Friday, April 23, 2010

Women! Have you asked your friends yet if you have cancer?

I recently copied the patient ombudsman’s office (Patientnämden) for Västmanland County on a letter of complaint to “Bleak House” (Västerås Centrallasarettet) about lack of access to gynecological services in Västmanland. (I recently had a complicated hysterectomy that I believe would not have been as problematic if I had received appropriate help much earlier.)

On Monday, I got a call from the ombudsman’s office to say they had received their copy of the letter. As we were talking, I mentioned that, in my letter, I had not raised the point that no one ever suggested or did a biopsy of my uterine myoma (reason for the hysterectomy) when it was first detected and that if it had been malignant I’d probably be dead now. (Since I had conflated the symptoms of the myomas – there were several now – with those of menopause, there had been a long delay before the problem was addressed.) I realize malignant myomas are very rare, but if you don’t check, how do you know?

The staff person assured me that women often talk amongst themselves about menopause and that I would have discussed my symptoms with family and friends and that I would have gone for a check-up. (She also said I would have had pain but I’m not sure this is true.)


My friends are supposed to diagnose my cancer?

What next?

A Ouija board? A divining rod?

First, women do not necessarily discuss menopause amongst themselves. For me, it’s a private matter I’ve discussed with very few people, including family. (Are men assumed to discuss prostate problems amongst themselves?) Second, as a foreigner living in another country, the circle of friends with whom I discuss intimate problems is very small. Third, the symptoms for both malignant and non-malignant myomas, as far as I know, may be the same so why would my behavior have been any different?

I answered that I probably would have assumed my symptoms were related to menopause and done nothing. (And there’s no reason to think my friends would have come to a different conclusion.) I may be dumber than most women, but that’s probably what I would have done.

In fact, it’s what I did.


  1. Sometimes we think the U.S. is the only place with bad health care, but your post proves that some of the problems are universal. The human tendency to try to "save face" by making excuses--no matter how absurd--also seems to be universal!

  2. What kills me most was this was the Ombudsman's office - they're "supposed" to be on the side of patients or, at least, give patients the benefit of a doubt. The complaint had nothing to do with her office, yet she apparently felt the need to defend the clinic/hospital and "the system." When you have to convince your advocate of your "rightness," you're in for an uphill battle!

    In Sweden, it's very important to show humbleness and humility. There's even an understood guide to change - two steps forward, one step backward. I guess I had not taken my step backward and remained sufficiently humble during our conversation.


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