Recent writing: gynae cancers, women’s health research and the Covid-19 vaccine

The first three months of 2021 have been pleasantly busy after several months of pandemic-induced freelance drought last year. I’ve been commissioned by a couple of new publications (which I’ll be able to share in the next couple of months), as well as the old favourites, and I’ve started work on various new copywriting projects for charities and small businesses in the health and wellbeing sector.

In January, as usual, I marked Cervical Cancer Prevention Week by working with two of my favourite gynae cancer charities, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and the Eve Appeal.

For Grazia I spoke to Sally about her experience of undergoing cervical cancer treatment during lockdown, including the isolation of shielding and going for chemo alone, and how she still worries about follow-up appointments being disrupted.

For The i, I looked at research by the Eve Appeal, which found that a worrying number of women don’t fully understand what cervical screening checks for. To highlight this, I spoke to nurse Nicola, who ignored symptoms of womb cancer because she’d recently had a normal smear test result.

I also wrote for Refinery29 about why we still know so little about the clitoris – from a medical and sociocultural perspective – and why women’s pleasure more generally is still not really considered important.

More recently, I got the lowdown (from Alice Pelton at The Lowdown) on the Ballerine IUB – a spherical, next generation copper coil that’s creating a lot of buzz in the world of LARCs (long-acting reversible contraception).

Throughout March my focus on Hysterical Women has been split between mothers and perinatal health, with my #NotNeurotic series in partnership with BetterYou, and Endometriosis Awareness Month.

I also wrote for The i about the treatment of women with endometriosis and myalgic encephalomyeleitis (ME), the underfunding of research into these conditions, and why chronic illness is a feminist issue.

Finally, for Refinery29, I’ve been doing some myth busting and answering some FAQs about the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, in partnership with the NHS.

You can catch up on all these recent pieces here:

Recent writing: Cervical Cancer Prevention Week 2020

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For this year’s #SmearForSmear (Cervical Cancer Prevention) Week I again worked with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust on a couple of pieces, for both The i and Stylist. The first explores the myths and stigma that still surround HPV – the virus that causes the majority of cervical cancer cases – while the second looks at medical innovations that could one day revolutionise the smear test. 


‘I’ve been with the same partner for 25 years – how did I get HPV?’ – for The i:

When you’ve been with the same partner for more than 20 years, the last thing you expect to be told is that you’ve got a sexually transmitted virus. But that’s what happened to 47-year-old Lisa Spiller, following a smear test two years ago.

Lisa, who works in customer services, was invited for a smear as part of a free NHS health check offered every five years to over-40s, despite having had a normal smear test result just one year earlier. Within three weeks though, she was told she had a high risk strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV) – the virus which causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer – as well as cervical cell changes, and needed a follow-up appointment.

Continue reading at The i…


These medical breakthroughs could transform smear tests forever – for Stylist:

Smear tests are important. We all know it, as you’ll no doubt be reminded as the annual #SmearForSmear campaign kicks off during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (20-26 January). Cervical screening prevents around three quarters of cervical cancers, saving an estimated 5,000 lives each year, but it’s no secret that it can be a pretty grim experience.

 

 

 

At best, smear tests are uncomfortable and undignified – something to grit your teeth and endure once every three years, for the sake of your health. But at worst they can be painful, distressing and traumatic. It’s disheartening, but not altogether surprising then, that year after year around a million people choose not to attend the cervical screening tests that they’re invited to.

Continue reading at Stylist…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

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Recent writing: The world’s first Vagina Musuem, and how periods affect your sleep

The back end of 2019 was a quieter period for me, at least in terms of journalism. In November I visited the world’s first Vagina Museum on behalf of Refinery29. Then, between Christmas and New Year they asked me to investigate the many ways that having a period can affect your sleep, for their sleep-themed Lights Out week in early January.


The World’s First Vagina Museum Is Much More Than One Glittery Tampon – for Refinery29:

The wait is finally over. After two and a half years, three pop-up exhibitions and a £50,000 crowdfunding campaign, the Vagina Museum is finally opening the doors to its permanent home. Situated in London’s Camden Market, it’s the world’s first physical museum space dedicated to vulvas, vaginas and all things gynaecological.

Although pre-launch events have been taking place at the museum’s premises since 5th October, its official opening is marked by the launch of its taboo-busting exhibition, Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How to Fight Them. We had a sneak preview to find out what you can expect.

