Let Me Be Your Voice: STIGMA*STRIDE 2015

Sherrie Palm's speech at the inaugural STIGMA*STRIDE Walkathon
June 14, 2015, Milwaukee, WI

While rain dampened the walk paths, those who attended the inaugural STIGMA*STRIDE Walkathon embraced the positive spirit of grassroots vision and energy. A warm thank you to all who participated in our first walk, and our heartfelt appreciation to Wisconsin legislators Senator Lena Taylor and Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander for speaking at our event. Following is Sherrie Palm's message to those in attendance. 

We are on the cusp of an incredible journey,  generating a massive shift in women’s health. EVERYONE attending STIGMA*STRIDE on this day is marking their spot in women’s health history.

“Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
Dr. Diaa Rizk, Arabian Gulf University

Stigma  has shrouded pelvic organ prolapse (POP) in silence for over 4000 years. 40 yrs ago, magazines and newspapers would not print the words breast cancer. We now recognize and freely talk about the 235,000 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. We created a comfort zone with awareness.  20 years ago, few spoke about erectile dysfunction out loud. Pfizer opened that closet door, and men now comfortably talk about the little blue pill. We created a comfort zone with awareness. During the AIDS silence between 1970 and 1980, this stigmatized, contagious condition spread to 5 continents because no one would talk about it out loud. The fear factor leveled off, because we created a comfort zone with awareness. Unfortunately, despite the fact that pelvic organ prolapse has been on medical record for over 4000 years, few talk about it out loud because symptoms like vaginal tissue bulge, urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and pain with intimacy are considered embarrassing. That has to change.

Most women learn about POP when they are first diagnosed. There is no POP screening standard or protocol occurring during routine pelvic exams. Misconceptions abound. We are told that 3.3 million women in the US have POP, this is not true-it is more likely half the female population. We are told women with POP do not have symptoms in an early stage, this is not true-I speak with women on a frequent basis who are in early stage POP who suffer with significant symptoms.  We are told that POP is not painful, this is not true-many women navigate pelvic pain, back pain, and pain with intimacy. Additionally, the emotional pain of POP can be profound. We need to talk out loud about pelvic organ prolapse to establish awareness of the reality of this extremely common, cryptic condition.

“Because of the code of silence surrounding POP, few researchers and fewer research dollars are applied to solving these far-reaching problems. It is absolutely imperative that our society breaks from this trend.”
Dr. Ali Borazjani, Cleveland Clinic

All women need to know about pelvic organ prolapse, the signs, the symptoms, the causes, and the treatments. Healthcare, industry, research, academia, legislators, and media need to actively engage in the POP arena-and they need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

As we move forward, generating change, our voices will continue to get louder and stronger.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.“
Maya Angelo

Millions of women suffer in silence with that untold story every day, and frequently those who share it are told it’s “all in your head.” It is imperative we speak out loud about pelvic organ prolapse and the impact it has to millions of women.

For those of you not comfortable speaking out loud about POP, let me be your voice.

For every woman experiencing pain with intimacy whose husband does not believe her, let me be your voice.

For every woman who has experienced incontinence in public, let me be your voice.

For every woman whose boss does not believe it takes that long in the bathroom or that she needs to be in there frequently, let me be your voice.

And for every woman who has lost or had to give up a job because she could no longer lift heavy weight,  let me be your voice.

We have so much more to do; we have so much more to learn. But first, we must talk out loud about POP, to generate awareness and spawn much needed change.

“Knowledge is power, and a woman should have all the information she needs to make an informed decision about her body.”
Dr. Roger Dmochowski, Vanderbilt University

Every day your voices ring in my ears, and every day they fill my heart. We will move POP awareness forward together.