“Get informed. Take Control. Tell a Friend.”
This was the advice given by Lisa-Ann Ogilvie, Founder of Caribbean Woman Addressing Uterine Fibroids and Project Manager at The Caribbean Events Group. We were at the launch of the first National Fibroid Awareness Week (March 15 – 21) – a friendly gathering with a slightly informal feel, despite the presence of some medical heavyweights in the room. Perhaps it was Ms. O’Gilvie’s uncompromisingly down to earth attitude that helped put us all at ease.
As I mentioned, this is a first. Governor General Sir Patrick Allen issued a proclamation on April 15, in which he noted: “I urge all citizens of Jamaica to join with the organizers…in recognizing the national impact of this significant medical ailment.” Her Excellency the Most Honourable Lady Allen is the Patron, and the Minister of Health and the Jamaica National Family Planning Board – Sexual Health Agency (JNFPB-SA) are partners. So is the Jamaica Gleaner; kudos to them for coming on board. Those are the major partners – there are a number of other companies and medical associations also supporting the cause. Well done, Ms. Ogilvie!
It’s a funny thing, but when “women’s diseases” are mentioned, the instinctive reaction is “eew” or “yuck.” Nobody wants to hear about them. People would prefer that any woman with one of these (often very common) ailments would just suffer in silence. Well, nowadays there is absolutely no good reason for this. In fact, there never was. When you consider that three out of four Jamaican women suffer from uterine fibroids, it is quite shameful that it is hardly discussed. The aim of Caribbean Woman is to help remove some of that stigma, to share information on the disease and to encourage more open discussion among the general public and health professionals. There are many positives to this: among other things, it would get the message out that one should go to the doctor and get checked out! Postponing diagnosis and treatment can lead to more health problems. Ultimately, early diagnosis would be also less of a strain on the health system, on women’s lives and those of their families, and on productivity.
Executive Director of the JNFPB-SHA Dr. Denise Chevannes-Vogel pointed out to us that health issues like fibroids cannot be swept under the carpet. She expressed solidarity with the women who suffer, and urged the medical profession to “speak the language of the people” in educating the public. Jamaicans get very nervous about medical diagnoses and are often in awe of doctors – who do need to cultivate a better “bedside manner,” communicate properly and be more sensitive and sympathetic. From my own experience, I heartily concur.
I understand that black women are much more likely to have fibroids. Professor Horace Fletcher, Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI) said breezily that Jamaicans especially “tend to get very big ones,” giving us some rather extreme examples. Oh, Lord! But not all fibroids need to be treated and not everyone has symptoms. Recurring fibroids that keep growing back will greatly reduce your chances of childbirth, however. Professor Fletcher suggested that if you have fibroids and they are not causing you major problems, wait until you have children first and then deal with them afterwards.
Dr. Sandra Knight, the outgoing Chair of the JNFPB-SHA, told us she had an early menopause in her twenties, which was “pretty traumatizing.” I can hardly imagine. She also asked the medical profession to work on giving a “softer touch.” Invite partners to join consultations, she urged; this is a problem that affects couples. Also, Dr. Knight said, “Men ask different questions.” She told us that research is being done into alternative treatments for small, asymptomatic fibroids (dandelion, burdock root and milk thistle are some of the herbal remedies being explored).
And what of the men? They have a role to play, all agreed. They worry about their partners’ health, and they must be able to offer support; but they also need to be informed about the disease in order to be able to help.
Dr. Clive Lai is the President Elect of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ). He fully endorsed the campaign, noting that GPs are the first to see patients and must also be sensitized. He told us about the Jamaica Midlife Health Society, an MAJ affiliate, which I confess I was not familiar with. Yes, the Society has a Facebook page!
Terry-Anne Wilson of the Gleaner had been doing some research in that venerable institution’s archives, and came up with an article from 1892 about some research that suggested that electricity might be used to cure fibroids, cancer and other “incurable” diseases. I can’t say I like the sound of that.
Ms. O’Gilvie shared with us that she herself had suffered from fibroids. She became “rotund,” she said, and anemic. At the time she was a dancer at L’Acadco. Everyone was very secretive about it, she said. She refused to have a hysterectomy.
So what’s happening this week? Things kicked off with a major medical symposium, yesterday – a full day of scientific presentations at UWI. As the week continues, you will see videos, hear voice PSAs, and find a great deal more content on social media. Another great idea is to have Lunch Hour Meet Up events at workplaces. Some designated Campaign Ambassadors are working on those for every weekday, this week. It’s a great idea to discuss these issues in small groups and get the word to spread – the “each one, teach one” concept. You can find full details of activities at http://fibroidsjamaica.com and by following @fibroidsjamaica on Twitter. There’s a form on the website where you can leave comments and questions, and obtain feedback. Wednesday, May 18 is Fibroid Awareness Day, when a special reference publication will be distributed across the island via the Gleaner. Look out for it!
To round off the week, there will be a free public seminar on Saturday, May 21, 2016, starting at 12 noon at the Karl Hendricks Auditorium, Jamaica College, which will be formally opened by Campaign Patron Lady Allen (herself a former nurse). Do go along, bring a friend and get more information. There will be exhibits, presentations and consultations. And it is not only for men; like all other women’s diseases, this is something that affects the whole family. Bring your men!
Let’s get the discussion going. Let’s dispel those fears.