Letter 39: Letter from Alea
Your story is heartbreaking; I can’t begin to imagine the heartbreak your family went through in mourning the loss of you, all while bearing the responsibility of uncovering the cause of your death. Your story is inspiring, and it leaves me feeling immensely devastated at how preventable and unjust your death was. Reading your story is a wake-up call for me and reminds me that your fatal experience with birth control is unfortunately not an isolated incident: far too many individuals go through their reproductive health journey uninformed and without adequate support from their care team.
Your story sparked a personal reflection of the negative interactions I’ve had with the medical system regarding my own health issues. As a teenager, I experienced debilitating ovarian cysts that were largely left unexplained and untreated. I vividly remember being hospitalized from a nearly ruptured ovarian cyst during my junior year of high school, which resulted in me being benched during an important time in my competitive dance season. My primary care physician never followed up with me, and because of my unstable and unreliable health insurance coverage, I never maintained access to quality care. On top of other health issues, I was suffering from irregular, heavy menstrual bleeding that was often paired with excruciating cramps that on occasion left me bedridden. As a 17 year old, I didn’t have the tools to advocate for myself; I wasn’t sure what questions to ask my doctor beyond wondering if my birth control options would result in significant weight gain for me.
Due to a lack of support from my care team, I often questioned if these problems were “all in my head,” and I struggled to be an active voice regarding my reproductive health. After feeling invalidated for nearly two years and experimenting with a few different oral contraceptives, I finally connected with a physician who recommended I get an intrauterine device (IUD) placed to help with my painful menstrual symptoms. I was lucky to receive this support and have noticed significant improvement of my symptoms, yet I’m reminded that not everyone is as fortunate to share an experience similar to mine.
Annie, I am so sorry that the U.S. medical system failed you. I am sorry that it took the loss of you for people to start listening. It is unfortunate that your story is not an anomaly; so many individuals are disregarded and left without the resources to advocate for their reproductive health. As an aspiring physician with a strong passion for reproductive health, it’s so important to me that your story is shared and that your life is remembered. I will hold your story in my heart as I continue to advocate for resources that allow individuals to be active participants in their health journey. You deserved better. I will never forget you.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, ‘22