Last week, there was much discussion on Canadian news outlets following a report from Health Canada linking the Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills to 23 deaths, and numerous other instances of DVT in Canada. A chill settled over me as I stood beside the radio and listened to the mother of 18-year-old Katelynne Fisher, an otherwise healthy young woman who collapsed and died at the gym after suffering a massive stroke. She had been on the pill for a month.
Last week, I also received my final call from the department of Haematology which followed up with me every few months for the past 8 years to see if I’d had more clotting or new symptoms of pulmonary embolism (the worst of which is death, by the way) as part of a study I’ve participated in in the hopes of helping the medical community learn more about DVT and PE.
Obviously I survived my experience with PE (I was an otherwise healthy teenager on Marvelon28) but it was a near thing and it could so easily have gone a different way. What if I hadn’t been home with my parents, who insisted on taking me to emerge? What if we’d arrived at the hospital a little later?
I try not to trifle with what-ifs too often. That way lies madness, I think.
“There but for the grace of God go I” never felt so apt.
I was 19 and lived. Katelynne Fisher was 18 and tragically did not.
Comment sections following the news of these 23 deaths are full of people saying that women know the risks of taking the pill, so it’s essentially on them if they are unlucky enough to experience the side effects.
Yes, the possible side-effects are usually listed, (though not always, and certainly not with context) but what 14 year old, desperate to end the fainting, vomiting, and excrutiating pain of a messed up menstrual cycle, is going to think that those risks apply to her? What teenage girl, or grown woman thinks her doctor would prescribe something that really might kill her?
Common lore has it that if you’re an otherwise healthy, young, non-smoker, the warnings on the package must be meant for someone else.
Meanwhile, we don’t test girls for underlying conditions like Factor V Leiden, the genetic mutation I have, which increases the likelihood of developing DVT and pulmonary embolisms. I realize it’s a relatively rare mutation, but with it, I should probably never have taken anything with estrogen, and have been advised never to in the future. That would have been great information to have prior to nearly losing my life. For most girls and women, it would just be a blood test, and maybe it would feel like a waste, but for some of us it could be life-saving. If testing 100 women, means saving even 1 life, wouldn’t it be worthwhile?
We also tell women what the side-effects could be, but not what symptoms to watch out for. For more than a week before I was rushed to hospital, I thought I had pulled a muscle in my left leg. I thought it was a little odd that it didn’t seem to be improving, and that whenever I took a step, I had pain in my left glute. I also thought I might have a mild urinary tract infection or something, because I was peeing a lot, and feeling weird pressure in my bladder. It wouldn’t have occurred to me in a million years that those were symptoms of a far more serious clot, reaching from my left calf up to my groin. I assumed if it was something really serious, it would hurt more. Of course, with DVT and PE, by the time you have chest pain severe enough to take you to the hospital it might be too late.
Bayer (the company behind Yaz) is certainly not the only culprit here. It’s just the latest.
Years ago, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that the birth control patch some of my friends were crazy about, while being touted as having the same amount of estrogen as the combined birth control pill, was actually releasing way more estrogen into women and girls’ bloodstreams as it was absorbed directly without being digested like the pill, meaning again there was a far higher risk of clotting than most women using the patch realized.
Why would Bayer, or any other company in their position not work to make a pill with a LOWER risk than other pills, rather than just deciding that even though their pill is more hazardous to women’s health than others, the benefits still outweigh the risks? They didn’t for at least 23 women in Canada so far. I’m sure those women would have preferred acne or painful periods or pregnancy over death. Why not work to make progesterone-only birth control pills, which have no increased risk of clotting, more reliable instead of paying billions of dollars in settlements to women and the families of women whose lives have been irreversibly damaged or even lost because they took medication as prescribed by their doctors?
To me, it’s just another example of drug companies being all too willing to play fast and loose with women’s health, in the name of greed and the medical community being far too lax when it comes to making sure that what’s prescribed to young women doesn’t pose a significant threat to their health. And it’s totally unacceptable. We are not guinnea pigs and we deserve better.
1. The internet is first and foremost a place for looking at sailboats and sailboat accessories.
2. Strategic garage-saling. It involves checking the paper the night before, planning a route and then getting up at the crack of time and heading for Tim Hortons.
3. To be loyal and honest. He never had to beat me over the head with this. it just sort of came out in any advice he gave and in the way he is himself.
4. To work hard – This is another one where his actions really reinforced the lesson. My dad is goofy and hilarious and playful but he is also a very dedicated and diligent worker who takes pride in a job well done and in finishing what he starts.