Continue reading at Refinery29…


Let’s Count The (Very) Many Ways That Having Periods Can Affect Your Sleep – for Refinery29:

Is your period keeping you up at night? From headaches, depression and anxiety, to cramps, digestive issues and breast tenderness, the rollercoaster ride of our fluctuating hormones doesn’t just switch off when we go to bed. According to research by the US National Sleep Foundation, 30 per cent of women experience disturbed sleep during their periods, while 23 per cent report sleep issues during the week before menstruation.

“I experience a multitude of symptoms about two weeks before my period,” Kirsty tells me. “As far as sleep goes, I initially go through insomnia, then in the week before I feel the need for ten hours a night – which never happens – and still find it difficult to function.”

Continue reading at Refinery29…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: fibroids, dementia, period poverty, and incurable cancer

As you might have noticed from recent posts, I’ve been doing a lot of work for The i newspaper lately, with a focus as always on women’s health stories and health inequalities. In early August I started researching and writing a long-read for them on sex and gender differences in dementia research, risk, diagnosis and treatment, which was finally published at the end of October after months of hard work. I’ve also recently written for them about the gaps in support for patients with treatable but incurable cancer, the period poverty facing asylum seekers who can’t afford menstrual products, and fibroids – a common but little-known gynaecological condition that can cause heavy, painful periods among other symptoms.

‘My periods left me housebound because of a fibroid – but it was two years before it was removed’ – for The i:

As period nightmares go, flooding all over your cream skirt in a restaurant 60 miles from home probably ranks pretty high. But for 40-year-old Sarah Hutchinson, that was just the beginning of the nightmare. What followed was two years of hellish periods, bloating, heaviness and exhaustion that left her housebound for up to three days every month.

Eventually, surgeons removed a benign tumour the size of a five-month foetus from Sarah’s womb. Her years of suffering had been down to a fibroid  – a gynaecological condition so common as many as one in three women will be affected by fibroids, according to GP Dr Pixie McKenna, but which very few of us have ever even heard of.

“As a female GP, fibroids are something I encounter with relative frequency, and a number of the side effects fall very much under ’embarrassing issues’. Menstrual bleeding isn’t talked about enough, and a lot of women just put up and shut up and get on with it,” Dr McKenna says.

Dr McKenna, from TV’s Embarrassing Bodies, is fronting a campaign by pharmaceutical company Gedeon Richter, Talk About U, which aims to raise awareness.

Continue reading at The i…

Women with dementia outnumber men by two to one – and researchers are only just starting to work out why – for The i:

Sofia Petersson, 43, is an administrator and mum-of-two from Sweden.  A few years ago, she began feeling extreme and constant tiredness. Concerned, she visited her GP for a check-up. After multiple appointments and undergoing a series of tests, results eventually came back that no woman her age would expect to receive: Sofia had tested positive for Alzheimer’s disease. She was 39.

Sofia wasn’t suffering from memory loss, the symptom most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. She was repeatedly told not to worry about the tiredness, and prescribed iron tablets which didn’t help, so it took more than a year to be diagnosed. Four years later, she has had to adapt to life with the disease. She has reduced her working hours to four a day, and her children – now 16 and 19 – help her at home.

“It sucks having Alzheimer’s, and I feel sad because there’s nothing I can do about it,” Sofia, who blogs about living with Alzheimer’s says. “I’m tired all the time, and slower in my head. I have to keep myself calm because, if I find myself in a stressful situation, my mind just doesn’t work at all.”

Continue reading at The i…

‘I had to go to McDonald’s and use toilet roll’: The women living on £37.75 a week who can’t afford tampons – for The i:

CK*, from Soweto, South Africa, is a 39-year-old asylum-seeking woman who has always suffered from heavy, painful periods. When she became destitute on the streets of London last year, having to deal with heavy bleeding every month just added to the nightmare. “I had to go to McDonald’s and use toilet roll to stop me from dirtying myself,” she says.

“It was very hard. I used to work for many years before all of these challenges, but as an asylum seeker I was told I didn’t qualify for any recourse to public funds, and that was very difficult.”

With no right to work, or access to benefits, she was vulnerable. The ex-partner she had been living with took advantage, abusing her sexually, physically and emotionally. CK was treated in hospital after a particularly bad attack, but there was nowhere safe for her to be discharged to, and she ultimately found herself on the streets, sleeping on night buses.

