In mid-May this year, I woke up to a heavy pain in my abdomen. It was so bad I could barely walk. An hour later, as the pain eased, I made an appointment with my OBGYN. At said appointment a few days later, I had an ultrasound to discover that I had a cyst on my ovary measuring 7cm (about the size of a tennis ball). A few weeks later I went back to my doctor to discover that three more cysts had grown on my other ovary, all about the size of golf balls.
In August, I had an outpatient laparoscopic surgery to remove the cysts, and from that surgery they were able to diagnose me with borderline Stage IV Endometriosis. Endometriosis is a chronic illness that happens to one in every ten women where the endometrial tissue that grows inside the uterus (the tissue that sheds blood and causes periods) grows in places it’s not suppose to, like ovaries, fallopian tubes, even sometimes the lungs and the brain.
It takes on average about eight years from when a woman starts having symptoms to when they are diagnosed. But these compiled statistics only apply to cisgender women, what about trans men? No matter what stage of transition trans men have gone through, they still fall under the umbrella of ‘women’s health’. But how can they get the healthcare they need when there’s a double stigma -around not only women’s healthcare, but trans people’s healthcare as well?
Take the infamous case of Robert Eads, a trans man who transitioned in his forties. Because of this happening later in life he was advised not to have a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) or an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries). After severe abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding, Eads sought emergency medical treatment, and received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. However, more than a dozen doctors refused to treat Eads on the grounds that taking him on as a patient might harm their practice.
By the time Eads was accepted to receive healthcare, the cancer had spread to his uterus, cervix, and other abdominal organs, making his prognosis bleak. Robert Eads died from ovarian cancer in 1999 at the age of 53.
So what can be done to ensure the health and wellbeing of not just cisgender people, but transgender people as well? Dr Maureen Connelly, a paediatrician at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit who works with trans youth at the Ruth Ellis Centre, says regarding trans healthcare: “Members of the transgender community face immense challenges when trying to access healthcare. They may be greeted with confusion, disrespect, or outright discrimination at the front desk, in the exam room, in the ER, etc. They may have challenges with finding a knowledgeable provider or getting services covered by insurance. With so many unknowns and potential barriers, it’s understandable why transgender people may avoid seeking healthcare all together.”
“It’s our responsibility in healthcare to change this stigma.” Dr Connolly continues, “Through education and institutional change, we can transform our clinics and hospitals into places where transgender people feel safe and affirmed. We can advocate for insurance coverage for medically necessary medications and procedures. We can ensure that all of our colleagues are using the right name, pronouns, and language. Everyone deserves access to healthcare, regardless of their gender identity.”
While many medical offices have limited hours and appointments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, if you believe something is wrong, don’t be afraid to reach out and make an appointment. All offices should have the strictest measurements regarding your safety against the Coronavirus.
You are the best judge of your body, so you should also have a physician that listens and understands your needs and concerns.