5. To be polite and friendly to everyone.– This didn’t come from nowhere.
6. To be positive. Despite all that hard working, at the end of the day, as a kid I’d often hear him coming before he got in the door, as he’d be strolling along, whistling some happy tune by the time he got to the house. While my whistling is sadly inadequate, I have tried to find that balance of working hard, but then leaving work behind at 5:00 and making a point of enjoying the rest of the day.
7. That my freckles and moles are beauty marks. This was his explanation one day when we were driving somewhere and after examining my little face in the side mirror, I wanted to know what the heck the mole above my lip was. Obviously I immediately counted up every freckle, mole or mysterious spot on my skin and concluded that I must be gorgeous.
8. To be compassionate and to be generous to others, especially when life has been generous to you. When I was about 11, my parents and my aunt and uncle and I spent a few days in Toronto, seeing the sights, and more importantly, from my perspective, seeing the stage production of Beauty and the Beast, (on the day of which, I inconveniently developed all the flu-ish symptoms of what turned out to be chicken pox. Whoops). I’ll never forget seeing my dad, all dressed up for the theatre, stop on the way in to chat with a miserable looking man who was panhandling in the bitter cold and give him $20.
Over the years I’ve seen him reach out a helping hand to many a stranger in need, and he gives in such a natural, easygoing way, banishing any potential awkwardness from potentially awkward situations with an open face and a genuine smile, and maybe a joke or two.
9. To be curious about/interested in people. Driving around town with my dad when he’s in a certain mood can be a hilairous game of “What’s that person doing? where are they going and why are they going there?” We roll our eyes, shake our heads and laugh at his assumptions, but I think really it’s just that he’s curious about people, which is a quality I’ve definitely inherited.
10. To fish. While it’s not a skill I use anymore, I have great memories of one-on-one time fishing with my dad, digging for worms in the backyard, and his insistence that you can’t possibly fish without timbits. Of course, it never occurred to me as a little girl, but looking back, I really appreciate that he didn’t wait around until he had a son to take his kid fishing. Because in never excluding me from things, or assuming I wouldn’t like them based on my girlness, he taught me never to doubt that I am just as important, just as valued and just as loved as my highly valued and loved brother.
And I wear that love like a superhero cape.
I keep meaning to get out and explore more Toronto neighbourhoods and the Dundas West Fest this weekend presented a perfect opportunity to do just that. While I occasionally wander over to its edges, I’d never deliberately spent time seeing what Dundas West had to offer.
There were tons of food options to choose from. My cousin and I started the afternoon by popping into Bivy, a lovely little cafe (or, urban food outpost, as they’ve labelled themselves), where we inhaled phenomenal brisket and smoked meat sandwiches before grazing at a few other booths while perusing the awesome selection of vintage clothing, locally made jewellery, art, and of course, cupcakes on offer at the festival’s booths.
The organizers did a great job at keeping the vendors and entertainment local and fun and didn’t fall into the trap of hideous overpriced carnival rides and rigged ring toss booths that are so ubiquitous at similar events around the city.
It was still absolutely kid-friendly though. There were lots of arts and crafts, puppet shows, music and a tent where kids (or um, 20-somethings) could practice their charcoal and pastel drawing.
And we jumped at the chance to take part in the most charming elementary school fundraiser ever: for two dollars, we had kids draw our portraits. How adorable is that???
I’m totally framing mine.
I may have mentioned that I have amazing, hilarious friends. And like all of my favourite amazing, hilarious people, they have a delightfully dark and twisty side.
Never was this more evident than a few weeks ago when a couple of them presented me with a post-breakup voodoo doll (they may have a wee spot of lingering resentment over my breakup) they had made me, complete with a black heart sewn into his chest and a stupid deep V-neck t-shirt sewn onto it.
It’s quite possibly the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen and I think I belly laughed for 15 minutes straight when I first encountered it.
As much as I wouldn’t wish a horrible breakup on anyone (well, almost anyone), it really has been amazing to see how people being furious on your behalf can be cathartic and make you feel so very loved, especially when you aren’t great at displaying any kind of towering rage yourself. While we’re on the subject, taking the high road, trying to be magnanimous and accept things with grace is utterly exhausting sometimes, no?
And what do you do with a breakup voodoo doll? Well, if you’re my friends, you get pretty creative. Every time I leave one of them alone with him, they come up with some preposterous new discomfort for the dear thing.
Oh, and if you’re my friend’s cat, you attack him in the night, biting a hole in his neck where tiny bits of the bulgar he’s stuffed with occasionally spill out.
Sure it’s a little macabre, but then, so’s life. You might as well laugh about it while you’ve got the chance.
What’s the best breakup cheer up gift or piece of advice you’ve ever received?