Continue reading at The i…

‘My cancer is treatable but incurable – I’m scared to ask for help in case I’m seen as a nuisance’ – for The i:

“There’s a very fine line between living with incurable cancer and waiting to die from it. Cancer for me is a 24/7/365 affair,” says Mandy Mahoney, an outreach support worker from London who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2011.

Mandy, 48, underwent an intensive year of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy before going into remission. But within a couple of years her cancer was back, and she learned it was now incurable. “I’m on my sixth recurrence. This is something I’ll either live with long-term until I die of old age or, in the worst case scenario, it will kill me,” she says.

Mandy is one of 136,000 people in England living with a cancer that is treatable but not curable, according to new patient data research published by Macmillan Cancer Support.

Continue reading at The i…

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: inducing labour, and the heart attack gender gap

At the end of September, The British Heart Foundation published an important report, Bias and Biology, looking at the way biological differences and unconscious biases impact on the way women are treated during and after having a heart attack. It’s a problem that’s killed 8000 women in a decade, and ties in with so much of what I see on Hysterical Women. I wrote for both Stylist and The i about the significance of this deadly gender health gap, exploring the experiences of two women, and looking at the bigger picture of sexism in healthcare. I also wrote about induction for Patient, tackling myths and misconceptions about the procedure, and explaining what women can expect if they make the choice to be induced.

What you need to know about inducing labour – for Patient:

Induction is a process of artificially kickstarting labour, most commonly used if your baby is overdue. According to the NHS, one in every five labours in the UK are induced, so here’s what you need to know if you’re offered induction to get the birth moving along.

Why induction might be offered

All women who haven’t spontaneously gone into labour by 42 weeks of pregnancy will be offered induction. Besides the fact you’re likely to be fairly fed up by that stage, there’s also an increased risk of stillbirth or other complications for the baby which increases the longer past your due date you are.

Continue reading at Patient… 

‘Doctors dismissed my heart problems as a panic attack – yet I couldn’t walk 50 yeards’ – for The i:

When Lorraine Kinzel had a heart attack in 2013, at just 44-years-old, she was as shocked as anyone – but doctors reassured her she was young and would bounce back to normal life in no time.

Within five weeks, Lorraine started experiencing angina symptoms of pain and breathlessness. For the next seven months she went backwards and forwards to doctors – even being taken to A&E by ambulance on a couple of occasions – but was repeatedly sent home, her symptoms dismissed as “panic”, and told she was perfectly fine.

Lorraine is one of the 35,000 women admitted to hospital following a heart attack each year. But a report published today by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) warns women are facing a ‘heart attack gender gap’ at every stage of diagnosis, treatment and aftercare. The real-life impact of that gender gap is shocking: the BHF estimates that, over a 10 year period, more than 8,000 women in England and Wales died needlessly from heart attacks because they received worse quality care than men.

Continue reading at The i…

Yentl syndrome: How this little-known gender bias could be costing women their lives – for Stylist:

When you hear the words ‘heart attack’, you probably picture a middle-aged man clutching at his chest, before falling dramatically to the ground.

For us women, this is a problem. A new report from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has highlighted an alarming ‘heart attack gender gap’, and it’s costing women our lives. BHF-funded research estimates that more than 8,200 women needlessly died over a 10-year period because the treatment they received was worse than that given to men.

It’s just yet another example of how dangerous everyday sexism can be when it comes to our health.

As a freelance health journalist, and founder of feminist health blog Hysterical Women, I see evidence of this danger all the time. There’s a growing body of research into the ‘gender pain gap’, showing that women’s health concerns are less likely to be taken seriously than men’s across a huge range of conditions. Gender bias in healthcare is complex, and deeply ingrained – ranging from the subtle and insidious, through to downright medical misogyny – but it’s time we urgently started addressing it.

Continue reading at Stylist…

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: Trans women and the HRT shortage, arthritis in pregnancy, and how vaginal fluid transplants could cure recurrent bacterial vaginosis

Well, September’s just flown by, hasn’t it? Since my last update, back in August, I’ve turned 30, run my first half marathon, and sunk my teeth into some fascinating subjects – including cat cloning, heart attacks, dementia, arthritis, transgender hormone therapy, and vaginal fluid transplants.

