Recent writing: womb cancer, family planning with arthritis, and adenomyosis

Where has 2019 got to? It’s hard to believe we’re already into June, nearly halfway through the year. And yet, as the months race by, here I am still getting caught up on sharing updates about the work I did in April and May!

The first of these articles tells the story of Dafina, a woman whose horrifying story and intriguing, inspiring campaign I first discovered on Instagram several months ago. It took me a while to find the right home for this piece, but I’m so pleased The i commissioned it.

Next up are two pieces I wrote for Refinery29 – one on three women’s experiences of being diagnosed with arthritis in their 20s, sponsored by biopharma company UCB; the other explaining a little known gynaecological condition called adenomyosis.

My womb cancer was mistaken for gluten intolerance – I want to improve the discussion about women’s health – for The i:

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.

Continue reading at The i… 

I Was Diagnosed With Arthritis In My 20s: Here’s What It’s Like – for Refinery29:

When you hear the word ‘arthritis’, you probably think of your nan struggling with her stiff hands or swollen hip joints. It’s certainly not a disease most of us associate with women in their 20s and 30s – but for younger women who do live with various forms of arthritis, it can have a profound effect on their careers, social lives and relationships, as well as their decisions about when and how to start a family.

Arthritis describes a category of conditions that cause joint pain and inflammation. The two main forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) – typically associated with ‘wear and tear’, which mostly affects joints in the hands, knees, hips and spine; and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – a form of inflammatory arthritis where the body’s immune system targets certain joints, causing swelling and pain.

Continue reading at Refinery29…

This Painful Condition Affects One In 10 Women & No One Knows About It

Gemma Taylor had never heard of adenomyosis before she was diagnosed just last week, after a year of painful unexplained symptoms that her GP had put down to IBS. And she’s not the only one. Adenomyosis is the even less well-known sister condition of endometriosis – but while endometriosis is slowly beginning to benefit from recent public awareness campaigns, adenomyosis is still virtually unheard of by patients and doctors alike.

“My symptoms started in April last year, with abdominal pains and sickness. I thought it was a bug, but it just carried on. I was bloated all the time, feeling sick, having awful cramps where all I could do was lie down and wait for it to pass, and a combination of diarrhoea and constipation,” Gemma, a 37-year-old marketing manager from Cornwall, explains.

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: 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.

Recent writing: menstrual health at work, and how to manage acne when you’re pregnant

In March I wrote a number of pieces on women’s health, including a feature for Grazia looking at the impact of menstrual ill health on women’s careers, and one for Patient on how to tackle acne when you’re pregnant.

How Your Period Could Be Costing Your £40,000 In Lost Earnings – for Grazia:

From endometriosis to PMDD, menstrual health issues are often woefully misunderstood by employers. But what happens when this costs you your job? Sarah Graham investigates…

“I worked really hard, went to uni and got a first, then did my masters and got a distinction. I climbed the career ladder, bought my own property, and I was working my way up to management. But then endometriosis took over my life, and work just didn’t get it,” says 33-year-old Bridie Apple, a former program manager in the charity sector, who now runs her own yoga business, Flow. Grow. Glow.

Like 1.5 million women in the UK, Bridie suffers from endometriosis, a condition where cells like the lining of the womb (the endometrium) are found elsewhere in the body, usually around other pelvic organs like the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and bowl. It causes heavy, painful periods, chronic pelvic pain and fatigue, and can lead to infertility, as well as bladder and bowel issues.

Continue reading at Grazia…

How to tackle acne during pregnancy – for Patient:

We all know the stereotype of the radiant expectant mother, with her glowing, picture-perfect, clear skin, but the reality of unpredictable pregnancy hormones can be somewhat different.

For women affected by adult acne, not knowing how their skin will react – or how to keep it under control without many of the most commonly prescribed treatments – may be a concern during pregnancy or when planning to conceive. But there are a number of safe options to keep acne at bay while you’re pregnant.

