Written by Hayley Solich for Kath Mazzella OAM
I am standing at the MCG … surrounded by a football field of women who are living with a Gynaecological/Sexual Health condition. The television crews are filming as I step up to the microphone and start to share the stories of the millions of women who suffer in silence.
Some are stories of loss of life and I can feel the empathy in the crowd, the deep sorrow for the departure of dynamic women, taken too soon. Women like Sarah Tait, Australian Olympian who recently died aged just 33 years from Cervical Cancer.
Others are the stories of the living, the ‘lucky ones’, who every day deals with the complications of their particular condition.
For some it is the constant debilitating pain or the discomfort that means they can’t sit for long. For many it is the feelings of insecurity, of personal grief and self-awareness; the deep mental anguish that comes from not being fully functional.
Other stories focus on the ones that are in and out of surgical wards, whilst desperately trying to keep themselves employed and in relationships with significant others.
And sadly, there are those who are sitting with the agonising knowledge that their condition has caused their infertility and they will never hold a baby in their arms…their homes are houses of tension, with partners deeply affected.
Then I wake up and smell the roses because despite my 20 years of dedicated and tenacious advocacy, we are just not at this point yet … but I live in hope.
Prior to my gaining recognition for my work via the Western Australian Senior of the Year Award in 2012, awarded for service to the community in both the Beyond Blue category and overall, there didn’t appear to be a publicly acknowledged link between a woman’s gynaecological/sexual health and her mental health. No-one seemed to be talking about it, even though many of us were aware that if a woman is not feeling up to it, then the ‘big bedroom’ event simply is not going to happen.
With approximately 2 million women in Australia with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and over 1 million women (approximately 1 in 20) suffering from Endometriosis, which are just two of a plethora of possible gynaecological/sexual health complications that have a huge psycho-social impact on the women affected, that is potentially a lot of ‘big bedroom’ events going astray. And when we look closely at how many women are affected, that is potentially a lot of men in the community who are feeling the ripple effect.
And what is astounding is the lingering public attitude towards these types of complications, that they are only to be shared behind closed doors and in small group forums of the likeminded. Further, it is disappointing that many women’s groups seem reluctant to have this on their agenda and find it difficult to discuss. Imagine if they would support an MCG event as described above…we might just achieve some success like the breast cancer advocates.
Sadly, many young women don their public faces, posing for their selfies, but privately are crying on the inside for someone to recognise and understand their pain.
One small step forward …
With the 2015 endorsement of the United Nations where they stated their 2030 goal to be: “We are committed to ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education”, I am encouraged that we are making progress, if only a small step forward.
However, there is a long way to go until we see Gynaecological/Sexual and associated Mental Health on the community and corporate agendas in a way that meets this 2030 goal of the United Nations. In particular, I would love to see corporate Australia look beyond the medical model of educating workers and invite the community voice, as there is power in the sharing of our stories. Also for community Australia to celebrate the International GYN Awareness Day on 10 September annually and get behind the #UndiesForBetterUnderstanding and Undies Quilting campaigns.
The Media Play an Important Role in Moving This Connection Forward
Why is it that something so simple, yet profound, has been overlooked for so long?
Every woman knows that her mood is affected by her cycle and so does every man in her world! There are so many hurdles for women – depression, hormonal imbalances that affect their emotions and the life changing possibility of pregnancy. Yet where is the education about the other areas of a woman’s gynaecological and sexual wellbeing? Where are our young women being encouraged to speak about these sensitive issues? These are areas that can contribute to feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression. And where are the people who work with the mind, connecting what they are seeing and hearing with what is going on in the rest of the body?
The Media have the reach, we have the message. It is time to join forces.
I would like to challenge the Media to become more educated about women’s Gynaecological/Sexual and associated Mental Health by creating opportunities for women to share their stories and assisting to break down the walls of silence and isolation.
It would also be wildly wonderful to see interviews with men sharing their stories of supporting their partners, like Glenn McGrath did with breast cancer. We need our male advocates to be loud voices in this arena, as they are invested partners.
From personal experience I have found that men can be reluctant to talk about this topic until it becomes personal for them. Becoming personal can be either experiencing it when a loved one has a challenge or hearing other’s stories, as was the case for one man I approached from the Chamber of Commerce. His initial response was resistance but after hearing an interview on Endometriosis, he made contact to express the change in his attitude and desire to assist to get the message out to his community. I suggested he come from the mental health workplace impact, with a twist of Gynaecological awareness, inviting a Gynaecologist and a Health Consumer to open up the conversation.
To my surprise a renowned Real Estate Director was the second one to put his hand up and commented he has two girls in his office, one with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and one with Endometriosis and he has a full understanding of why we need to discuss these issues in the public realm and offered to put his full weight behind the campaign.
The silence must be broken and we need the Media to not be afraid to be the loudspeaker system for this cause.
About Kath Mazzella
Kath Mazzella OAM is a multi-award winning Gynaecological and Sexual Health Speaker and Advocate. A gynaecological cancer survivor, she shares her inspirational story in order to help break down the stigmas and barriers associated. Co-author of the book, ‘Not So Secret Women’s Business’ and soon to be released follow up book, ‘Unknotting Your Knickers’, she approaches her advocacy in a fun way. The first book shares stories about different conditions and offers helpful practical tips from a non-clinical perspective to partners in how to best support women with these conditions. The second is a mental health survival guide aimed at educating women and men about the connections between physical and mental health. It includes stories of women going through and having already come through challenges, as well as the stories of men who have supported women with conditions. For more information to obtain these resources please visit www.kathmazzella.com.
Order of Australia Medal Cancer Australia – Gynaecological Cancers
Beyond Blue Senior of Year WA 2012 WA Senior of Year 2012
WA Sexology Assoc. Life Member Momentum Women’s Forum
Global Women Summit WA Founder/Life member GAIN Inc.
Executive Women’s Forum Inductee Womens Hall of Fame WA
Local Community Champion City of Perth Zonta Intern. District 23
Inductee Our Bodies Ourselves Women’s Health Hero USA
Short listed Australian Centre: Women in Leadership 2015