A Woman’s Health Perspective

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) is dedicated to improving women’s health through science, policy, and education. In addition to identifying scientific knowledge and policy gaps to advance women’s health care and research, understanding women’s individual experiences and journey can inform providers and policy decision-makers on critical gaps in women’s health.

Your story can also help educate and inform other women who may be going through a similar experience.

SWHR is asking women to share their personal health journeys, to be posted on the SWHR website and other SWHR-branded material, as appropriate. In addition to patient stories, SWHR is interested in the stories of those who serve as caregiver for a family member (parent, spouse, child, etc.). Your story is powerful and we hope to share with policymakers, researchers, providers and most importantly, other women. (Your story will not to be used to promote or advocate for a specific company, product or medication, or individual.)

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Interested in sharing your story?  Please complete the short submission form using the button below. You will be contacted if SWHR chooses to profile your story. SWHR keeps all information private. Please provide your preferred contact information so that our team is able to reach you for follow-up information and/or to schedule an interview. Please contact communications [at] swhr.org with any questions.

Read these Women’s Health Perspectives

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Arielle’s Autoimmune Health Journey

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I thought that I was perfectly healthy until age 54. I worked full time for 35 years in the technology industry as a programmer analyst, project manager, and system engineer.

One day at work I remember experiencing a sensation that I had never had before. It felt like a strobe light had gone off in my brain. I tried to push it aside and concentrate on the task at hand.  Eventually, the sensation subsided. I later described it to my physician, who diagnosed me with anxiety. Two months after the initial episode, I went to the emergency room with stroke-like symptoms and a severe headache. A brain computerized tomography (CT) showed an intercranial atypical meningioma that was causing hydrocephaly – an abnormal buildup of fluid in the cavities within my brain. Doctors sent me for a procedure, and I had a successful emergency craniotomy.

Two years later, I am doing pretty well overall. Since my headaches and surgery, I have been diagnosed with cervical cancer and an autoimmune thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s. I now receive an annual brain MRI to detect regrowth of the meningioma, which was causing the strobe sensation and fluid buildup in my brain. While the cancer diagnosis was difficult, the toughest women’s health issue for me has been my Hashimoto’s. It was not diagnosed by my physician, so I had to refer myself to an endocrinologist to receive the diagnosis.

I also occasionally have trouble with my eyes, but I don’t yet know whether the symptoms are thyroid eye disease or not. I am seeking feedback from an eye doctor.

I am sharing my story so other women understand how quickly our health can change and that sometimes being your own health advocate is a role that everyone, and women especially, may have to take on at some point. Trust yourself and persevere until you understand your underlying health issues. Published November 29, 2022

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Marcia Lawrence Soltes’ Menopause Journey

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On an August afternoon, at the age of 49, without any warning, I became engulfed in a maelstrom of insanity that spanned 17 days and nearly destroyed me. Had it not been for a loving rescue by friends, an artful diagnosis by an extraordinary psychiatrist, and an incredible amount of luck, I doubt I would have survived. Yet, my diagnosis was only a blood test away.

It was the gradual, almost imperceptible shift in my hormonal balance that made it hard to understand the cause of the changes that were happening to me. I just wasn’t feeling right. I suffered from a number of vague physical symptoms. Sometimes I would feel a crawling sensation up and down my legs, as though there were something moving under my skin. I experienced tingling and numbness in my fingers, and there was a feeling of pressure in my lower abdomen. I even began to experience irregular periods, but no one, not my internist or my gynecologist, ever raised the possibility that hormone changes connected to menopause might be at the root of my symptoms.

I was surprised that I never experienced ‘hot flashes,’ which are typical perimenopausal symptoms. Instead, it seems that estrogen deficiency can be a factor whether or not there are any other recognizable symptoms. If anyone had suggested that my delusions were triggered by a mundane biological event, I would not have believed them. Although I was educated, well-read, and medically aware, I had never heard that a hormonal imbalance could wreak such havoc on the brain.

I have learned that perimenopausal depression is a psychological disorder that can be biologically triggered. There are endocrine signs that can be evaluated. Hormone therapy can help to address some of the symptoms, as it did for me. Estrogen replacement to correct my hormone imbalance enabled my recovery, and the psychoanalytic setting helped me to separate out the physical factors from the psychological ones.  Aside from my family, I have never shared the most important information that resulted from my ordeal, which was discovering that my mother suffered a severe clinical depression at the same age as me. Unfortunately, my mother was subjected to electroshock therapy since perimenopausal depression would not have been on anyone’s radar at that time.