In July I was one of the first journalists to report nationally, for The i, on the HRT shortage – with other national outlets and publications picking up on the story in August. Off the back of that original piece, I started hearing from trans women about the impact the HRT shortage was also having on them – in addition to the roughly one million menopausal cis women affected – and followed up for The i with a piece on those experiences. Also for The i, I looked at the complex relationship between arthritis and pregnancy, and the unique challenges of being a new mum with arthritis.

Finally, when my editor at Refinery29 emailed with a possible commission, and the email subject was “Vaginal fluid transplants”, I just knew I had to take it. I’ve been fascinated by vaginal bacteria since writing about some ovarian cancer research that was published during the summer, and this concept of vaginal microbiota transplants to treat bacterial vaginosis was a really interesting and exciting new development to look into. This article, I’m pretty sure, also broke my personal record for the most uses of the word “vagina” in the space of 1200 words.

‘My mood is all over the place’: How HRT shortages are affecting trans women – for The i:

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) shortages could have a “devastating” toll on trans women across the UK, in addition to the impact on cisgender women being treated for menopausal symptoms, a hormone specialist has warned.

As i reported in July, women across the UK are facing a “major and widespread shortage” of the drugs, which replace sex hormones in women who are going through either the menopause, premature ovarian insufficiency (also known as early menopause), or – in the case of trans women – gender-affirming treatment.

Sarah Brown, a Liberal Democrat politician and trans equality campaigner, told i she is aware of trans women who have had issues accessing their normal prescription, and she is concerned about the potential physical and psychological impact that on-going shortages could have on the community.

Continue reading at The i…

‘My arthritis symptoms began when I was pregnant at 23 – it was so painful I took early maternity leave’ – for The i:

Amy Devine-Devereux was a 23-year-old newly qualified nurse when, at seven months pregnant, the first signs of arthritis began creeping in. “I started having really agonising pain in my hips, not being able to walk around properly, and pain in my shoulder joint,” she recalls. “My hips got so painful that I ended up having to leave work for maternity leave a month earlier than I’d intended. Then, after I’d given birth, it all flared up.”

After a traumatic delivery, Amy hands and wrists swelled up within hours. “It really became obvious that things weren’t right,” she says. “Some of my first memories of that time are not being able to do the poppers on my daughter’s baby clothes, and not being able to hold her properly. When it was really difficult, I had to scoop my hands underneath her armpits and lift her up that way. Then, at other times, I could carry her around perfectly normally.”

After two months of GP appointments and referrals, Amy was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – an inflammatory auto-immune disease which affects 400,000 adults in the UK. Rheumatoid arthritis affects two to three times more women than men and, despite being most commonly diagnosed in those aged 40 to 60, appears to sometimes be triggered in younger women by pregnancy.

Continue reading at The i…

How Other Women’s Vaginal Fluids Could Help Cure Recurring Bacterial Vaginosis – for Refinery29:

When it comes to gynaecological symptoms we don’t feel comfortable talking about openly, the strong fishy smell associated with bacterial vaginosis is definitely up there. Bacterial vaginosis – or BV – is the most common vaginal infection, with symptoms including a greyish-white, watery discharge and unpleasant fishy odour. It’s not sexually transmitted and half of those affected don’t have any symptoms, but it can cause complications in pregnancy. And despite the fact that as many as one in three of us will get BV at some point in our lives, it’s still badly understood and notoriously difficult to treat.

Research published last week could be a game-changer though. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University in the US have taken the first step towards using vaginal fluid transplants as a potential new treatment option for BV. Inspired by the successful use of faecal microbiota transplants (FMT – or poo transplants, to you and me) to treat gut problems, the idea behind vaginal microbiota transplants (VMT) is effectively to ‘reset’ the balance of bacteria inside the vagina, using ‘good’ bacteria from donors’ vaginal fluid (or mucus).

Continue reading at Refinery29…

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent work: Google/Somerset House, postnatal contraception, and mental health at festivals

July saw me back at Google Arts & Culture, working with them on a couple of projects – including one with Somerset House, which explores their Summer 2019 programme of exhibitions, projects and events celebrating immigration, diversity, identity, and black creativity. I also wrote features for both Patient and Refinery29, respectively exploring new mums’ contraceptive options after giving birth, and mental health support at the summer’s music festivals.