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: living with chronic pain, and the link between lichen sclerosus and vulval cancer

In February I started working with a new commercial client on content around mental health and community treatment teams. I also wrote pieces for Broadly and Patient, the former looking at a little known gynaecological condition called lichen sclerosus, and the latter looking at what it’s like to live with chronic pain.

Doctors Thought I Had Chronic Yeast Infections—But I Really Had Cancer – for Broadly:

For most of her life, Clare Baumhauer assumed her sore, itchy vulva was normal. “From when I was primary school [elementary] age, I was telling my mum that I was sore and itchy down there, and that it was burning when I went to the toilet,” the 45-year-old hospitality supervisor recalls.

“I remember her taking me to see my GP two or three times. He never looked at me, but I was given different creams and none of them helped. Even at that age, I quickly became reluctant to keep going back.”

After nearly 40 years of being misdiagnosed with everything from yeast infections to cystitisearly menopause, eczema, and even herpes, in 2016 Baumhauer received a devastating diagnosis of vulva cancer—caused, in her case, by a little-known skin condition called lichen sclerosus (LS).

Continue reading at Broadly…

This is what it feels like to live with chronic pain – for Patient:

Nearly half of the UK population – around 28 million adults – lives with some form of chronic pain. A research analysis published by the BMJ in 2016 found that 43% of Brits are affected and, researchers say, that number is only likely to keep rising with our ageing population.

With chronic pain described as ‘a major cause of disability and distress’, what exactly is causing so many people to live in constant pain, and how does it impact on their everyday lives?

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: periods on the pill, smear tests, and the link between acne and diet

I realised recently that, while I’ve been keeping Hysterical Women updated on a more or less weekly basis, it’s been more than three months since my last proper work update over here. Although my work around Hysterical Women has been sucking a lot of my time lately, there’s also a backlog of freelance work that I haven’t shared yet, so I’m going to split these over several posts – hopefully not three months apart!

In January I wrote for Patient.info about new guidelines on continuous pill use, looking at if it’s safe to skip your period on the pill, as well as investigating whether there’s a link between acne and diet. I also wrote for Grazia magazine, ghostwriting a first-person interview with Claire Saunders, who was left infertile by cervical cancer after skipping her smear tests for ten years.

Is it safe to skip your period on the pill? – for Patient:

For decades women have been taking the combined pill for 21 days at a time, with a seven-day pill break and withdrawal bleed in between. But is it safe to skip your period by taking two – or more – packs back to back? As the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) publishes new guidelines on continuous pill use, we look at the evidence behind all the different options.

Continue reading at Patient…

‘I Missed My Smear Tests. Now I’m Infertile’ – for Grazia

Embarrassment and fear are probably the thing putting you off going, but as Claire Saunders, 38, discovered, the consequences of skipping your smear test can be dire

You think you’re invincible when you’re young. Even after witnessing the Jade Goody effect – the Big Brother star, 27, died 10 years ago this March from cervical cancer, prompting nearly 500,000 extra women to turn up for a smear test – I never thought the disease would strike me. That mixture of naivety, ignorance and nervousness meant I repeatedly ignored the letters asking me to attend for my smear test – sticking them in the kitchen drawer, with an intention to sort it out later. But if I had just made that appointment, my cancer could have been caught so much earlier. Instead, it ended up taking my fertility.

Continue reading at Grazia… / PDF available here

Is there a link between diet and acne? – for Patient:

You don’t have to look very far online to find someone proffering a miracle ‘acne diet’ or ‘hormone-balancing’ dietary supplement that will supposedly clear up your skin for good. But what does the evidence really say?

Acne affects 80% of us at some point in our lives, with as much as 40-55% of the populationaged 20-40 suffering from adult acne. It can have a major impact on sufferers’ self-esteem and mental health and, if you’re affected by long-term adult acne, it’s likely you’ve tried a whole range of acne-fighting options.