I now realize that I am one of those women who is predisposed to complications from the loss of estrogen, even though I was never depressed. Not only was my energy level high, but to the casual observer there was nothing remarkable about my behavior. It appears that throughout the 17 days of my delusion, I manifested symptoms in a manic phase. Today, I understand that what I needed and what worked for me was a short term estrogen replacement, and this has given me back a life free of the trauma I lived through. Published August 29, 2022

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Deborah’s Menopause Journey

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Let’s begin with my menopause symptoms: night heat with my temperature rising but no sweating, bone density problems, very high cholesterol, weight gain, and heart palpitations. Sometimes, I could not even breathe white sitting on the couch. I was 65. So, I got a new primary care doctor, a gynecologist, and cardiologist, and tried women’s hormones.  

After a few years, I finally have the whole combination of different supportive medications, hormones, and supplements in an ideal place and feel fine. All is working well, I feel great, and I am balancing minimum dosages on each of these supportive tools. I also have thyroid issues but that, too, is going well. What a difference a day makes!  

The hard part now is that there is no central place to connect to get all the parts together when it comes to menopause care. It took me four years to put all the pieces together for my own health—and I have been a laboratory director and medical technologist for 40 years. It would be great to have a central care hub for menopausal women to address all the symptoms so that they can find relief quickly. Published August 25, 2022

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Amanda Gorman’s Breastfeeding Journey 

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Like most new moms, I didn’t expect to have problems breastfeeding, especially since my husband and I are primary care providers. If anyone had resources at their disposal, it was me.  

Yet, breastfeeding my first child was a nightmare, and I struggled mightily. My breastfeeding journey landed me in the emergency room with fever and mastitis, a painful inflammation caused by blocked milk ducts that affects one in 10 women who breastfeed.   

Desperate for help, I resorted to paying out of pocket for a lactation consultant to provide guidance and support to get me through one of the toughest times in my life. I recognize the privilege of being able to pay several hundreds of dollars for a single consultation with a lactation provider, an option many women don’t have. Still, it didn’t seem right for this to be necessary for anyone.  

After the frustrating go with my first child, and another terrible struggle with my second child three years later, I began searching for answers. How could finding help be so difficult and expensive, when families are following their provider’s recommendations?  Why is breastfeeding promoted if there isn’t enough accessible support to succeed?    

I found that despite the clear research identifying current barriers for breastfeeding families, and additional evidence showing what interventions actually work, nobody seemed to be using these to address the problem. So, I set out to do it, applying technology, the use of video visits, also known as telehealth, to mitigate the one variable unsolved – a shortage of trained support providers.    

Further, my efforts led me to realize that, since 2012, breastfeeding support had been labeled a “preventive service” under the Affordable Care Act for which almost all insurance companies were required to cover. Despite these legal mandates, insurers weren’t covering it at all, leaving parents to fend for themselves in the weeks that are most crucial for breastfeeding success.   

This did not sit well with me, so the gloves came off and I started fighting. Insurers were a big hurdle, but there were others, too.  

The very people trained to help families, lactation consultants, were not only in short supply, but were siloed from the health care system, creating a huge gap in maternal-child health care. There are currently fewer than half the number of International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (ICBLCs) per 1,000 live births in the United States than the Surgeon General recommends. Together, these factors cause significant hardship and lead to early breastfeeding termination.  

Determined to change the system, I set out to create a way for parents to access evidence-based breastfeeding support, aimed at improving success rates, without having to worry about the cost. That’s when I founded the telehealth platform, Nest Collaborative. Five years later, we are fully executing on my mission: ensuring all families have early and evidence-based access to comprehensive breastfeeding support regardless of socioeconomic status, location, or feeding choices.   

Today, I continue to advocate for families, so they have access to the care they need. Published August 25, 2022

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Salewa Akintilo’s Endometriosis and Self-Advocacy Journey

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I’m a 29-year-old living with three “invisible illnesses:” Crohn’s disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and endometriosis. Chronic pain has been a part of my life since I can remember, but I didn’t get diagnoses for my conditions until I was 19, 28, and 29, respectively. Like many others, my journey has been expensive and arduous, and it isn’t over.  