Somerset House – for Google Arts and Culture:

I worked with Somerset House as a content editor, supporting them to create content celebrating and archiving their Summer 2019 programme – featuring the Get Up, Stand Up Now and Kaleidoscope exhibitions, and the Backgrounds photography project.

You can view the project in full at Google Arts & Culture.

What to do about contraception after giving birth – for Patient:

Sex is probably the last thing on your mind in the immediate aftermath of giving birth. But with half of new parents returning to sexual activity within six weeks, it’s worth considering your postpartum contraceptive options early on, so you’re covered when the time comes.

“We know that fertility can resume quite soon after childbirth – as early as three to four weeks in women who are not exclusively breastfeeding, which I think is much earlier than a lot of couples realise,” explains Dr Michelle Cooper, a gynaecologist, researcher, and spokesperson for charity Wellbeing of Women.

“We also know that sexual activity can resume earlier than we might think. At least 50% of couples will have started having sex again by six weeks. So these two things combined means that women are actually at quite high risk of an unintended pregnancy in those early weeks and months after giving birth, unless they’re using some form of contraception,” she adds.

Continue reading at Patient…

How To Look After Your Mental Health At Festivals, Despite Drugs, Booze & Crowds – for Refinery29:

With Glastonbury already been and gone, and Camp Bestival on the horizon, summer 2019’s festival season is well and truly upon us. If it’s been a tough first half of the year, losing yourself in the music and partying with your mates for a weekend can provide the ultimate escape – but the chaotic nature of festivals, and the abundance of alcohol and drugs, could also bring up some trickier feelings and send your mental health spiralling.

Struggling with your mental health at a festival can feel bewildering and isolating – especially if the thousands of people around you all seem to be having the time of their lives. But you should be able to find mental health support at most of the UK’s major music festivals, to help you take a step back from the noise and talk things through over a soothing cup of tea.

Community interest company Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England works with St John Ambulance to deliver training in mental health first aid across the country, with nearly half a million people trained in MHFA England skills so far. Chief Executive Simon Blake OBE tells me they’re working towards a future where all events have first aiders equipped to tackle both mental and physical health issues.

Continue reading at Refinery29…

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: PTSD, vaginal bacteria, and HRT shortages

It’s been a particularly busy month since my last update, and I’m looking forward to a much-needed holiday over the next week. Throughout July I’ve been working again with Google Arts & Culture on two projects which will be launching in the next few weeks and months. I’ve also worked on a couple of newsier pieces for The i, and written one of my most personal pieces in a while – for Refinery29 – on PTSD.

5 Women With PTSD Describe What It’s Like To Live With – for Refinery29:

Warning: This article contains descriptions of traumatic events, including rape, which some readers might find upsetting

I always thought I had a pretty good understanding of trauma. I’ve been writing about mental health for the last five years, and since 2011 I’ve worked with survivors of trafficking, domestic and sexual violence, and later with refugees and asylum seekers who’ve lived through unspeakable violence, torture and loss. But I never fully understood PTSD – or how much it can fuck you up – until I experienced it myself.

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is an anxiety disorder estimated to affect one in 10 people. The national PTSD charity, PTSD UK describes it as “essentially a memory filing error caused by a traumatic event” – although not everyone who experiences trauma will go on to develop PTSDSymptoms include increased anxiety and hypervigilance, avoidance and numbing, re-experiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks and nightmares, as well as self-destructive behaviours, feelings of guilt and shame.

Continue reading at Refinery29…

Women at greater risk of ovarian cancer have fewer ‘friendly’ bacteria in the vagina, a study has found – for The i:

Women most a risk of ovarian cancer have fewer ‘friendly’ bacteria in the vagina, according to research published today in The Lancet Oncology.

Gynaecological cancer charity The Eve Appeal – who jointly funded the research with the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 initiative – hope the findings will inspire a vital conversation about factors that can influence and interfere with the vaginal microbiome.

“There’s very little we know about how ovarian cancer starts, so what’s really exciting about this paper is that it shows the significance vaginal bacteria has in terms of disease prevention,” says Athena Lamnisos, CEO of The Eve Appeal.