In case any of you who aren’t already avid listeners of the Petecast, I’ll have you know, Peter Dewolf was kind enough to have me on as a guest once again last week.
This time, we answered Americans’ questions about Canada, discussed our short-lived stage careers, and put plans in motion for a glorious lobster feast…I mean blogger fest…I mean Blogster Fest.
It’s that time of the month again! The wonderful time of the month when it’s my turn to post a little something for the fantastic collaborative blog with the terrible name, Pooping Rainbows.
As I begin to cast the occasional suspicious squint at the faraway world of dating from the protective cocoon I’ve been living in for the past few months, I know there are some things I need to address. Remnants of the past year. The whirlwind, the hurricane.
I was so determined to be open to love and unafraid of pain. I don’t know any other way. How do you love without vulnerability?
So I did. I loved with my whole entire heart. I was brave.
I wonder if it was worth it. Because I got them both. The love was breathless and exhilarating and oh it fit just right.
I knew there was risk, but I didn’t know how much. The odds had never seemed more in my favour.
Click here to read the rest and check out some of the other great bloggers involved while you’re at it!
You know how you have that friend who makes you feel like a total underachiever? They’re not only constantly doing a million cool things, but they’re excelling at them. They’re world-changers, go-getters, creative geniuses, and probably just plain old regular geniuses too. They’d be completely insufferable if they weren’t also damned hilarious and kind.
My friend Alice Irene is one such annoying genius. Just hearing about the things she has on the go at any given time makes me want to take a nap.
A couple of years ago after meeting Veronica Kettle of the African Women Education and Development Forum, Irene came up with an idea to address the challenges many women around the world face due to harmful taboos attached to menstruation in their communities.
For many women around the world, menstruation is considered an actual curse, to the point where, in some cultures, they may be banished to a tiny isolation shed, offering inadequate shelter from the elements for the duration of their periods so that they will not contaminate their own homes with their “impurity.”
Even when not taken to such extremes, the taboo, shame and mystery around menstruation, combined with the prohibitive cost of feminine hygiene products, often means that women are forced to use ineffective methods to manage their periods, which can in turn endanger their health.
It’s not difficult to see how women in developing countries being prevented from working for several days every month, all while feeling ashamed and confused about their own bodies could have a hugely negative impact not only on their physical and mental well-being, but on their economic security and that of their families as well.
So how do you go about empowering women living in a culture with such stigma?
Well, if you’re my amazing friend, you start a partnership with the African Women Education and Development Forum, send 350 reusable menstrual cups to women in rural Cameroon and invite them to take part in workshops where information about menstruation and female reproductive health is distributed and discussed by/with health professionals. For many of them, it was the first time they had access to this vital information about their own bodies.
The response from every woman who took part was so overwhelmingly positive. Reading their feedback and realizing what a huge impact something as simple as a small, sustainable tool and a little bit of knowledge would have on their lives got me more than a little choked up. I immediately volunteered to help with whatever needed doing for the next phase of the project.
The next phase, as it turns out, will be taking the project to 5000 more women in Cameroon, a number we will be able to reach in part because Mother Nature Partnership, it was announced this week, will be one of the (over-the-moon thrilled and grateful!) recipients of the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations grants!
We still have lots of work and fundraising ahead of us to make this happen, and I’ve taken on the task of trying to drum up some interest through social media, which is where you, my internet savvy friends come in.
Or, if any of you bloggers are interested in the project, and feel like writing about it or how to go about taking something like this from an idea in the shower to an actual living, breathing organization, please-oh-please feel free to drop me a line!
I was fortunate enough to grow up in an absurdly beautiful little theatre town. Of course, I was fairly immune to its charms as a kid and too busy rolling my eyes as a teen (seriously, there’s a traffic jam because a swan is crossing the road right now and 50 tourists have abandoned their vehicles to photograph it???) to really look around and appreciate it.
So it’s always fun to bring a friend home for the first time and see the place through their un-jaded eyes. This weekend I brought four of them. We had a blast strolling through the park, paddle boating on the river, browsing the little shops downtown, creeping around backstage at one of the theatres, eating spectacular meals and just breathing the small-town air (which, I kid you not, smelled like flowers everywhere we went. Ridiculous.)
My parents were kind enough to put us up for the weekend as well as being super charming and extremely generous with food and drink and are now more popular with my friends than I am.
I was worried it might be a difficult trip as at one point, not so long ago someone suggested we make it our wedding weekend. I was just optimistic and crazy-in-love enough to agree. I’d be married in the park with the lilacs in May.
My words were plans and promises. His were just words.
But I think facing that wedding-less date side by side with some of my beautiful, hilarious friends and family was exactly the right thing to do.