As a young girl, I always had stomach issues. I would eat something and less than an hour to 24 hours later, I would have terrible stomach pain and diarrhea, and I would be sweating and puking. Sometimes, I would have eaten the same thing as the rest of my family but would be the only one sick. Doctors both in Nigeria and America told my parents and I that I simply had a sensitive stomach. At 14, I started school in the United States and started getting sick very often. I had my first ovarian cyst when I was 15, and then started having pelvic pain on top of long, heavy, painful periods. My primary care provider (PCP) told me that it was all in my head and due to my weight fluctuations, so he wouldn’t do any further tests. The gynecologists put me on birth control pills. Nothing improved and I was shamed often for being so sickly because “it was all my fault.”  

By 19, I had been to emergency rooms (ER) and doctors’ offices often. Sophomore year of college, the ER visits had gotten so frequent and the stomach pain so bad that my PCP referred me to a gastroenterologist. They found that my gallbladder wasn’t working properly and needed to be removed. Once that was done, they called me back to tell me that they noticed blood in my stool and some other things that needed to be observed by a colonoscopy or endoscopy. Then they discovered that I had ulcerative colitis. They suspected I’d probably had this since I was young. Let me tell you, I almost cried out with relief. Finally, I wasn’t crazy. People would listen to me and see that it wasn’t me ruining my health. There was something else going on. 

I struggled a lot in my junior year of college but made it somehow. At the end, I went back to the gastroenterologist in worse pain. I underwent a pill camera and found that I had Crohn’s disease. I remembered that my PCP had brought this condition up at one point but discounted it because I didn’t have one of the common symptoms: weight loss. I was “too big” to be a person suffering from Crohn’s, he thought. This is something that I still hear today, along with “you don’t look sick.”  

I was put on a new drug in 2016—after years of various medications, hospitalizations, home remedies, and diets didn’t work. Five years later, I hit remission! The new drug has been life-changing, both positively and negatively. It does make it harder for me to fight infections, so I get sick very easily and take much longer to recover. Sometimes, a round of antibiotics isn’t enough and I need steroids to help my immune system.  

While I was dealing with Crohn’s, the pelvic pain never went away but the gynecologists never knew what caused it. PCOS and endometriosis were mentioned a lot, but I didn’t have two of the common symptoms, so they were discounted. Their solution was to try different birth control pills and then an intrauterine device (IUD), which made things worse. The gynecologist at that time gave me strong painkillers and ‘called it a day.’ After eight months, I found another gynecologist who removed the IUD and had me try a different IUD. The pain remained, but I wasn’t getting periods. This gynecologist told me that if the pain didn’t send me to the hospital, then it really wasn’t that bad. It took two more years of pain and imaging due to my Crohn’s disease to force my gynecologist to do further testing, only to discover that I indeed have PCOS. She told me I needed to lose weight and put me on a new drug. This ruined my body and made it difficult for me to work. Instead of sticking to my old pattern of dealing with it, in two months I sought out a second opinion from an endocrinologist. She took me off the drug immediately and we came up with a plan together that has been helping me. I had taken the time to do thorough research and find a new gynecologist. At the end, she solved the mystery of the pelvic pain: endometriosis.  

Currently, I’m dealing with a bunch of negative side effects from trying different meds. But I’m being gentle with myself. That’s really the biggest thing for me now. Be it taking naps, staying in on weekends, or eating microwaveable vegetables instead of fresh veggies on days when I’m too weak to cook. I’ve also added a primary care nurse practitioner and a chiropractor to my medical team; they have been great additions. All the things that I had previously been told “didn’t exist” by past health professionals, they’ve confirmed exist and are trying to assist me in dealing with them.  

My advice to others is to listen to your body and don’t give up. You have to be your champion, your advocate. It’s your life, fight for it. Then, find a health care professional that listens to you and also doesn’t give up. This journey isn’t a straight path. Science still has a lot to figure out about women’s health. Yet, it is ever evolving and I believe one day it will solve all those mysteries.  

When I get sad or frustrated about my situation or every setback, I think about the saying “into every life some rain must fall”. All one can really do is weather out each storm and come out stronger each time.  Published August 25, 2022

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Amy Kelly’s Fertility Journey

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I have always been career-driven and did not want anything to get in the way of my professional opportunities. After completing my PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), I looked around and felt like I had been left behind in the dating world. It seemed like everyone had gotten married while I was in the lab. 

