C-y-s-t / Cyst: An abnormal, usually noncancerous growth filled with liquid or a semisolid substance, sometimes causing pain. Mine is 2 cm, the size of a peanut, on my left ovary, which is the size of a walnut (3-5cm), which is part of my uterus, an upside down pear (3-4” x 2.5”). On an ultrasound a cyst appears as a black mass. To the untrained eye as something that’s missing, a black hole, a cavern. But it is there and it feels like a dull dinner knife is being twisted into the left side of my body. How is it that something the size of a pea could cause so much pain?
My holistic chiropractor back home did a read of my spine years ago and told me that I will always have problems on the left side of my body because I seek male approval, a fancy way of saying I have daddy issues. While I want to disregard this comment, I cannot deny this recurrent pang in my left side, my reproductive organ. I do believe that we physically manifest symptoms of stress, trauma, emotional pain. I think that my cyst not only relates to my father and a need for male approval, I think it is a symptom of living in a society that actively hurts women.
I had my first cyst on my left ovary when I was 16 and had to have my first Pap smear, which I later learned was technically illegal. I have since been in and out of gynecologist offices for almost 30% of my life at this point. From planned parenthood’s to city MD’s, upscale private practices in Manhattan, to a hospital gurney with makeshift stirrups in an open door room where the curtain didn’t shut all the way and the homeless man admitted for drugs waited outside leering at me when the doctor left the room and said not to move…Your legs are spread wide open for the guy across the hall but DON’T MOVE.
Butt to the edge of the table, knees spread, a white paper blanket obscuring the view of the doctor who has full view of your lady junk, I despise the words lady bits. “Yeast infection” she says as she removes the plastic speculum coated in thick white discharge
Before the yeast infection was a UTI, and before the UTI was Bacterial Vaginosis. Bacterial Vaginosis was the peskiest of all three. It took 3 rounds of antibiotics to finally knock it out. Bacterial vaginosis is usually sexually transmitted, usually through intercourse with a new partner, and is just a scary long word for a pH imbalance. Grey, fishy discharge, burning during urination— the works. The doctor in the Brooklyn family medical practice put me on an antibiotic medication called Flagyl. What Flagyl does is it just strips the body of all the bacteria, good and bad, so when you’re done with the flagyl you run the risk of not having enough good bacteria to restore your pH balance and it becomes an endless cycle. It was gross, it was uncomfortable, it ruined my sex life, it ruined my social life. Then I got a series of UTI’s and yeast infections from not having a balanced pH and had to take more antibiotics and insert greasy creams through a plastic applicator every night. A few times I ended up in the ER from the pain. I had to laugh at the Wyckoff Heights ER discharge folder that read “Discharge Instructions”— gotta find light in it somehow.
I am in the dark about my own body. I cannot see the cyst, because it’s just a black hole on a screen. I cannot see what the doctor sees because my eyes are looking at the ceiling or the monitor to my right playing a loop of calming Bahamian beaches. I cannot feel what she feels because I don’t have the proper tools or knowledge. I am left lying in pain with each turn of the knife, prisoner to the strange organ that dwells inside of me.
I go back to my Obgyn in a week and she will put me on estrogen to attempt to absolve the cyst… I am not a candidate for surgery at this point and there are apparently no other promising alternatives. How is it that we live in 2019 and do not have a known cure for ovarian cysts besides removal? In worst case hysterectomies? Why are hysterectomies still the most widely, unnecessary performed surgeries in the world?
In my work I research the history of female hysteria, primarily focusing on gynecological beliefs and practices. I look for patterns between historic and contemporary treatments and medical discourse on women’s bodies. I am horrified by how little distance we have come. In many ways we are still treating women as we did in the victorian era, except now instead of throwing them in ice baths we tell them to “chill out,” instead of bloodletting and performing invasive surgeries on women we just cut their uteruses out instead, problem solved. If people cared about women and their procreative abilities, why is it that we do not have better treatments and medical care for reproductive health?
The oppression of women’s bodies is as cyclical as their reproductive cycles. We are constantly making strides and then being pushed back. Look at what is happening with abortion rights right now— talk about going backwards. Then you have the companies, led by affluent white celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and her company GOOP that ended up being sued for thousands of dollars after falsely advertising the use of their jade egg products and giving women toxic shock and UTI’s. The feminine health industry in general is a total joke— it’s all just capitalist, money-making garbage profiting off the discomfort of women due to unrealistic standards perpetuated by the media, and just distracts women from the fact that there are no real solutions out there for real reproductive health issues.