September is one of my favorite months of the year–warm days mixed with the slight cool breeze of the coming fall. It often reminds me of being eager and excited to learn new songs in music class as a little girl. “Dry Bones” keeps popping into my head as I’m walking around the neighborhood now and seeing kids going to school. You know the song: “Toe bone connected to the foot bone/Foot bone connected to the heel bone . . .”
Since September is National Ovarian Cancer & Gynecological Awareness Month, in my version of “Dry Bones,” I change the words a bit and relate it to female reproductive organs. Needs some work but here’s how it goes so far:
“The ovaries receive messages from the thyroid and pituitary gland.
The ovaries are connected to the fallopian tubes.
The fallopian tubes are connected to the uterus.
The uterus receives the ovary’s egg to either make a baby or create a lady’s red flow.
Doing the ovary dance.”
The more I play with my lyrics, the more I think that my version could help women learn/memorize parts of their bodies, because apparently, a shocking percentage of women are unfamiliar with their own reproductive system. A recent article shared these shocking statistics: fifty percent of female adults in the UK don’t know where the vagina is located and sixty-five percent are uncomfortable with saying the word vagina or vulva. I’m not sure if the percentage of women in the US would be dramatically different, but I suspect the difference would not be significant.
During the study, women were shown a drawing of the female reproductive system and asked to label the ovaries. Most women couldn’t. These findings are concerning! If there’s a lack of awareness about the location of female reproductive organs and a sense of shame about vocalizing words related to a beautiful woman’s body, what kind of negative impact does that have on a woman’s relationship with her body and health? Since the ovaries produce and safeguard a woman’s eggs and are the main producer of a gal’s female hormones, the ovaries—I like to refer to them as the bakers—are extremely vital to a woman’s health.
I can relate to being ignorant about a woman’s reproductive organs. I was pretty ignorant about my own. In my personal health journey, my body shared dozens of signals and messages with me, but for most of my adult life I was very disconnected from my female organs and my body and dragged them around for the ride. I often rationalized the signs away. I came up with lots of excuses for my excess gas, fatigue, constipation, bloating, and eye twitching. My most popular excuses were “I’m just getting older” and “If I would just go on a diet and lose ten pounds, I’m sure this would feeling would go away.”
Fortunately, irregular bleeding freaked me out and inspired me to go to my gynecologist. I learned I didn’t have an ovarian issue. My diagnosis was uterine hyperplasia with atypical cells. Luckily, taking action to figure out what was going on provided me with the precious gift of time to avoid uterine cancer. More important, it motivated me to become lifelong best friends with my body.
Here are four opportunities for improved ovarian and gynecological awareness:
- Create an Intimate Relationship
Although I agree with the need for women to understand symptoms, what’s often missed in the conversation is the need for women to form a strong relationship with and awareness of their body. The earlier little girls learn to appreciate and value their body, especially their female reproductive organs, the better. Wouldn’t it be super if young girls sang songs about their female bodies and hormones in reverence rather than shame? If a young girl or woman is disconnected from her body and dismissing the messages her body is sharing, even if she has knowledge of common symptoms, she might be less inclined to take action and seek help.
2. Listen Closely
Ovarian cancer is often referred to as a silent killer, because there is a perception that there are no symptoms or the symptoms are too vague. I believe the symptoms are there, and if you pay attention, they’re very clear. We know what feels normal and what doesn’t. To continue the drumbeat that women are not experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer continues to victimize women, rather than empower them to increase awareness and take responsibility for their health. Many others in women’s healthcare believe as I do, that symptoms are detectable. Listen to Dr. Heidi Gray, a gynecologic oncologist and surgeon, on Chat with Women, who describes common symptoms of ovarian cancer to look for. Read here for more symptoms of gynecological and ovarian issues.
3. Engage In Active Communication
Many athletes visualize hitting a home run, making a touchdown, or crossing a finish line. Visualization is a powerful tool for manifesting intentions and goals, and it’s not restricted to sports. You can visualize the health of your reproductive system. Just sit quietly, take a few deep breaths, and visualize your ovaries and other female organs. What do your ovaries look like? Your uterus? What color? What texture? If the picture presented isn’t your ideal, think about how you might change it. For example, during the early days of Operation Save Uterus, when I sat and visualized, I noticed weeds choking my female reproductive organs, so I pulled out the weeds and replaced them with beautiful vibrant flowers. In your own visualization, when your picture looks the way you want it to, listen to your organs. What sound does your uterus make? What do your ovaries say to you?
4. Seek out Empowering Information for Healthful Action
It’s helpful to be informed about increased risks of ovarian cancer, whether you’re a post-menopausal woman considering hormone therapy (HT), an Ashkenazi Jewish woman with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or a woman who’s considered obese (body mass index over 30) . These observed risks are general patterns across a broad spectrum of women. However, keep in mind that you are a unique lady with your own special and detailed pattern. To take advantage of the gift of each day, it’s beneficial to be engaged in steps you can control to improve your health. What lifestyle changes—exercise, diet, sleep, play, reducing Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMF’s) or Genetically Modified foods (GMO’s)—could you make in your daily life to create a healthier you? For example, a research report indicates that exercise may help prevent ovarian cancer. But exercise isn’t just great for your ovaries, it’s good for your uterus your heart, brain, hormones, and stress levels too! If you’re not a big fan of exercising, does some other form of movement (dance, Pilates, yoga, swimming, gardening) excite you?
As with any intimate and loving relationship, there are ups and downs. The beauty of a loving relationship with your health is the commitment to continuing to learn and appreciate the opportunities during the shifts and changes that happen over time. Your health is connected to your love bone. That’s what it’s all about.
- In case you haven’t signed the petition for The Robin Danielson Act of 2014, or if you’re unaware of the specifics, I strongly recommend reading about it and signing. This critical petition is before Congress to obligate companies who create tampons and pads to disclose their ingredients and provide research on Toxic Shock Syndrome and potential health risks associated with feminine hygiene products.
- For insights from an inspiring and special lady with ovarian cancer read here.
- Check out an important film about raising gynecologic cancer awareness.