Lately, there have been a rash of postings in the infertility blogosphere about The Pain Olympics. What are The Pain Olympics? It is a game that women play to tell others that my pain is more real than your pain. Now, to some degree this is true. Anything that someone has experienced for themselves is more real for that person than anything experienced by another. We can try to empathize, but we can never truly know what another feels or thinks.
There are two posts in particular that have had me thinking about this. The first one was from ME at We Are What We Repeatedly Do called, Pain Olympics. She was talking about how pain is unique to the individual and all pain is not equal. She is right. All pain is unique. The second one was from DD over at Punch Drunk with a post called Dead Bird — Now for the Dead Horse talking about how secondary infertility hurts just as bad as primary infertility. She’s right, too. Nobody knows what pain is in someone else’s heart.
I’ve seen this in the food allergy community as well. A certain feeling that those who fit the Top 8 get all the respect and treatment. If your an allergy sufferer from a food that isn’t on FAAN’s magic list, well, you are out-of-luck. Even within the group of Top 8 sufferers, I have seen the soybean allergic tell the peanut, egg, and shellfish allergic how lucky they are because soy is in everything. Then the non-Top 8 corn allergics point out that soy is so much easier because it is at least labeled.
Interestingly, even though my journey with ovarian cancer has just began, I haven’t seen the same degree of The Pain Olympics with cancer patients. Cancer just sucks. The thing is, it is still there. There is a feeling among gynecological cancer victims that everything is about breast cancer. All the literature, all the ribbons, all the events seem to be about breast cancer. In private, I have even heard non-gynecological cancer patients express irritation at the the emphasis and focus breast cancer gets.
Now this isn’t to say that any of the emotions felt by any of these people is not valid. Emotions are valid. Emotions are felt without logic.
In primary infertility, there is a death of one’s genetic line. Sure, you can, in some cases, choose alternative routes to parenthood – but not all routes to parenthood are open to all people. For some, childlessness is a permanent state that was never chosen due to outside influences. That, of course, is a post for another day. Even if one is to move on to donor, surrogacy, or adoption, the genetic line that you were trying to propagate is no more. And, at a very base level, that is something to be mourned. Those who have a living child do not experience that loss. Does this make secondary infertility any less painful? Not for those in its throes. It does, however, make it completely different.
Then there is the allergy world where a lot of pretenders like to live. I’m sorry, celiac is not allergy! Allergy is defined by the fact that it can unexpectedly kill you suddenly. Even a mild allergy can suddenly become life-threatening and the doctors don’t know why or how that happens. They have a multitude of theories, but no concrete knowledge of that part of the process. The infighting among the allergic – fueled by corporate sponsored non-advocacy groups (FAAN) – does not help matters either. Interestingly, FAAN actually encourages the divide between the Top 8 and the rest of the allergy community. They have even told those who are not allergic to the Top 8 that their allergies are rare – though there are no well-done, peer-reviewed, non-corporate sponsored studies that have concluded this. Does this make those with the Top 8 allergies less important than those with non-Top 8 allergies less important? Or vice versa? No. Both are important and the infighting doesn’t help anyone.
As to other food related diseases such as celiac? Yes, they are painful and deserve to be researched and recognized more often than they are. Food intolerance should not be ignored. It is important, however, to not conflagrate the different food-related immune diseases as this gives doctors and the general public an excuse to ignore the real problems. Celiac can cause a long lingering death with infertility thrown in. This does not minimize the pain it causes as the food industry and public health officials don’t seem to care one wit about any of us. We need to stop comparing and one-upping our pain in order to get the food industry and public health officials to take us seriously.
Finally, the perception around breast cancer getting all the attention. Right now? They do. It is because they have survivors in numbers and breasts are easy for the public to think about. How many people really understand what an ovary or a colon or a cervix or pancreas does? We have horrible health education in American schools. The vast majority of people have no idea what anything besides a vague idea of what any of their organs do. Most people don’t even fully realize that their skin is an organ! How can we expect them to understand about cancers in the organs they don’t see and think about when most of us don’t speak out and talk about it? Many people don’t realize that cancer research is in need for the less common cancers. They really believe that by giving to one cancer charity they are helping out all cancers. They don’t really understand that cancer is not one disease. Heck, even ovarian cancer is at least 3 different diseases – and there is growing evidence that the epithelial cancers may actually be 4 discrete diseases in and of themselves. How is The Pain Olympics of “they get all the attention and we get none” helping?
Interestingly, my DH brought up The Pain Olympics unwittingly with mention of a post on The Daily KOS about artificial insemination. People were sharing their own painful stories about family-building and he was sorely tempted to share our story. When he told me this I laughed and told him he just entered the world of women and The Pain Olympics. His perception is that everyone who has it worse than us has stopped blogging. (I know this isn’t the case, but understand his feelings.)
Now, does anything I say above invalidate the need to sometimes vent about how badly you hurt and how someone else has it so much easier? No, not at all. We all have pain. Each bit of pain is unique to us and is just as valid as anyone else’s pain. What we feel is what we feel. Heaven knows I have had my days of thinking that I must have won The Pain Olympics. Let’s see, get the food allergy that nobody believes in (corn with multiple other allergies (food, drug, and environmental) – recognition of this allergy has gotten much better in recent years); find out we are unable to have kids without IVF to get pregnant and have a miscarriage at 19 weeks; gear up to do another IVF cycle only to find Stage 1c Ovarian Cancer with a Grade 3 tumor that means hysterectomy and chemotherapy. Does this mean I win?