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.
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.”
‘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.
‘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.
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.
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.