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: benzodiazepines, the ‘sex recession’, and early menopause

November’s features for Grazia, The Pool, and BBC Three covered a pretty interesting range of subjects: anxiety, addiction, sex, millennials, periods, fertility, and the menopause.

‘I’d Treat Myself With Diazepam In The Way People Treat Themselves To A Glass Of Wine After A Stressful Day’ – for Grazia:

Lena Dunham this week revealed that she’s six months sober, after three years of misusing anti-anxiety medication Klonopin (Clonazepam). Speaking on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast, the 32-year-old actress said: ‘I was having crazy anxiety and having to show up for things that I didn’t feel equipped to show up for. But I know I need to do it, and when I take a Klonopin, I can do it.’

Over time, Dunham added: ‘It stopped being “I take one when I fly” to “I take one when I’m awake”. I didn’t have any trouble getting a doctor to tell me, “you have serious anxiety issues, you should be taking this”.’

Continue reading at Grazia…

Are we stuck in a global sex recession? – for The Pool:

It’s probably telling that my response to a recent Atlantic article on the so-called “millennial sex recession” was a shrug. “Who the hell has time for sex?” I quipped. “We’re all too busy stressing about the end of the world.”

Hyperbole aside, it is clear that sex has slipped down our priority list. Over the last few years, an increasing number of headlines have mourned the millennial generation’s collective sex life, with study after study after study showing we’re having less sex than our parents – but why?

Continue reading at The Pool…

The truth about early menopause – for BBC Three:

Most women don’t even think about the hormonal roller coaster that is the menopause until they hit their mid-40s, with 51 being the average age for women’s periods to actually stop. But Adele Stevens is dealing with hot flushes, mood swings and the end of her fertility aged just 25. To make matters worse, she’s going through it at the same time as her mum, who is in her 50s.

Adele is a mum herself, to a six-year-old daughter. “All my friends are having babies at the moment and I still want another one, but I don’t know if it’s possible now,” she says.

Continue reading at BBC Three…


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: Charities of The Prince of Wales, and LDN WMN @ Google Arts & Culture

The Charities of The Prince of Wales

I’ve been back at Google Arts & Culture over the last couple of months, working with them and the team from Clarence House on a new digital project to celebrate the Prince of Wales’s 70th birthday. It’s been a bit of a change from my usual areas of work, but after all the fun we had working on the Road to Equality (parts 1 and 2) earlier in the year, it was great to be back working with the Google Arts & Culture team again, as well as some of the brilliant charities founded and supported by Prince Charles.

The project, which launched on 14 November, gives an insight into the life, work, charities, homes, gardens and art collection of the future King, and was a collaboration between Google Arts & Culture, Clarence House, The Prince’s Foundation, Royal Drawing School, Royal Collection Trust, Turquoise Mountain, Highgrove, Duchy of Cornwall, Prince’s Trust, Dumfries House, and British Fashion Council.

The personal highlight for me was learning about the restoration of Dumfries House, its stunning collection of Chippendale Furniture, and how its charitable and educational programmes are transforming the local community.

There’s also a beautiful virtual tour of Highgrove Gardens, an insight into the work of The Prince’s Trust, and a 360 degree look inside the Prince & Patron exhibition – part of the 2018 Buckingham Palace Summer Opening – featuring artworks and objects from Royal Collection Trust, The Prince’s private collection, Royal Drawing School, The Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts, and Turquoise Mountain.

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Road to Equality pt.3

A week later, on 21 November, we also launched seven new pieces of Road to Equality content, marking 100 years since women in the UK won the right to stand as MPs. Working again with The Mayor of London’s culture team, I put together exhibits on the recent LDN WMN public art exhibition, celebrating forgotten women from across north, south, east, west and central London, as well as showcasing the work of young women and non-binary artists.

