Believe Women's Pain!

believe women's pain.jpg

3/2/18 - Cramps, hysterectomies and the quest to make doctor's believe women's pain. An update from Amina about her cancer journey. Our #bleedin4amina blood drives start this month. Mike Pence's abortion delusions. Parkland teens are amazing. What if Black Lives Matter teen organizers got the same love and support?

Transcript below.

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Producer: Gina Delvac

Hosts: Aminatou Sow & Ann Friedman

Theme song: Call Your Girlfriend by Robyn

Composer: Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs

Visual Creative Director: Kenesha Sneed

Merch Director: Caroline Knowles

Editorial Assistant: Laura Bertocci

Ad sales: Midroll




Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.

Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.

Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.

Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. On this week's agenda, cramps, hysterectomies, and the quest to make doctors believe women's pain; Mike Pence's abortion delusions; what Parkland teens do and don't have in common with Black Lives Matter teens, and why the only glock we want in schools is the glockenspiel.

[Theme Song]

Aminatou: The girls are back in time! I can't believe I'm even attempting to sing. I can't sing to save anybody's life.

Ann: I do think that you singing Thin Lizzy hits some kind of Midwest dive bar classic rock Venn diagram where I'm like hmm, keep going. [Laughter]


Aminatou: Well I'm just excited because it's the first time that we're recording this podcast since December. I know the user experience, people think we've been around every week, but truly since December I've been in cancer land so this is a -- it's exciting to be back.

Ann: I mean love having you back. There have been approximately one million things that I have wanted to process with you in the news, but you know what? It's also good sometimes I think to take a step back and be like let's talk about the stuff that is not commanding our attention on the front page of the paper.

Aminatou: Listen, as somebody who knows nothing about the news recently I'm going to tell you . . .

Ann: Stop it.

Aminatou: It's true. I kind of don't know anything. Things happen at a clip that I literally cannot process but also on my cancer journey -- I love the phrase cancer journey first of all -- I'm taking a lot of naps. Like menopause is kicking my ass so I am just like I've reverted to full baby. And I take approximately two naps a day and I literally don't know what's happening in the news. Like if it's not in a friend's Instagram story I don't know what's going on in the world and everything is fine.

Ann: Also your timing about Hope Hicks' hair is also still impeccable so you can't pretend to be that far off the news cycle.

Aminatou: Okay, first of all Hope Hicks is more than politics; Hope Hicks is culture, you know? She's part of the Gossip Girl empire and I do love her hair. The reason I'm invested in Hope Hicks specifically, it's a really good reminder for me that I was bamboozled by her because she was beautiful where I'm like oh, I also have a bias towards beautiful people.

Ann: Pretty people get away with everything.

Aminatou: I know! But I thought that didn't apply to me and then it's like not true at all. I was obsessed with Hope Hicks. She's so beautiful. I love her eyebrows. My god, her hair, just all of it. And I thought that she was really a mastermind, you know? Not that she was going to save us but I thought that she was definitely throwing people under the bus. And then no, turns out she was a dummy like the rest of them and she's going to be carted away in the paddy wagon when sweeps week comes.

Ann: Turns out it's a paddy wagon, not a bus. [Laughter]


Aminatou: You know, never mind. She fooled me too. But yeah, Robert Mueller, can you step up this season of America please? He keeps introducing new characters. The arcs aren't completing. I'm just ready for sweeps week. When is the plot moving forward?

Ann: You mean the perp walk? That's sweeps week content.

Aminatou: Oh my god, I just like can't wait. But anyway it's good to be back. It feels awesome.

Ann: Yeah, so wait, so maybe you can talk -- maybe we can talk a little bit about your Cancer Journey (TM) in a minute.

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: But first I want to talk about this blood drive that we're doing at the top of the show.

Aminatou: Yes!

Ann: Because if anyone listened to last week's episode you heard me and Gina talk about this a little bit. But I also want to talk about it with you because one reason we wanted to do this is you have survived -- and thrived -- thanks to strangers' blood and we wanted to collect more of it.

Aminatou: I am so emotional about the blood drive for many reasons. 1) Vampire reasons. 2) When I told you that you couldn't come by my nurse here which I know was your first impulse and I was like no, Ann, it's just cancer. We all have to live our lives.

Ann: I had typed most of the cancers of into my browser when you were like no.

Aminatou: [Laughs] Yeah, you were like moving into an Airbnb on the street. You know what I'm saying? And I was like no, we're not going to let this disrupt our lives. You channeled all of your Midwest energy into planning a meal train for me and then this blood drive which honestly relationship goals. You are the queen of logistics and I was really touched. But the thing about the blood drive too is yeah, it personally means so much to me because for the past five years I have been just bleeding like a gunshot victim every time I had my period. Every single time I had a period I would almost undoubtedly get a blood transfusion that was given by a stranger that I could never say thank you to. Blood products save lives. And it's just like such an easy way to make a difference. One donation of somebody's blood can save up to three lives. It was just such a reminder that yeah, for all of our like "I'm a self-sufficient person. I give more than I take or whatever," is strangers help you every single day and that is so apparent in blood giving and blood getting.


Ann: Right. So the blood drive is not like we're collecting all these pints of blood for you specifically, just to be clear.

Aminatou: They're all going to be in my fridge. [Laughs] All of the blood is coming to my house.

Ann: Oh, you're going to be like a Tilda Swinton sexy vampire just hording? Yeah.

Aminatou: Yeah, I'm doing facials every day with your Type AB blood. Thanks guys. No, the blood drive is to replenish blood banks around cities that I love. So if you live in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, Texas, New York, New York. Did I miss a city? Minneapolis.

