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Empowering our PCOS 'cysters' - All Woman - Jamaica Observer
All Woman

Empowering our PCOS 'cysters'

THE 'PCOS 1 in 10 JA' campaign is revolutionising women's health advocacy to spread awareness of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and enable change. PCOS is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age.

Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels and fail to regularly release eggs. Although September is internationally recognised as PCOS Awareness Month, this campaign is on a mission to empower and celebrate diverse Jamaican women living with PCOS, even beyond this month.

The first episode of the campaign's documentary series featured Naomi Cowan and Shelly-Ann “Dr Sexy-Ann” Weeks engaging in a riveting conversation about what PCOS actually is, symptoms that women often experience, and its effects. This left many new supporters of the campaign with burning questions about other initiatives that the campaign has to offer to its many “cysters” and allies. The video series can be viewed on @pcos1in10ja on Instagram (IG), Facebook and YouTube.

In an effort to spread awareness so that women gain a better understanding of how to cope with PCOS mentally and physically, the campaign shares content related to PCOS education on all its platforms. A 'Facts or Fiction' initiative will denounce PCOS myths and misconceptions. Twitter threads regarding symptoms of PCOS will be utilised to encourage women to book appointments with their gynaecologists as a precautionary measure if they suspect that they may have it. Another thread will be dedicated to budget-friendly meals for weight control. Dr Kimberley Sommerville, a medical doctor and key campaign organiser, said people are also allowed to send in questions, which will be answered by a medical professional, to increase education about how to manage symptoms and the type of diet that would be good for specific types of PCOS.

The campaign's educational efforts will also include an Instagram Live series hosted by Kim Rose, one of PCOS 1 in 10 JA's campaign organisers. Viewers can look forward to this every Thursday at 7:30 pm, where diverse topics about PCOS will be explored. During the second session hosted on Thursday, September 9, Jik-Reuben Pringle, visual advocate and key campaign organiser, elaborated on the creative process and why men should also be educated about PCOS. This IG Live session also featured three participants whose PCOS stories were documented for the video series. Natali Daley-Grünenfelder, visual artist, spoke about ways that women can manage their symptoms, while Jodi-Ann Brown, customer relations specialist, shared information about exercise, diet, and the mental aspect of PCOS. Ali Matalon, policy advisor, detailed how she has been coping lately and her experience with medical professionals. This session also delved into the panel's hopes for the campaign and why community is so important. Participants in future IG Live sessions will range from campaign organisers, campaign creatives, women with PCOS, and health-care professionals.

As their advocacy progresses, the organisers of the campaign also hope to do school tours to speak to girls and young women about PCOS. This would allow the campaign to become more inclusive, given that PCOS can also affect girls who are experiencing puberty. PCOS sensitisation will be crucial in reducing misinformation about this syndrome.

Although education forms the foundation of any type of advocacy, PCOS 1 in 10 JA will also engage women in PCOS self-care. This initiative will be executed in many ways, including via 'Kitty Tip' posts. The audience will be exposed to diverse ways that vaginal health can be improved, guided by expertise from health-care professionals.

“We want to give people a resource to hear other women's stories and hear how they have managed their PCOS. In hearing these 11 women's stories we have gotten an understanding of the ways that they have been able to take care of themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally; how that relates to their PCOS; and what techniques they use to manage that,” said Leah Barnett, participant and marketing lead on the campaign. Barnett also added, “Outside of that, during this month and what we hope to be a continuous basis, we will share those tips throughout as best practices for individuals. We will then go over the impact that this has on people through posts on social media.”

This campaign is clearly on a journey to becoming a massive wellness guide for women with PCOS.

PCOS 1 in 10 JA will be offering PCOS “cyster” support. Medical diagnoses are often difficult to cope with but the campaign is committed to reminding PCOS warriors that they are not alone. With this in mind, online support group sessions will be implemented through collaborations with Think Mental Health JA. According to Kim Rose, campaign organiser and founder of Think Mental Health JA, “These peer support group sessions are meant to be safe spaces for those who have been diagnosed with PCOS or are struggling with the symptoms, whether psychological or physical.”

As a reminder, Rose also expressed that, “They are not a replacement for professional diagnosis and treatment.”

Everyone experiences PCOS symptoms differently, so the campaign team hopes that this initiative inspires others to support those around them with PCOS and become a community. Olivia Marie, social entrepreneur, creative, and campaign participant affirmed that, “Community is the most important thing in helping me so far.”

This support group aims to be just that — a strong community built on trust and guidance for women with PCOS.

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