Continue reading at The i…

Women around the UK are facing a ‘major and widespread’ shortage of hormone replacement therapy – for The i:

Women around the UK are facing a “major and widespread” shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), leaving some struggling with menopause symptoms and side effects such as night sweats, depression and anxiety.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) estimates one million women in the UK use treatment for their menopausal symptoms, with HRT being the main treatment offered on the NHS.

Although the exact number of women affected by the current shortage is unclear, Dr Hannah Short, a GP specialising in PMS and the menopause, said it is “a major and widespread issue, affecting a large number of women”. However, both doctors and pharmacists are in the dark about the reasons for the shortage and how long it’s likely to last.

Continue reading at The i…

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: cervical cell changes, contraceptive pills, and fibromyalgia

Cervical Screening Awareness Week fell in June, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust raising awareness of the potential side effects of the procedures used to treat cervical cell changes. While these treatments are extremely effective in preventing cell abnormalities from developing into cervical cancer, in the most extreme cases – as I’ve covered previously on Hysterical Women – procedures such as the LLETZ, which burns off abnormal cells, have left women without sexual function and suffering from PTSD. It’s such a tricky subject, and there’s a really delicate balance to strike when it comes to insuring women have all the necessary information to give fully informed consent, without scaring women off screening or treatments (if necessary) in the first place.

One of the really interesting findings from Jo’s Trust’s survey though was that there’s a definite grey area when it comes to women diagnosed with CIN2 cell changes (more severe than CIN1, but less severe than CIN3), who are currently being treated differently depending on where they’re treated. The latest evidence suggests most CIN2 lesions, particularly in women under 30, regress on their own, without treatment – but the lack of standardised guidance on this means that some doctors treat women with CIN2, while others recommend more conservative observational management. Essentially this means some women might be offered treatment – with all the side effects that potentially brings – unnecessarily. I looked into it for The i, including speaking to one woman who regrets agreeing to her treatment.

Also this month I wrote for Patient about signs you might be taking the wrong contraceptive pill, and why switching pills might be better for you than ditching it altogether. And I spoke to patients and doctors about why fibromyalgia – which affects around one in 25 people – is so misunderstood.

Women diagnosed with cervical cell changes are being treated differently across the country – for The i:

No one wants to hear their smear test result has picked up abnormalities – but early detection and appropriate treatment can and does save lives by preventing cervical cancer from developing.

The latest report by the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, ‘Not so simple,’ highlights the confusion and anxiety many women feel after receiving a diagnosis of cervical cell changes, and calls for greater consistency in the information and treatment pathways these women receive.

This is particularly the case when it comes to women diagnosed with CIN2 cell changes – a grey area in which there are discrepancies in the approaches used by doctors, according to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

Continue reading at The i…

Signs you’re on the wrong contraceptive pill – for Patient:

The contraceptive pill often gets a bad rap for its host of potential side effects, which can range from the mildly inconvenient to the downright debilitating. However, it’s worth noting that there are around 30 different types of contraceptive pill currently available in the UK, and not all pills are created equal.

Different types of contraceptive pill contain different quantities and combinations of the hormones oestrogen and progestogen, which in turn affect different women differently. So, if you’re struggling with side effects, it’s worth considering whether the contraceptive pill you’re being prescribed is really the right pill for you.

Why is fibromyalgia so misunderstood? – for Patient:

Fibromyalgia is a chronic widespread pain disorder, estimated to affect roughly one in 25 people. But, despite being relatively common, fibromyalgia remains a seriously misunderstood condition, surrounded by stigma, confusion and long delays in diagnosis. So what is it really like to live with fibromyalgia, and why do we still understand so little about it?

Anywhere between 2% and 6.8% of the population will suffer from fibromyalgia at some point in their lives. “It is typified mainly by pain, but patients report that in a variety of different ways. It can include pain generally, as an ache. It can be described as a sharp, burning, pins and needles type pain. It can be funny sensations,” explains Dr Attam Singh, a consultant in Pain Medicine from The Fibro Clinic.

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: ovulation pain, sex and disability, and bioidentical HRT

In May I attended The European Health Innovation Collaborative’s ‘Patient Heal Thyself’ conference – an interesting day focused on doctor-patient engagement, and how a more collaborative approach could help to improve healthcare.

One of most powerful and engaging speakers of the day was Rachel Jury, a patient advocate and blogger at Rocking2Stomas, who spoke about the importance of healthcare professionals engaging with patients on issues around sex and disability. I later interviewed Rachel on the same subject for The i, sparking some really interesting conversations with patients and healthcare professionals on Twitter.

