her native Macedonia for her sister’s birthday and consulted a gynaecologist privately there. “They did a thorough check-up, including a transvaginal ultrasound and pelvic examination, and discovered a 14 cm, 500 gm tumour in my uterus,” Dafina explains.
‘I have a devastating illness, so why do doctors doubt my struggles?’
I spotted this interesting local news piece on ME in the Eastern Daily Press:
Mrs Moss said: “Sadly, there is still so much ignorance and disbelief surrounding ME. It frustrates me that even with all the evidence available people still accuse us of ‘faking it’. Why would I choose this life?
“What I would like people to understand is; ME is a severe, complex and devastating neurological disease that affects every part of my body. I am in constant pain and feeling exhausted is my normal.
“There is currently no cure or effective treatment for ME – most doctors haven’t got a clue what to do with me, so they do nothing.”
While Mrs Corvalan added: “A lot still needs to be done. Mainly amongst GP’s who still doubt the veracity of our symptoms and generally doubt patients and dismiss our struggles.
“I have had doctors tell me to drink more coffee, in a very dismissive way when I asked if there was anything I could do about my fatigue.
“These are the people we entrust our lives to and look to for guidance in trying times. The only way to combat this type of problem is by highlighting the realities and the struggles people with ME go through.
“If a doctor cannot accept our illness, there is no hope anyone else, including sufferers themselves, will.”
Mrs Moss said: “All we, the ME community, want is fair treatment and a chance for a future.”
Different for girls: understanding autism
“There’s loads of autistic research on women, but it’s written exclusively for research communities,” says Bargiela, a clinical psychologist and design researcher who completed her doctoral research at University College London, specialising in the study of Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) in women.
“My interest is encapsulated in a single experience: meeting a 10-year-old girl who didn’t tick enough criteria for diagnosis, but was clearly autistic,” she says. “I felt a huge sense of injustice. What opportunity was this little girl going to have to tell her stories other than in a clinician’s room – and she wasn’t believed there. She’d just have to go through life believing she was what other people called ‘weird’ but without knowing why. I want to celebrate autism,” she continues.
Hallucinating, panicked, yet sent home by doctors: One woman’s story of suffering postpartum psychosis
For Maternal Mental Health Week, The Independent published a moving piece on postpartum psychosis, featuring the story of Sophie who was sent home with distressing psychotic symptoms.
“I felt like I was coming in and out of dream world,” she says, describing her mental state at the time. “My husband knew something was wrong and told me he thought I was having a psychotic episode but he was naturally scared to call anyone in fear social services would take me and the baby away.”
Despite visiting A&E that night, Sophie was told she was experiencing the normal anxieties of becoming a new mum and needed sleep. After being handed a cup of tea and a sedative, she was soon sent home.
Over the next few days, her mental state deteriorated rapidly. She began hearing voices in her head and was convinced her brother had died. She even lost the ability to speak and spent hours watching her wedding video on repeat.
Related: I’m A Midwife, And This Is Why It’s Important Not To Keep Mum About Your Mental Health – Huffington Post
I have stage four bowel cancer aged 34 – my symptoms were put down to pregnancy hormones
Also published by The i last week was another story of a woman in her 30s having her cancer symptoms missed and dismissed by doctors. As 34-year-old Katy tells Poorna Bell:
The night sweats got worse after I had Ted in July 2018. I had pre-eclampsia with both pregnancies, so at the beginning, all I could worry about was whether Ted was going to be okay. He was born weighing just 1.8kg and spent two weeks in intensive care.
‘I told my obstetrician about the tiredness, breathlessness, upset stomach, vomiting and night sweats but all of these things were explained away because I was pregnant’
I told my obstetrician about the tiredness, breathlessness, upset stomach, vomiting and night sweats but all of these things were explained away because I was pregnant. The obstetrician put these down to hormones because I was breastfeeding. After a month of terrible night sweats, I stopped breastfeeding because I just couldn’t cope with it any more.
Medical student evaluations appear riddled with racial and gender biases
After Hannah Yard’s viral tweets on the sexism she encountered as a medical student, this week provided another insight into institutional sexism and racism within the medical profession, with research highlighting racial and gender biases in medical student evaluations.
Men are “scientific,” women are “lovely” and underrepresented minorites are “pleasant” and “nice.” If those sound like stereotypes, they are. But they’re also words commonly used to evaluate medical students, a study finds.
Analysis of nearly 88,000 evaluations of third-year medical students written from 2006 to 2015 revealed evidence of implicit bias. White women and underrepresented minority groups were more often described by words about their personalities, while men were evaluated with more words describing their competancy.
The BMJ also published a blog post last week, exploring why it’s important to make the undergraduate medical curriculum LGBT+ inclusive
The Telegraph asked: is there a gender gap at the gym?
For years the answer to catering for a female athlete has been to “shrink it and pink it” – just take a product extensively researched, designed and tested for a man and then just make it smaller and prettier. But women’s bodies are not just smaller, but very different to men’s, from wider hips to a more triangular shaped foot (narrower at the heel than forefoot, according to a study by Penn State University).
The devastating consequences of this are only now being talked about. Last week Paralympic cyclist Hannah Dines spoke out about how she has had to have several surgeries on her vulva after years of cycling on a saddle that was designed for a man led to persistent swelling and pain.
It has been a brave move for Dines to speak out. She wrote in the Guardian last week that she thought her persistent saddle injury was a “sacrifice” for being an elite athlete, and in a sport where women have had to battle to prove they can compete as well as men, “the message was: show weakness and you’re out.”