October 24th, 2009
To say that things have not been easy lately would, quite possibly, be the understatement of the year. To say that they've been down right shitty would be closer to the truth.
I lost my job two days after my 30th birthday. I had barely been making it on the crap salary, and the financial blow has been staggering. I've sent out resume after resume, and only ever get rejection letters in return. I wish this was the worst thing that had happened.
My Grandma Mary was recently told that it's very likely she has ovarian cancer. She has surgery Tuesday to remove a large mass and at that time, they'll biopsy it and we'll know for sure if it's cancer or not. She's only 67 years old. We're all devastated and trying hard to keep it together until we know more. We can ill afford to fall apart, if only for Grandma's sake. If it's cancer, there's a long hard road ahead of us.
Just under the sadness, there's a rage I struggle to keep contained. There are a litany of curses I long to place on the heads of all the doctors who misdiagnosed my grandma. There is a desire to go to one of those idiotic "tea parties" and smash in the face of the first person I see wielding a sign of Obama with Hitler's moustache. This whole mess has reawakened my sleeping feminist rage. Let me explain.
Grandma has had stomach and digestive issues for several years now. She's gone to numerous doctors, complaining of painful bloating, persistent indegestion, lower back pain, frequent urination, loss of apetite. She was bloating so much that, despite losing weight, her pants were too tight. Doctor after doctor diagnosed her with IBS and prescribed pill after pill. She would return, telling her doctor that the pills weren't working. So they'd shrug and write her another script.
The most cursory search of "ovarian cancer" reveals all the symptoms described above. She's in the highest risk group for this disease yet, not until two weeks ago did even ONE doctor think to do a pelvic exam, ultrasound, or a blood test to check her CA 125 levels (the test that, if levels are elevated, can indicate certain cancers.)
It's all got me thinkning about how quickly doctors dismiss women as hysterical and intolerant of pain. As if we don't know our bodies. As if we don't endure the agonies of child birth. As if we are weak and not to be listened to or taken seriously.
When I was 19, I experienced the worst pain I hope to ever feel. It was as though someone was punching me over and over in the kidneys while some other sadist ground a stilleto heel into my gut. As soon as the pain subsided enough that I could see straight, I rushed to the doctor. She did a pap exam and told me that, due to some elevated white blood cells, I most likely had an STD. I was stunned. I'd only had sex with one person, and I'd been protected. I called him (though we had broken up) and encouraged him to be tested. Of course, we both came back negative. I asked "so if it's not an STD, what is it?" She shrugged, completely unconcerned. "We don't know."
I let it go, hoping it was a one time thing. What followed was two years of enduring this pain, though it was intermittent. I would call the doctor every time, and they would prescribe me pain pills over the phone. I ended up at the ER, my mom and dad pushing me in a wheelchair because I couldn't walk. I couldn't even hold down water. I vividly rememeber throwing up in the hallway of the hospital, and a doctor walking past without so much as a sideways glance.
We spent 8 hours there that day, being bounced from station to station. They treated me as if I were a drug seeker, or a whiner, a complainer, a total baby. Finally, my normally soft spoken mother lost her cool and yelled and screamed until someone took notice. By the time someone looked at me, I was so dehydrated they had to insert an IV. They gave me enough demerol to ease the pain. One angel of mercy asked my mom "has she ever had an ultra sound?" When mom answered no, the doctor ordered one immediately. Turns out, I had a huge tumor (5 pounds, 15 cm) on my left ovary. There was no way they could remove the tumor and save the ovary, so out that came as well. All this took two years.
In 1970, my grandma had to have an emergency hysterectomy as her uterus was pretty destroyed after the doctors botched the birth of her last son. After the surgery, she was put on hormone replacement therapy. When the doctors told us they suspected ovarian cancer, we were shocked; grandma thought they had removed her ovarries all those years ago. It made sense. After all, it's the ovaries that produce the hormones. If she still had those, why would they put her on drugs?
How sad is it that the doctors never even told her what it is that they removed? She trusted them, as we are taught to trust doctors. They're the experts. I don't believe she's had a pelvic exam since 1970. Why?
Why are women so disposable? Why do doctors treat us as if we're idiots? When a loved one is in danger, women turn fierce and demanding, as my mom did in the ER when I was in pain. Yet, when it is our own health in danger, we remain silent and unquestioning.
We need to speak up. We need to demand that doctors take us seriously. We need to be our own advocates.
Please, educate yourself on the health issues that effect you, your mother, your sisters, your aunts. Go into your doctors office well informed and well armed, ready to fight for your own life. Please, don't remain silent.
Here I was logging in to LiveJournal for the first time in a few weeks, and was excited to see your name in my Friends list pop up, as I always enjoy your entries. I was not expecting to read any of this (obviously).
Sorry you're having such a rough time right now. If there's anything I can do, please let me know.
On a totally unrelated note...in hopes of it making you smile a little, if you havent already heard, Dr Frank has a new book out.
Thanks Nolan. You're always so sweet.
I have Dr. Frank's new book on my nightstand, but I haven't been able to get into it. I"m blaming that on my current circumstances; I'm not ready to say that Dr. Frank has written a book I don't like!
Thank you for your kind comments. Thankfully, after the tumor was removed, it was found to be benign and my grandmother is cancer free. In my mind though, that still doesn't excuse the fact that her doctors weren't listening to her and treated her for "tummy problems" rather than ever looking for cancer or a cyst of some kind.
It's my hope that all women will take their health seriously. We are the first to urge a loved one to go to the doctor, to stand up for themselves, but rarely do we take our own advice. We don't want to seem rude or pushy with doctors, and really, that's the only way we can get them to listen and act.