Alongside this new content for The Mayor of London, I also had a chat with Scarlett Curtis, writer, activist, and curator of Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies)and wrote a brief history of women MPs in the UK Parliament.

Introducing Hysterical Women: a feminist blog exploring sexism in women’s health

Hysterical Women

In October I launched a new blog, Hysterical Women – a project I’ve been thinking about and wanting to explore for quite a long time now. Visually it looks pretty similar to this one, but I wanted to create a dedicated space to focus on one specific strand that’s come up over and over again in my work over the last couple of years: the stereotype of the ‘hysterical woman’ in healthcare.

As I wrote in my (Wo)Manifesto for Hysterical Women:

Hysterical Women was born out of frustration. Time and time again in my work I speak to women who’ve been dismissed, disbelieved, distrusted, and denied diagnosis or choice over their own healthcare. Women who are made to feel like ‘hysterical’, ‘attention seeking’ ‘drama queens’ or ‘hypochondriacs’. Women who are told they’re ‘just hormonal’, or that it’s ‘all in your head’. Women who are told their (often male) doctor knows their body and mind better than they do. And women living with conditions that are so overlooked and underfunded that there’s a worrying lack of research, knowledge, awareness and treatment available.

From menarche to menopause – their first period to their last – women’s health, and their health-related choices, are constantly scrutinised. But how much are they really understood? What role do our hormones really play in all of this? And how much of it is just good old-fashioned, institutional, medical sexism?

For a long time I’ve been wondering how to start drawing all these threads together, and highlighting the patterns that exist in all areas of women’s health: mental, physical, sexual and reproductive, menstrual, maternal, menopausal. Then it came to me – like most of the best ideas – over a G&T-fueled session of putting the world to rights with another woman.

I am constantly in awe of the strength, passion and determination of the other women I have the privilege of working with, and the amazing things that can happen when those women put their heads together. I hope Hysterical Women will be a place where more of those conversations can happen – a hub for news, research and, most importantly, women’s own voices.

I’ve been really heartened by responses to the blog so far – and in particular by some of the conversations it’s sparked on my Facebook page. I’ve had the privilege of sharing some brilliant guest posts, on topics including Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the perimenopause, vaginal atrophy, fibromyalgia, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), and the LLETZ cervical biopsy – and there’s plenty more lined up over the coming weeks and months.

Guest post submissions are also very welcome (please get in touch!) – and I’d particularly like to feature more stories from women of colour and trans/non-binary people who’ve experienced sexism and other discrimination in healthcare settings, and healthcare professionals or researchers who are working to improve things for women.

I’ve also launched a monthly sister newsletter, That Time Of The Month, which you can sign up to at: tinyletter.com/sarahgraham7. Otherwise you’ll find a weekly guest post and a weekend round-up of news and research on the blog itself, or on my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram profiles.

Recent writing: fertility myths, and women’s cancers

September was Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, and I wrote for Patient about how to spot the warning signs of the five different gynae cancers: ovarian, cervical, womb, vaginal and vulval cancer.

Also in September I wrote for Grazia, debunking some of the most common myths around fertility.

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in October, I worked with both Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now on two features – for Patient and BBC Three – about two women’s experiences of living with secondary breast cancer. Special thanks to Emily and Beth for speaking so candidly about such a difficult subject.

How to spot the warning signs of gynaecological cancer – for Patient:

More than 21,000 women are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer each year in the UK, but how many of the types and symptoms could you actually name?

This September, for Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, charity The Eve Appeal is calling for cancer education to become part of the Relationships, Sex and Health Education curriculum in schools. Knowledge of gynaecological anatomy, and awareness of gynaecological cancer symptoms, are crucial to early detection and treatment. If you’re feeling clueless, here’s the charity’s Ask Eve nurse Tracie Miles with your need-to-know guide.

