Nipping Health Issues In The Bud!

Nipping Health Issues In The Bud!

By: Shriya H

 

I was sitting at my desk at ASAAP when I got the call from the walk-in clinic letting me know my results had arrived. Outwardly, I think I appeared calm and controlled as I slowly moved to a more private area of my workplace. When could I come by to get the results? Would tomorrow be a possibility? Would it be the same doctor as the one who had previously examined me? I likely sounded a little stressed because the receptionist assured me that it was not urgent, and I felt some relief.

 

You see, a few days ago, I started experiencing a sharp pain in my left nipple; when I took a closer look, it was clear that there was a visible hard lump. It’s not the kind of thing brown girls are encouraged to talk openly about – or seek support on. I think women in particular are taught to temper our reactions to discomforts related to our own bodies; I see this particularly in medical contexts with the vast body of evidence revealing how doctors do not take women’s pain seriously(1), (2), (3). I see it happen in social contexts where women’s emotional pain, anxieties, and general stress is minimized by friends. But I’m lucky in some ways: I have a great group of close-knit feminist friends where we’ve normalised talking about our bodies. I feel comfortable advocating for myself in doctor’s offices and explaining my health needs. I feel no real sense of shame in discussing breast health or sexual health in the abstract. I find working in an environment that advocates for sexual health for brown girls is incredibly rewarding. I’m incredibly grateful for this combination of support systems and internal sense of lack of shame about my body.

 

Yet the need for support for women’s sexual health and breast health is rarely discussed openly and I certainly didn’t want to needlessly alarm my friends or colleagues. More than anything, I didn’t want to alarm family without any concrete evidence about what was going on; my parents have consistently preferred concrete answers and envision support on a practical level related to next steps we could take. Generally, my anxiety around my health without concrete answers tends to exacerbate their worry too. I felt a certain degree of irrational guilt that I hadn’t maintained a regular routine of breast self-examinations over the past few years. Or the fact that while I’ve suggested friends get a PAP test or physical exam, I’ve never had either despite being in my mid twenties. Sexual health conversations in many of our families and communities are seen as “not for us/for white people/unnecessary/why do you need it?” It’s likely I’ve internalised some of those notions when it comes to my own personal health despite how much I cognitively recognize the need for sexual health in our communities, and advocate for these conversations on a day to day basis in the context of my work.

 

Well, I needed those conversations, because here I was with a painful lump in my nipple, needing some emotional support and not at all really sure how to ask for it. It’s a clogged duct. It’s a cyst. Pfft it’s not cancer. I hope it’s not an abscess! These were some of the thoughts bouncing around my head, which I finally voiced to a few people close to me. I’m not the most proactive when it comes to my own personal health, and I’m lucky to have friends who gently pushed me to go see a doctor.
By the time I told my mother, I could at least tell her that bloodwork had been completed, that I was going for an ultrasound the next day, and that results would be in by the end of the week. She still sent me a link worried that it was cancer, and by then I was emotionally better prepared to help her manage her anxiety about my health. Maybe that’s part of the puzzle as to why sexual health conversations don’t frequently happen in South Asian families: We don’t want to worry our parents. And, more selfishly, we don’t want to manage their worries for us.

 

And as for the results, I still don’t know, but I’ll be finding out soon. Regardless of what the outcome is, I’m thankful for my social networks in emotionally supporting me in my time of need, and the first person I’ll call after my results is of course going to be Mom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/emergency-room-wait-times-sexism/410515/
Date retrieved: 20/10/2016

2) https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=383803
Date retrieved: 20/10/2016

3) https://www.theguardian.com/society/shortcuts/2016/jan/11/women-brain-tumour-medical-symptoms-depression-diagnosis-gender
Date retrieved: 20/10/2016