Of course there were moments that nipped at my heart. Little glimpses of the weekend that wasn’t revealed themselves. An empty marquee, lace, the lilacs.
But I went to sleep on our last night, filled with visions of blue sky, bumblebees and sparklers, exhausted from laughing, eating, playing and lying in the sun.
I went to sleep feeling nothing but peace.
I love to write.
Shocking, I know. You probably all thought I was writing this blog as some kind of hair shirt until now, but I promise you, it’s true. I love to write.
But I grooooaaan like a waterlogged old door in a haunted house whenever I have to write one particular thing.
The dreaded “short bio”.
By rights it should be easy. I mean, what subject am I more of an authority on than me? And Heaven knows I’ve written enough of them, from dating profiles, blog About Me’s to professional cover letters.
Why is it so hard to write about ourselves, to get ourselves down on paper? Does anyone like writing these? Is it possible to write one without spiralling into some kind of ridiculous existential crisis?
I breathe deep, and try to bring it back to the basics. The solid facts about me.
I know that I am a 27-year-old 5’2”-ish woman with brown hair and green eyes.
I know that I have a journalism background, I am competent in photoshop. I have buckets of administrative and customer service experience.
I know that I try hard to be kind and loyal and compassionate and honest. I think that I usually am.
I know that I talk a lot.
I know that I laugh a lot.
I love words. I make terrible puns and delight in nerdy wordplay.
I’m messy, I’m curious, I’m friendly, I’m affectionate. I’m goofy. I’m strange.
I’m an activist, feminist, karaoke enthusiast.
I make dove “coo-ing” sounds unconsciously when I’m excited or content or bored.
I have amazing friends and family whom I love fiercely.
I like to travel. I like to bake. I enjoy theatre and music and television and crocheting and indoor rock climbing.
I am opinionated and often, I think the world would run better if everyone just did what I told them to do.
I live my life guided by a fine balance of intuition and logic and maybe a little bit of magic.
I love to cuddle when I’m awake but almost never when I sleep.
I’m far from blind to the evils of the world, but I’m determinedly optimistic.
And of course, I’m introspective and navel-gazey and apparently utterly incapable of writing a comprehensive and succinct autobiography.
Am I the only one who finds this a totally daunting task? Do you find it easier or harder to describe yourself in a limited number of words as opposed to others?
Sometimes, when I talk with my mom, I get the strange sense that I’m talking to my older, wiser self.
We are so similar in so many ways, from the way we speak, the colours we wear and our political beliefs, to the way we press a hand to our chests when we laugh uncontrollably.
There are a scrillion things my mom has taught me. Both deliberately, directly and by example.
She’s taught me to be an activist, partly by example and partly by actually bringing me along to help with Amnesty International fundraisers from a young age. Trying to help muffled voices be heard appealed to my strong little girl sense of justice, and it’s stuck with me ever since.
She’s taught me to value education, but that it needn’t be traditional to be valuable. My mom is the definition of a lifelong learner. She’s constantly acquiring new skills and information, using whatever means are available to her, creating a personalized curriculum that covers exactly what she is interested in, in turn making her a passionate and dedicated student.
My mom (and dad) have taught me to choose a partner who I admire, and love but also who I can be my goofy weirdo self around and laugh and play with. Their love for each other is something to see, and hopefully it will help me to recognize mine, should it come along.
There’s a reason I’m such a hit at potlucks, and it’s almost entirely my mom. One of her career reincarnations when my brother and I were kids was as a professional baker. She made exquisite, elegant little pastries, cookies, tarts and beautiful, beautiful wedding cakes. I tried to resist learning as a young teenager, (you know, because of the angst and all) but I picked a lot up by pure virtue of the fact that our kitchen was constantly a hive of baking activity, and when I eventually grew out of resisting, she was gracious enough to teach me how to make a few of my favourites. She also insisted that both my brother and I become competent at cooking for ourselves as early as possible so that we’d never be reliant on fast food or a microwave.
I was never prone to thievery, (recent accusations and that time toddler Sarah stole the Toblerone bar and the change from our Swiss Chalet chicken dinner where it was later discovered in her toybox aside) so I forget how it started, but when my brother or I left the house, the last thing my mom would say, after “love ya! have fun!” was, “don’t steal!” and it’s been a running joke in our family for years, but more importantly, I’ve never taken up cat burglary. So. Ten points mom.
She’s taught me how to take care of people, to have empathy, to be generous.
She’s taught me to love books, to be creative in every aspect of my life, and to choose my words with care.
And every time I see her, she teaches me and reminds me what it means to walk out into the big bad world with unwavering love and support at my back.
And that makes all the difference.