Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Modern Woman's Anthology

I am proud to be contributing to an exciting Australian literary project.

The Modern Woman’s Anthology was compiled by Leah Greengarten to raise money for mental health.

All proceeds from the sales of the anthology will be donated to the Black Dog Institute, a not-for-profit, educational, research, clinical and community-oriented facility offering specialist expertise in depression and bipolar disorder.

All of the Australian writers vary in age, background, ethnicity and prominence and each story reveals something about womanhood.

The theme is universal – Woman In The Modern World.

Twenty inspirational female writers have been asked to write a piece for the anthology.

The anthology will launched by Therese Rein at Customs House on the 22nd of June, 2010.

Please support the cause by visiting THE MODERN WOMAN'S ANTHOLOGY.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My younger self...

If I were to meet my younger self, I wonder... what would I say?

Would I share with me, some of life's truths - truths I was blissfully unaware of as a child?

Would I tell myself that the old cliche "life wasn't meant to be easy" has more validity than it seems?

That things won't always be ok, and parents can't fix everything after all?

Would I let myself know that life's journey isn't always as you planned it?

And that twists and turns appear before you, when you least expect it?

No, I don't think I would...

Instead I'd tell my younger self that life is a gift - treasure it and enjoy it.

That life is what you make it, family is everything and things will be ok.

I'd tell myself to continue living life as though it's perfect and to cherish every moment shared with loved ones.

To refrain from over-analysing and enjoy the innocence that youth brings.

I'd tell myself to never forget that feeling of invisibility.

And to always remember what matters in life - health, happiness, family, love.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Insult to injury for IVF parents...

New legislation has been introduced by the Victorian government, requiring all prospective IVF patients to have criminal background checks to ensure they have no previous history of violent or sexual crimes.

*read story here*

Unsurprisingly, the legislation has outraged parents of babies conceived through IVF and those about to commence the process.

IVF pioneer Professor Gab Kovacs of Monash IVF in Melbourne told the checks were "stupid."

"We talk about practising evidence-based medicine, I think it's time that the politicians practiced evidence-based legislation.

"Unless we're going to do this for all couples, and every couple has to have a police check and a child abuse check before they got pregnant, I believe this is very discriminatory against couples with fertility problems," he said.

IVF is a miraculous technology, allowing couples experiencing fertility problems to conceive a child of their own.

While IVF is indeed a blessing, the experience is physically and emotionally draining, offering no guarantees - and far from a quick fix for potential abusers.

Says Sandra Dill, from the group ACCESS, which represents IVF parents and patients: "If the Government was genuinely sincere about protecting or acting in the best interest of children as they've claimed, then they would require every man and every woman to undergo a police check before they take their baby home from hospital."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It always happens to someone else, until it happens to you...

You hear about it almost every day.

In the news, on television, statistics, sometimes even friends of friends.

Yet you never think it's going to happen to you. Until it does.

I never contemplated being directly impacted by cancer.

I never even entertained the prospect that my friends or family would ever fall victim to it.

Yet they have.

Considering the statistics, it's quite illogical to think cancer won't touch your life, one way or another.

Two of my brother's closest friends lost their lives to cancer.

My mother was diagnosed with cancer - a devastating reality check if ever I've had one.

Surgery and a benign tumour resulted in her survival. An outcome I am thankful for every day.

Most recently, my sister-in-law was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer.

My fit, healthy, gorgeous, young sister-in-law.

The tumour was discovered during her pregnancy. What mixed emotions are felt when one of the most special times is also an immensely scary time.

Early detection saved her life - thank God for her little baby boy whose development lead to the discovery of the cancer.

Perhaps the most important reality is yes, cancer does exist, it's common and it can happen to you - but in many cases can be cured if detected early enough.

The following guest post by Helen Marsden from the Cancer Council is an important reminder to stop making excuses, and protect yourself from Cervical Cancer.

Thirty-eight and a half Australian women out of every hundred don’t have a Pap test, or Pap smear, every two years as recommended.

That’s according to the latest stats available from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

It’s difficult to imagine what the other half of the 39th woman who IS having her cervix checked over is doing, but that’s stats for you I guess.

