Gynae’s are a Girl’s Best Friend
Or at least they should be. When was the last time you saw one, if ever?
[6 minute read]
I’ve just turned 30 and to my knowledge, I’ve never seen a gynaecologist.
And I share this because I suspect I might not be alone in this. I’m quite sure that many of my friends in their 20s and early 30s are in the same boat, though admittedly we rarely speak about ‘down there’ health beyond the odd, empathetic rant about periods.
Maybe we’ve always been too embarrassed.
Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know.
Can you relate?
Of course, I’ve undertaken all of the recommended screenings for a woman my age and have done so for the last 10-12 years (usually prompted by my dear Mother, who’s very on top of these things). But as for sitting down with a Specialist…
I simply have to confess that I didn’t realise just how important it all was. I think I always just assumed that Gynae’s were there for things like PCOS, endometriosis and managing pre/post natal life.
The reality is that Gynaecologists cover menstruation to menopause and everything in between. People with female reproductive organs are in a constant state of flux with hormones and developmental changes – we absolutely need the support of a trusted medical professional at each stage of life.
What’s with the overshare?!
Now normally I wouldn’t share such details on a public forum, but I’m starting to realise just how much Women’s Health is impacted by stigma and shame. It’s also hugely influenced by the education we’re exposed to throughout our lives; it’s easy for fall into a state of naivety, ignorance or complacency if we’ve never encountered the right information.
Naivety perhaps best explains my position up until now, which isn’t something I’m proud of. I suspect I’ve taken my health and access to medical care for granted, having had the incredible privilege of being supported by Australia’s Medicare system for my younger years, and now, the NHS.
Now I’ve never received a referral to a Gynaecologist given that my GP was able to personally administer the basic testing or screenings required – I’d always just assumed that this was the norm for someone who has no concerns or (known) issues…
But given that prevention is the best medicine, shouldn’t today’s medical systems be guiding all young women towards a Gynaecologist, even just for a routine check up every few years?
I’m sure it comes down to lack of funding and staff shortages, meaning that we as individuals need to initiate more conversations around Women’s Health from a precautionary standpoint.
And yet, even in my desire to champion preventative care, I can’t help thinking how lucky we are in both Australia and the UK to even have healthcare options. The real fight for Women’s Health is happening far beyond our immediate experiences, for at this moment, women in developing nations continue to face life-threatening issues such as maternal mortality, female genital cutting, HIV/AIDS and child marriage. 20 million women per year suffer serious childbirth complications, including infertility, and 300,000 will die as a result of complications with pregnancy or childbirth.
A question of culture?
Boniface Verrney-Carron, Oona Co-Founder and Osteopath, shares with me that young girls in France are encouraged to see a Gynaecologist every 6 months from the moment they become sexually active. It’s incorporated into the process of accessing contraceptive options, which makes complete sense, right? If you’re only prescribed the pill for 6 months, you’re likely to come back for a new script, which then allows for key screenings to be completed.
If you fall pregnant, I’m told that you usually see the same Gynaecologist / Obstetrician throughout the pregnancy, given that they already know a great deal about your medical and sexual history. Once your baby is born, you’ll also be examined by your Gynae in hospital before being allowed to leave, and will be scheduled for a postpartum check up in 6 weeks time, before returning to your 6 monthly appointments…
Imagine if this kind of system existed in the UK? I suspect we’d all be much less embarrassed about our intimate health, and much healthier in the process.
The Lady Garden Foundation
One of the most important reasons to see a Gynaecologist on a regular basis is for the prevention and detection of life-threatening diseases. This September marks Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, and it is an honour for Oona to partner with leading female cancer research charity, The Lady Garden Foundation.
Across Oona’s social media platforms, blog and podcast, you’ll be able to access the latest findings on Women’s Health, including the key symptoms of Gynaecological cancer (click here!)
Our ultimate goal with LGF is to arm you with the information and resources that might otherwise be hidden under stigma, shame or lack of medical funding. In many cases, the red flags are missed, ignored or misattributed, making it more important than ever to open up the discussion amongst ourselves. We simply can’t make the scary statistics a thing of the past unless we can talk about these issues first.
- There are 5 types of Gynaecological Cancer: Ovarian, Cervical, Uterine (womb), Vaginal and Vulval.
- 21 women will die of Gynae Cancer today and 57 more will be diagnosed. The mortality rate sits at 37%.
- Over 21,000 women in the UK are diagnosed each year with gynaecological cancers
- Cervical Cancer is the most common cancer for women under 35 years old
- More than 8 out of 10 Ovarian cancers occur in women of the age of 50
- LGF’s 2014 surveys show that 41% of women were too embarrassed to go to the doctor about a gynaecological issue, let alone talk to a friend
Lady Garden Foundation Chairwoman Jenny Halpern Prince shares that the symptoms of gynaecological cancers are particularly problematic as they’re often misattributed to IBS in young women. Quite often there are actually no signs at all until a cancer has advanced, which means that we really need to be across our preventative care wherever possible.
If you’re not someone who regularly tracks their period or feels well acquainted with the feel and look of their bits, now is the perfect time to start changing the relationship – the more aware we are of subtle changes, the better.
Below are some of the most common symptoms of Cervical Cancer.
- Unusual / Severe bleeding
- Discomfort from Sex
- Pain in your lower back or pelvic area
- Unpleasant vaginal discharge
- Urinary or Bowel Incontinence
What’s important to note here is how common these symptoms are in day to day life, especially given the cross over with Gut Health issues.
Please don’t wait to talk to a GP and Gynaecologist if any of these symptoms speak to you!
First and foremost, please know that you’re not alone. There’s no need to be embarrassed or ashamed. Women’s Health has been weaponised by the patriarchy throughout history and it’s going to feel strange to work against the stigmas.
Next, go to your GP and ask for a referral to see a Gynaecologist – I’ve just made my appointment to start the process. Whether you’ve noticed symptoms or just have a general feeling of ‘something’s not quite right,’ it’s always worth asking for support and guidance. Regular check-ups need to be normalised, so don’t feel you need to have a dramatic reason to go!
And finally, if you do nothing else, please use this Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month to engage with Lady Garden’s campaign:
- Spend 5 minutes with a mirror to build a better relationship with your vulva.
Have a look, have a feel, get to know the in’s and out’s.
- Share this information with 5 women in your social circles. It could save their life. You could send them this blog post, or take a high-five selfie to share on social media, tagging 5 loved ones.
- Text GIVEFIVE to 70450 to donate £5.00 to support The Lady Garden’s groundbreaking work in raising vital funds for gynaecological cancer research and treatments.