I also wrote for Patient about why some women experience ovulation pain, and dug into the truth behind the hype around bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for the menopause.

As a woman living with two stomas, I want doctors to talk about sex and disability more – for The i:

I got my first stoma when I was 24, four years after I first started suffering the effects of food poisoning. I’d graduated in Radiotherapy and Oncology from Cardiff University, and was working at the Bristol Oncology Hospital, but my bladder and bowel just wouldn’t empty. I couldn’t go to the toilet, I weighed just six and a half stone, and I looked really poorly. I loved my job but I had to have a urethral catheter, which made working in a hospital a nightmare, and I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to work anymore.

After having the ileostomy, which connects my small intestine to a stoma bag, I started gaining weight again. This was a really positive sign but I struggled with my body image. Even though I could see I was getting healthier, I felt self-conscious because I was putting on weight at the same time as adjusting to life with a stoma bag.

I was so worried about how I looked, what my partner would think, and if he would cope with the impact on our sex life. I remember thinking, “how can I have sex with a stoma?” but none of the health professionals I saw ever spoke to me about that side of things, and I felt too embarrassed to ask.

Continue reading at The i…

Is it normal to experience ovulation pain? – for Patient:

We’re all familiar with period pain. But what about pain that occurs mid-cycle? If you’ve ever noticed a pain on one side of your lower abdomen, roughly two weeks before your period, you might be experiencing ovulation pain. We asked the experts what it is, and if it’s a cause for concern.

“Ovulation pain, sometimes known as mittelschmerz (German for ‘middle pain’) is a dull cramp or a sharp and sudden twinge that is felt around the time the ovary releases the egg during each cycle,” explains Dr Vanessa MacKay, a consultant gynaecologist and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).

Continue reading at Patient…

The problem with ‘bioidentical hormones’ for menopause – for Patient:

If you’ve been struggling with menopausal symptoms and looking into the options, you might well have come across private menopause clinics or compounding pharmacies offering ‘bioidentical hormones’. But what exactly are they, and how do they differ from the HRT you’d get from your GP?

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has long been surrounded by controversy and confusion, despite the fact it is today recognised as an effective option for treating menopause symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and mood swings, with many of the concerns about safety allayed.

“Some people use the term bioidentical hormones when they’re talking about hormones that closely resemble the ones we naturally produce,” explains Dr Heather Currie, an associate specialist gynaecologist and former chairperson of the British Menopause Society.

Continue reading at Patient…

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: hormonal biohacking, menstrual clots, and triggers for hives

After a very busy March, it was a relief to have a slightly calmer April, providing time to catch my breath, take stock, and focus on exciting personal projects and events – including my younger brother’s beautiful wedding over the Easter bank holiday weekend. Several of the articles I’ve written more recently were for print magazines, on longer lead times than much of the work I do for online, so I’m looking forward to being able to share those later in the summer.

In the meantime, here’s some more of my writing from March, because there was so much of it that I’ve ended up splitting it over three separate blog updates! For Grazia, I looked at the emerging trend of ‘hormonal biohacking’, including asking an endocrinologist if you can really control your hormones through lifestyle changes. I also wrote about both hives and menstrual blood clots for Patient, because freelance journalism definitely isn’t all glamour!

Can You Really Biohack Your Hormones? – for Grazia:

The word biohacking sounds like something straight out of science fiction, conjuring up images of Orphan Black’s neolutionists tinkering with genetics and implanting gadgets inside their own bodies. Recently the term has become the buzzword de jour for Silicon Valley tech bros looking to be “posthuman” (their words); a technological alternative to working hard at the gym, gaining confidence and, for some, of course, for “picking up girls”. Nice.

But, outside of the tech-bro bubble, it’s a growing trend in the real world too – especially, it seems, among some women.

According to Flux Trends: “Biohackers encourage the democratic, DIY technological development of the human race. Biohacks range from the absurd (such as implanting flashing lights into one’s hands for fun) to the ingenious (DIY devices which enable people to “see” sounds or “hear” colours).” Some bodyhacking women even believe that a copper IUD is a form of cyborg implant.