I’ve been working at PapScreen for four months now, but I still find it hard to believe that well over a third of women don’t go for cervical screening, concern for the oddly divided woman notwithstanding.

I thought everyone (women, obviously) just WENT for Pap tests every two years. To be honest, I don’t I think I knew why I went for them, or even how I found out I should (my Mum certainly didn’t tell me).

I just did.

So why is it that so many women don’t?

I mean: take time out of your busy day, blush furiously as you tell the doctor you’d like a Pap test, strip halfway down in front of a stranger, assume a very compromising position, then have a dab of your cells taken out and whisked off to a lab where more perfect strangers look at a tiny piece of your insides very VERY closely through a microscope.

Wow, look at that queue forming!

I think the best – maybe only – way to deal with the whole cringeworthy thing is by retaining an extremely healthy (as healthy as your cervix will be) sense of humour. It’s just one of many not-totally-brilliant things woman have to do - years of paying for tampons that could be spent on holidays, days spent trying to find a bikini with more coverage than dental floss, bi-annually having our breasts squashed within an inch of their lives during mammograms in our senior years.

But there is, of course, a reason why we have to do all these things … maybe apart from the bikini.

And there are some extremely good reasons why you should have a Pap test every two years.

1. It prevents around 90% of cervical cancers. 90%!

2. Over 90% of women diagnosed with cervical cancer in Victoria either never had a Pap test, or had not had Pap tests regularly before being diagnosed. I’m no statistician, but we can assume that this percentage would roughly apply Australia-wide.

3. It’s one of the very few cancers that can be pretty much prevented. Pap tests allow women to take control of their bodies and say with a large degree of certainty that “cervical cancer will not happen to me”.

In short, women should be flocking in their droves every two years to take advantage of this test, one of the great discoveries benefiting the fairer sex – which was, incidentally, tried and tested by a Greek doctor (a certain Mr Papanicolaou) in the early twentieth century on his long-suffering wife, who manfully (or womanfully) allowed him to try out his ‘Pap test’ on her almost EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR 20 YEARS.

Now there’s a woman with a sense of humour.

At PapScreen we know there are lots of reasons why women don’t screen (we’ve done the research). We then spend a lot of our time trying to persuade women that yes, we see your point, but here are some reasons why you should go and get it done anyway. Hit me with them, I hear you cry! Ok, here goes …

1. It’s embarrassing.
See above – yes, for many of us it is! But think of the benefits, try to keep smiling, and luxuriate in the knowledge that almost 10,000 other women in Australia are doing the very same thing today. My tip: ask for a female doctor or nurse.

2. I’m scared I will have cervical cancer / that it will hurt.
Remember – the Pap test looks for changes to the cells of the cervix that may LEAD to cervical cancer. It’s like a pre-pre-warning that cancer may occur years later.

To put it into perspective, in Victoria almost 93 out of every 100 Pap tests come back completely normal.

Of the remaining seven, two have an ‘unsatisfactory sample’ and just need to go for a repeat test, four will have ‘low grade’ changes that only require monitoring and just one will need treatment for higher grade changes which can in most cases be treated quickly and easily. Once the changes have been corrected, your chances of developing cervical cancer are greatly reduced.

Pap tests can be a bit uncomfortable, but they shouldn’t hurt. If it does, tell your doctor or nurse straight away.

3. I don’t have time to go.
Think it about it like this. Half an hour out of your day tops once every two years (I spend almost that long EACH DAY thinking about whether to get out of bed) versus the potential months of treatment and anxiety if you are unlucky enough to be diagnosed with cervical cancer.

4. I don’t understand why I need to have a Pap test.
Here comes the science bit!

Pap tests detect changes in the cells of the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer in the future.

These changes in the cells are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is transmitted by genital skin to genital skin contact – it’s completely normal to have HPV and most women will have HPV at some point in their lives. In the vast majority of cases HPV clears the body naturally. Sometimes if it doesn’t it can lead to the changes in the cervical cells that develop into cancer.

By having a Pap test every two years, any changes can be detected and treated early.

5. I’ve had the cervical cancer vaccine, I don’t need to have Pap tests.
Nice try, but no cigar – and not only because tobacco products are persona non grata to cancer prevention types. The cervical cancer vaccine is extremely good, and protects you against the two types of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer. However it doesn’t protect you against all of them. You might also have been exposed to some HPV types if you were sexually active before having the vaccine.