9 Common Fertility Myths Unpicked – for Grazia:

Fertility. Of all the ‘F words’ out there, it’s by far the most frustrating – not to mention baffling. You spend more than a decade of your fertile life trying desperately not to get pregnant and then, as your 35th birthday edges ever closer, it all gets very complicated. When should I start trying? How long should it take? How can I improve my chances?

The simple answer is that there are no simple answers. Everyone’s different, and there’s no exact science when it comes to fertility.

But there are some pretty unhelpful myths out there that don’t make matters any clearer. And some of them are so widespread you might even have heard them from your GP – never mind what you’ve been told by your impatient mother-in-law, your best friend, and all those frantic Google searches.

Continue reading at Grazia…

How to cope with metastatic breast cancer – for Patient:

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 13 October is Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day – which this year is all the more poignant as it falls just six weeks after 40-year-old You, Me and The Big C podcaster Rachael Bland died from the condition.

Metastatic, or secondary, breast cancer is a devastating diagnosis that can turn women’s lives upside down and leave them and their families facing an uncertain future. We spoke to blogger Emma and charity Breast Cancer Care about how to cope when you find out your breast cancer has spread.

‘I was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer when I was 22…’ – for BBC Three:

By Beth Brown, as told to Sarah Graham

My daughter Amelia was 18 months old when I first noticed something wasn’t right. It wasn’t a lump or one of the classic signs you think of, more like a hardening on the skin at the top of my breast. But with a toddler to care for and our wedding coming up, I had other things on my mind. Everything else seemed fine, so I pushed it away, got on with life and didn’t go to the doctor until after my wedding – a few months later.

Even when I went to hospital for scans and tests, I didn’t think it was going to come back as cancer. The thought didn’t even enter my mind. I expected it to be a cyst or something easy to treat – that they’d remove whatever it was and we’d go back to our normal family life.

But the longer I was at the hospital, the more I started to think something wasn’t right. I kept seeing other women coming in, having their tests done and going again within an hour or so – while I was there for about eight hours, having test after test.

When they finally sat me down and told me it was cancer, I was really shocked. I gripped my husband’s hand in panic, my mind racing. Weeks earlier we’d been so happy, celebrating our wedding, planning for the future. And now this. As soon as you hear the C-word, you immediately start thinking the worst. More than anything I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘but what about Amelia?’. I was terrified, and it just felt so unfair.


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: Feeling off your game? On perimenopause

Women who are otherwise bossing life are having their careers, fitness goals and sex lives scuppered by the perimenopause. Never heard of it? Exactly.

For October’s Women’s Health magazine, I reported on the hormonal headwind that no one sees coming:

Forty. The big 4-0. When life really begins. It’s a decade that’s been rebranded as effectively as the British monarchy; and if you’re not there yet, you’re probably pretty chill about entering a life stage where you no longer have to fake it, you know your own mind (no more pretending you know who Wiz Khalifa is) and you’re smashing more goals than Harry Kane when England’s World Cup hopes were still alive. It’s how Women’s Health Editor-In-Chief Claire Sanderson felt in the months before her Big Birthday. That is, until something began to feel a little… off.

‘At first, my symptoms were physical. My periods – which had always come like clockwork – started to become irregular, my breasts were really painful and I was starting to carry more weight around my waist. Things felt so off that, even though my husband has had a vasectomy, I began to think I must be pregnant.’ After months of struggling to fall asleep, PMT that was off the scale and ridiculous arguments with her husband, Claire began to open up to other women – and once she did, their stories kept coming.

Daily tasks making you feel as if someone’s upped the incline on a treadmill; a body that feels straight up weird; about as much interest in sex as you have in the finer points of tax law. Happy, successful women, inexplicably off their game. It wasn’t until Claire confided in a friend who’s a practising doctor that she heard the term perimenopause – the term used to describe the process of transition from menstruation to menopause – a diagnosis later confirmed by her own doctor.

Download the PDF here to read the article in full.


