1. Inexplicable inability to post anything to the SMF Facebook wall for a few days (suspiciously occurring around the stock IPO, but I digress…)
2. An important member of our website IT crew (and his computer) were abroad for a few days.
3. My brother was diagnosed with cancer.
Yes, my younger brother has testicular cancer. My single, life-of-the-party, shirt-off-his-back kind of a guy younger brother. The fun-loving, tender-hearted uncle that we call to find out how trees make air and how to spearfish in the Amazon River – because when it comes to biology, music, and random facts, “Uncle Matt knows everything.” The brother that I knew would step in unflinchingly if ever life took such a horrible turn as to leave me with the prospect of raising my kids alone. “Life” still took a horribly wrong turn—and ran smack into my brother’s testicles (well, just the left one, actually).
This whole cancer surprise is also managing a wickedly ironic poke at me and my combined personal and professional identity—advocating for and treating female pelvic and perinatal health issues always, and this month in particular via the launch of Share MayFlowers. You see, after over a decade of working with (predominantly) women to treat incontinence, pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse and a number of aches, pains, and injuries related to child-bearing and childbirth (ahem, exclusively women in the latter two categories…) I was convinced that we needed a better platform for talking and educating about these issues. Within my immediate reach, efforts such as radio programs, presentations to healthcare providers, and meetings with small groups of moms were all well-received—but selling people on hosting, promoting or attending such events in the first place was tough! As if starting my conversations saying, “I’m a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor and pregnancy-related issues” caused immediate shut-down—making moot my case for why changing our thinking and talking about these issues differently, the case falling victim to the terms “physical therapist,” “pelvic” and “pregnancy.” A different platform was needed to initiate the conversation, we needed an icon, and we needed to go even bigger than my regional connections.
Along the way, and curious regarding my brother-in-law’s participation in a “No-Shave November” fundraiser, I visited the Movember website to learn more about how growing and wearing facial hair was being used to raise money and awareness regarding male cancers. I loved their idea of doing something that was so obvious (clean shaven guy wears a moustache for a month…you notice that). It was also accessible and fun. Then I found this statement at the bottom of the “About Movember” page:
“Big steps have been taken towards changing attitudes and habits relating to men’s health around the world, but there is still much to be done to catch up with the women’s health movement.” (Emphasis mine).
I thought then and continue to think now that Movember’s support “for prostate cancer and other male cancer initiatives” is well-placed and vital. Yet, from where I stood, breast health was the only part of the “women’s health movement” that I could agree was potentially ahead of any element of men’s health. Women are still dying in childbirth at a rate of one every 90 seconds, largely from preventable causes, and for every death, there are 20 women who have life-changing injuries (again, most are preventable) –and as women are the only ones having babies, they bear 100% of this risk. Women are affected by chronic pelvic pain 4:1. Women make up 85% of the 13.5 million Americans with urinary incontinence.
Breast health—while incredibly important!—does not equal women’s health exclusively…and I wanted to stomp my foot, blurt out “Aww, hellll, no!” and push harder for a change in attention paid to crucial Below the Belt women’s health issues. So I did. Share MayFlowers was conceived in the fall of 2011 and launched May 2012 as a campaign to simultaneously provide information regarding female pelvic and perinatal health issues, simulate dialogue regarding these issues, and to use the symbol of a flower to be a visible and tangible icon of these efforts
Then my younger brother arrived in Boston from Virginia for a planned work and Memorial Day weekend trip on Wednesday, so disabled by abdominal and groin pain that he went straight to the emergency room. Two days later he remained in the hospital and the doctors told us he had cancer. He came “home” (to our place) yesterday in good spirits, took the kids’ water balloon attack like the champ that he is, and starts chemotherapy at the end of this holiday weekend – just as the daily publication schedule for Share MayFlowers is winding down and I was anticipating directing my attention to the next steps for the SMF vision of promoting female pelvic and perinatal health. The way Movember and “other male cancer initiatives” are serving as bookends to the story about female pelvic health is downright curious, and while I don’t have complete clarity, I don’t believe it is by accident either.
I guess we’ll all just have to stay tuned. And watch out for water balloons.