PapScreen’s motto? Even if you’ve had the vaccine, continue to have Pap tests every two years between the ages of 18 and 70.

6. I’m lesbian, I don’t need Pap tests.
Nice try, but etc etc. PapScreen is here to tell you that lesbians need Pap tests too! HPV can also be passed on by genital skin to genital skin contact between women, so lesbians are also at risk of developing cervical cancer.

7. I don’t know where to get a Pap test.
This one we admit can be a hassle. For Victorians, the PapScreen website has a handy Pap test provider finder where you can search for your nearest clinic by post code. You can even find clinics with female doctors and nurses, find out what languages are spoken in each clinic and see if the clinic has disability access. (The same applies for the rest of the country, and dare I say, the world).

Ah, the magic of the world wide web.

So yeah that’s it I guess. Pap tests: embarrassing, a little bit funny, but well worth it all things considered.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Put a ring on it...

A funny thing happened to me the other day.

I was driving along when Helen Ready's classic hit I Am Woman began playing on the radio.

You know the one - I am woman hear me roar. If you don't know the song, you've no doubt heard that line before... most likely in the form of a joke.

In fact, once I'd have probably been one of the main perpetrators of such a joke. In high-school I'd often laugh at the girls who insisted on shifting desks (they were just as capable as the boys) and refusing to let their dates pay for movie tickets.

Songs such as I Am Woman seemed equally as hilarious.

I knew I was in control - I didn't need to prove a point by refusing acts of chivalry.

But while I'll still happily leave the heavy lifting to the men, upon recent listening this particular song didn't seem quite so amusing.

In fact, I found myself relating to particular elements of the song...

"Yes I am wise but it's wisdom born of pain/yes I paid the price but look how much I've gained/If I had to I can do anything
I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman."

Ok, so that last line is still borderline funny, but I did find myself thinking of my son and the battle I went through to have him, following conception problems and subsequent IVF.

And at that moment, I did feel invincible - I am Woman dammit!

Granted, I would have looked more ridiculous than powerful as I belted out the feminist rant, but hey, that's the power of music.

My re-discovery of the female anthem got me thinking about other similarly labelled tunes.

There's been a few over the years, all sending a different message, but not always in the best interest of the sistahood, depending on who you're talking to.

Aretha Frankli's Resepct and Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, are classics from a time when women were standing up and taking control.

Christina's Can't Hold Us Down and Destiny's Child's Independent Woman were part of a more recent trend of songs focused on reclaiming sexuality and financial independence.

But Beyonce's hit Single Ladies (put a ring on it) has been the latest track to be dubbed a female anthem - but opinions on it's worth are apparently split.

This song is different to the norm in that combines power and sexuality with a desire for commitment. This C-word apparently a naughty no-no for some feminists.

One such is Amanda Hees, author of The Sexist Blog.

She says:

"Beyonce referring to herself as “it”, equating herself to bling? Handing herself over to a man who will determine her self-worth through a demeaning, years-long game which can only end with Beyonce emerging triumphant as his symbolic property, or crawling away as a meaningless ex?"

That's one way of looking at it, feminist and novelist Edan Lepucki has a different view.

"Perhaps it’s anti-feminist for sex to lead to marriage, or to desire that. But why? Why is it unacceptable for a woman to require commitment from the man she’s sleeping with?"

So what makes a female anthem?

A call for respect? Equality? Power? Sexual satisfaction? Commitment? Love?

In reality, most women want a little bit of everything... which is why I think Beyonce nailed it with Single Ladies (put a ring on it).

About Me

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Nicole is an Australian journalist, presenter and communications consultant. She spent several years as a News Limited journalist, writing for a variety of local newspapers and magazines. Following this, Nicole was a reporter and presenter with the Nine Network, filing stories for Brisbane magazine program Extra, lifestyle show Weekend Extra and National Nine News. She is now a freelance journalist, writing for a variety of publications. Her special interests are features, lifestyle, current affairs, women, parenting/family and health. Nicole is also a public relations and communications consultant.
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