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: Cervical screening for survivors of sexual violence

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust

During the summer I had the privilege of working with charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. I was commissioned by Jo’s Trust to write two new resources for their website, looking at cervical screening support for survivors of sexual violence. While smear tests offer the best possible protection against cervical cancer, they’re also understandably traumatic for women with a history of violence and abuse.

The first of these new resources was therefore aimed at survivors themselves, offering practical tips and advice on how to cope with the screening appointment if you choose to attend. The second, longer resource looked at how healthcare professionals can better support these patients both practically and emotionally, with sympathy and understanding of the issues at stake.

These resources launched online at the end of August, to coincide with the publication of a survey on survivors’ experiences and attitudes towards cervical screening. I wrote about the survey results for both Patient and Refinery29, looking at survivors’ experiences, practical tips on preparing for a smear test, and signposting to the Jo’s Trust resources.

The Trauma Of Going For Your Smear Test As A Survivor Of Sexual Violence – for Refinery29:

The Trauma Of Going For Your Smear Test As A Survivor Of Sexual ViolenceWhen Julia was 12 years old, her mother, who was in her early 30s, died of ovarian cancer. The following year, Julia was raped.

Now 35, she is terrified of developing gynaecological cancer like her mum. But as a survivor of sexual violence, she’s also terrified that going for a smear test – the best protection against cervical cancer – will force her to relive the trauma of rape.

She’s not the only one. Research published today by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, in partnership with Rape Crisis and My Body Back Project, found that nearly half of survivors don’t attend cervical screening tests as a direct result of their experience. Another quarter of the 131 survivors they surveyed said they’ve put off going for their test for the same reason, while only 15% regularly attend when they’re invited.

The potential ramifications are huge. One in five women aged 16-59 has experienced some form of sexual violence in her lifetime. If almost three-quarters of those women delay or avoid their smear test, it’s fair to assume they’re at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. And many of them are painfully aware of this.

“I’m a radiographer working in a busy oncology hospital, and I’ve seen what happens when people don’t go to screening tests or ignore their symptoms,” says 40-year-old Kate, who was raped in 2013, just after having her smear test.

When her next screening invitation came, three years later, Kate says: “I felt sick. I genuinely believe cervical screening saves lives, and I wasn’t prepared to let [my attacker] jeopardise my health; that felt like another way for him to win. It was too important to not go, but I knew I would find it difficult in a way I never had before.”

Continue reading at Refinery29…

Preparing for your smear test as a survivor of sexual violence – for Patient:

“I remember a viral tweet a few years ago that said: ‘If you don’t go for your smear test, you’re stupid. It takes minutes and it can save your life’,” recalls 41-year-old Sam*. “Everyone was retweeting it but it was so overly reductive that, as a survivor of sexual violence, it was difficult to read. I mean, sure, it does take minutes, and it’s usually fine, but I knew it wasn’t ever that simple.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is one of the deadliest but most preventable types of cancer for women. The NHS cervical screening programme – which can detect abnormal, pre-cancerous cells – saves around 5,000 lives every year. But knowing all this doesn’t make the experience of going for your smear test any less traumatic or distressing for women like Sam.

In the UK, one in five women aged 16-59 have experienced some form of sexual violence – and many of these women avoid going for their smear test as a result. A report published by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust reveals that almost half of the survivors they surveyed had chosen not to attend cervical screening because of their history. Another quarter had put off their smear for the same reason – and that reason goes far beyond embarrassment or stupidity.

If you’re a survivor of sexual violence, the cervical screening procedure is understandably reminiscent of your past trauma: the position and penetration; the exposure and vulnerability; the lack of control; and often even the language used, like “open your legs”, or “it’ll be quicker if you relax”. But, despite the difficulties, remember that you are just as worthy of good, preventative healthcare as anybody else.

While going for a smear will probably never be a pleasant experience, there are things that both you and your healthcare professionals can do to make the screening process as painless and stress-free as humanly possible.

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.