Letter 29: Letter from Meg
When I read your story, it struck me as both shocking and shockingly familiar. A woman dies because doctors don’t recognize her symptoms as part of a larger problem. Sudden, dramatic physical changes dismissed as vain worries. "Women's problems," a euphemism for gross but ultimately harmless problems that can be easily cast aside and never discussed in polite society. "Hormones" just a catch-all for moodiness or more "women's problems." Few people seem to know that hormones are chemical messengers that play a role in nearly all of your body’s functions, or that variations in hormone levels mean that male and female bodies can react differently to medications.
How then, are we supposed to approach hormonal birth control? Even when we aren’t too squeamish to talk about it, we’re often misinformed and dismissive. On the generally progressive show “The Mindy Project,” when a teenaged patient says she’s concerned that taking the pill will make her “fat and cranky,” her female doctor shrugs it off saying “so does pregnancy.” It’s played for laughs, and there's some truth to it, but reflects a real-life attitude that’s all too prevalent, frustrating, and in your case devastating. Some types of hormonal birth control are safer and have fewer side effects, and others are more dangerous Women’s concerns and symptoms should be taken seriously. We are too often not made fully aware of the risks in advance, and not adequately addressed when we bring them up.
When male hormonal birth control was put forward, clinical trials were stopped after patients reported symptoms women taking birth control have been told for decades they just have to put up with. Yet even after your death, your family struggles to get the drug that killed you taken off the market. I am so sorry for their loss, but so grateful for the work they are doing in your memory to make sure that all women have fair warning about the medications they consider putting in their bodies.
U.Va. Class of 2017