Biohacking, or DIY biological enhancement, is a broad movement. While ‘bio-punks’ and ‘grinders’ go in for these extreme cyborg-style body modifications, ‘DIY biologists’ experiment with gene therapy, and ‘nutrigeomicists’ use food and supplements to “hack” their biology and optimise their health. And that’s where cycle syncing – or hormonal biohacking – comes in.

Continue reading at Grazia…

Are blood clots normal during a period? – for Patient:

Ever wondered what those icky-sticky, thick clumps of blood in your period are? They’re known as menstrual clots, and they’re formed from a mixture of blood cells, tissue from the lining of the womb, and proteins from your blood.

Firstly, it’s important to be aware that everyone has menstrual clots to some extent, and it’s not necessarily a sign that anything’s wrong.

“Usually clots occur when the flow is a little bit heavier – generally the first two days of your period,” Dr Vanessa Mackay, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) explains. “When you’re bleeding heavily, the blood pools inside your vagina and it clots, much as it would do if you were bleeding elsewhere.”

Continue reading at Patient…

What causes our skin to break out in hives?

Hives – also known as urticaria – is a relatively common itchy rash that causes red or white bumps on the skin. According to the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), it affects around one in five people at some point in their lives, and in around half of cases the trigger is unknown. But, if you’re breaking out in hives, here’s what could be behind those itchy bumps.

“Hives is caused by the release of histamine from skin cells called mast cells,” explains Dr Justine Kluk of the British Association of Dermatologists.

Continue reading at Patient…

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: endometriosis, PCOS and diabetes, and the sexism driving women to wellness

March was a busy month, both for freelance work and over at Hysterical Women, where we had a month-long focus on endometriosis, followed by a Mothers’ Day spotlight on the damaging stereotype of the ‘neurotic mother‘.

I also wrote an Endometriosis Awareness Month piece for Refinery29, looking at why women with the condition still struggle to be taken seriously. Also for Refinery29, I looked at the links between sexism in medicine and the rise of the wellness industry. And, finally, I wrote for Patient about whether PCOS can cause type 2 diabetes.

Every Single Reason Why Women Aren’t Taken Seriously About Endometriosis – for Refinery29:

“My first period looked like a murder scene. It started when I was 10 years old, and I was rolling around in bed in so much pain that it woke me up,” recalls 33-year-old Bridie Apple, founder of the Flow. Grow. Glow. yoga community.

“When my mum turned on the lights, the blood was all along the wall. It had soaked through the whole mattress, and when I put my hands down to my tummy and around my pelvis, it was everywhere,” she says.

That horrifying first period lasted six weeks, during which time Bridie bled so heavily that she was changing a super size pad every half an hour. As for the pain, she says: “It was horrendous. I’d be doubled over, gripping onto things, while my friends just needed a hot water bottle and a bit of chocolate from their mums to cope with their periods.”

Continue reading at Refinery29…

What’s the link between PCOS and diabetes? – for Patient:

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an incurable endocrine condition affecting up to one in ten women in the UK. It’s most commonly associated with hormonal symptoms, such as acne, excess hair growth, weight gain, irregular periods, and reduced fertility.

However, it is also associated with seemingly unrelated long-term health risks, like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In fact, women with PCOS are as much as 40 per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women without the condition – so what exactly is the link?

According to Libby Downling, senior clinical advisor at Diabetes UK: “Ten to twenty per cent of women living with PCOS will go on to develop type 2 diabetes at some time. This is related to insulin resistance, and high levels of insulin circulating in the blood.”

Continue reading at Patient…

Is Sexism In Medicine Driving Women To Dangerous ‘Natural’ Cures? – for Refinery29:

Barely a week goes by without another weird and wacky wellness trend hitting the internet – from Kardashian-approved vampire facials to colonics, to an ever-increasing list of things doctors have warned us not to put in our vaginas. But beyond Instagram, what exactly is driving women to try these kinds of alternatives?

Since October, I’ve been running Hysterical Women, a feminist blog exploring women’s experiences of feeling dismissed and let down by their doctors, and I’ve increasingly found myself wondering just how much this disillusionment is driving the $4.2 trillion global wellness industry.

There’s no denying there’s a serious gender health gap. A 2003 study, “The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain” concluded that “women are more likely to be less well treated than men for their painful symptoms” and “biases have led health-care providers to discount women’s self reports of pain.”

Continue reading at Refinery29…

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.