Just before my 35th birthday, I scheduled egg retrievals as an insurance policy, sure that I would find someone eventually. The process was set to start days after I was running the Boston marathon. I was devastated when they only harvested two eggs. Only then did the doctor mention that the hormones dissolve in fat and I did not have enough in my stomach where I had been giving myself injections. I sat stunned at how this could be a revelation to anyone. So, we did another round with better, but still mediocre, results. Then, I signed up for my third round of retrieval, and the doctor mentioned we would have to wait a month for my body to recover. I asked why we did not follow that between the first two rounds, and he said, “Oh, well that should not have happened.” The process is horrific. I was giving myself shots in my triceps, which involved balancing an adjustable wrench so I could pinch the skin properly. Going through these gymnastics alone each night was about the best reminder possible that I was truly alone, having to do this because I had not found a partner. The trigger shots taken prior to retrieval come in blunt syringes where one has to twist the needle to puncture the skin. The levels of hormones pumping puts one through the darkest, drastically emotional states.  

A few years passed, and the prospect of finding someone faded further. I began shopping for sperm. A surreal experience, I found myself deciding all sorts of genetic components for my children. Still unwilling to give up the idea of a husband, I fertilized half of my eggs with the donor. None became viable embryos. With money and faith running dry, I fertilized the rest with the same donor. Three embryos grew. Genetic tests showed one mutant and two girls, and I had the two viable embryos implanted together. The first 13 weeks, intramuscular injections and invasive intravaginal probes were the cadence of my life. After being released to an OB-GYN, I did a lot of my own research, as many doctors are still not up to date on the needs of a multiple pregnancy. The c-section date was set, as twins are not allowed to go to full term, and my little ladies were removed. One was quickly brought up to the newborn intensive care unit (NICU), and I spent a few minutes with my other daughter until she was whisked away. My uterus was so large it could not shrink down properly and instead filled with blood clots. The nurses notified a doctor, who came in and got my permission for a blood transfusion as I had lost 2.5 liters of blood.   

Today, two tiny versions of me lie together in their crib and sing in unison “I love you momma!” Raising twin two-year-old girls in a global pandemic without any support has been madness, but when I close their door blowing good night kisses, nothing else matters. 

Aside from health care and backup care, I have not received any support from work. As a line manager myself now, I would suggest leaders keep these few things in mind: it is a ridiculously draining journey, so keep open communication and give your direct report(s) space to step back, if necessary. I was flagged in my company’s human resources system because I was out of the office so often for appointments and surgeries, so allowing people to work from home during these procedures would be beneficial so that they can arrange their work around the appointments and for days when the medication makes them physically ill. For those higher in the organization, I would suggest looking into medical policies that cover not only the medications, but the surgeries for IVF as well. It could be a key differentiator for attracting and retaining female talent. Published August 25, 2022

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Elizabeth Medeiros’ Psoriatic Arthritis Journey

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SWHR spoke with Elizabeth Medeiros, patient advocate and author of “The Girl with Arthritis“ blog, about her journey with psoriatic arthritis. Read the blog post capturing takeaways from the conversation. Published May 11, 2022

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Tammy Anderson’s Caregiving Journey

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SWHR spoke with Tammy Anderson, an advocate and volunteer with Wake Up Narcolepsy, about her journey caring for her child with narcolepsy. Read the blog post capturing takeaways from the conversation. Published June 14, 2022

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Esther Merlvin’s Cancer Journey

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Esther Melvin, cancer patient advocate and survivor, wrote a guest blog post about her experience with cryoablation treatment, for SWHR. Read the blog post. Published April 12, 2022

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Juana Mata’s Lupus Journey

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SWHR spoke with Juana Mata, a patient advocate and co-founder of Looms for Lupus and Mata Advocacy and Support, about her journey with lupus. Read the blog post capturing takeaways from the conversation. Published March 23, 2022

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Sarah Gorman’s Sleep Apnea Journey

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Sarah Gorman, patient advocate and president of the Alliance of Sleep Apnea Partners (ASAP), wrote a guest blog post about her sleep apnea diagnosis for SWHR. Read the blog post. Published March 18, 2022

A Woman’s Health Perspective: Sara Stamey’s Menopause Journey

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SWHR spoke with Sara Stamey, author of Pause and The Rambling Writer blog, about her journey with menopause. Read the blog post capturing takeaways from the conversation. Published January 28, 2022

SWHR’s Women’s Health Perspective series includes firsthand accounts of individuals’ personal health care and/or caregiving experiences. The views expressed here are those of the individuals and not of SWHR. SWHR does not make medical, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Patients and consumers should consult a professional health care provider to determine individual needs.