Ann: Uh, yes, Los Angeles. Home of your boo. [Laughs]

Aminatou: Oh yeah, and Los Angeles. Sorry. Minneapolis and Los Angeles. You can go to and find information to sign up. If the blood drive is already full in your city don't be scared. You can literally walk in any day in any blood bank in the country, even around the world. Somebody sent me a tweet of her giving blood in London this morning and I cried.

Ann: Yeah!

Aminatou: And just do that. Do that for your fellow human person. It is really a selfless act of citizenship.

Ann: Yeah. And I also have to say you know how there are those really rich, kept women who are like "I'm just a philanthropist now. I don't work. I do charitable causes."

Aminatou: [Laughs]


Ann: And I'm like after working, to be honest with also a good handful of other friends who love you, like it wasn't just me, but after devoting some hours planning blood drives I'm like wow, that could be me some day. I really could fill my time as a kept wife philanthropist type.

Aminatou: Oh my god, the people need it. The people need it.

Ann: I know.

Aminatou: So yeah, if you give blood in a city not on our list you can still go to our website and log your donation. We want to know exactly how many pints are coming to my fridge. [Laughs] No, we're just doing a little bit of tracking. Here's also my advice to you if you're going to give blood: be very hydrated. Your bloods will be plumper the more hydrated you are and the easier they'll be to find. All these people who are always like "I'm so afraid of needles," not to minimize your pain even though I literally just did, a lot of the pain just comes from them looking for your veins and fumbling around or whatever. And the other thing is also bring a snack. They definitely give you snacks there but just have some food on you because you're going to feel a little hangry. And Ann's best tip: ask for a blanket if you're cold.

Ann: Oh my god, yeah, so I tried to give pre-blood drive on my own thinking I was going to be a champion at this because I'm not scared of needles. I grew up with a diabetic sister so needles are no big deal. But I also have tiny veins and I'm always cold. And I was like they had me underneath an air conditioning unit where I was shivering the whole time so obviously my veins are not exactly pumping it out. And I didn't really realize until later that I could've, should've asked for a warm blanket to speed things up.

Aminatou: Yeah. Some places they bring them out of this blanket oven. My good. The blanket oven is my favorite part of being a hospital patient.

Ann: Can I get that on Amazon? [Laughs]

Aminatou: I hope so. I'm just like wow, this is really toasty. Thank you. So I'm always asking for blankets. And honestly thank you from the bottom of my heart. It means so much. Also on our website you will find that we acknowledge that blood giving is very discriminatory.

Ann: Ugh.


Aminatou: And don't worry, it's driving us up the wall also. So if you can't give blood please don't feel bad. It's not your fault at all. The FDA won't let anybody be great. It's very -- blood giving politics are very shamy towards all of the wrong people and it's very, very irritating.

Ann: Yeah, towards our people. It's like gay people and international people and people with tattoos. It's like oh my god, that's everyone we know.

Aminatou: Totally. So if you can't give please don't feel bad. Tell a friend who can give. Feel free to write to your congress person and your senator about getting the FDA to let us live a little bit. Also I'm going to make an appeal to my fellow people of flavor -- of color. One reason that it's really important for us specifically to give blood is there are many blood types that are overrepresented in certain ethnicities, right? So the fewer black people or Asian people or Latino people or whatever give blood the fewer chances are that they will have a big supply of blood for people who match all of those profiles. And so I'm O-positive so not a big deal for me but for a lot of other people having their specific blood type at the blood bank is super, super important. So do something for a fellow human being today. Thanks y'all.

Ann: All right. Do you want to go back to your Cancer Journey (TM) and fill us in on what's been going on?

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: No pressure if you don't want to.

Aminatou: No, it's fine. I feel like it's all I talk about so I feel like I'm a little self-conscious about it. Also you know me. I need a lot of distance between something before I feel like I'm fully understanding what's going on. And by distance I mean like 15 years. [Laughs]

Ann: We're both processors, yeah.

Aminatou: Those are all the things I'm processing in therapy right now is everything that happened sophomore year in high school. Yeah. So it almost feels like I'm having an out-of-body experience. I am, what, like five weeks removed from having a total hysterectomy and a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. Those just fancy words for a procedure which means that my uterus is out, my cervix is out, my fallopian tubes are out and my ovaries are out. And your vagina gets sewed into a nice little purse called a vaginal cuff.

Ann: Vaginal cuff in season! [Laughter]


Aminatou: I don't know that I can laugh at that yet.

Ann: I'm sorry!

Aminatou: No, it's okay. I'm just like oof, wow, triggering my own self. This is why it's good to talk out loud. And honestly I am doing pretty decently. My oncologist is great. Shout-out Dr. Cohen. I can't even see my -- all the places that she cut me open, whatever those are called.

Ann: Incisions.

Aminatou: Incisions, that word. And so, yeah, they're like you can get many different kinds of hysterectomies. I think one of the most popular ones now is this thing called a Da Vinci Robot. It looks so demented. Watch it on YouTube, it's amazing. The doctor is literally feet removed from you and the robot is going to town.

Ann: Whoa.

Aminatou: But I did not have that. I had laparoscopic vaginally-assisted hysterectomy. So that means they used the laparoscope to cut all the stuff then you give birth to your own gnarly organs.

Ann: Oh my god.

Aminatou: So it's pretty intense.

Ann: I know I said this to you at the time but I'm going to say it again for posterity on the podcast which is that you are now -- you were always a living feminist metaphor but the fact that you birthed yourself is the most beautiful feminist art project term come to literal life and I love it so much.


Aminatou: Oh my god. I feel, honestly, I feel very feminist right now. Like at my core where it's really interesting to go through a GYN cancer experience because obviously the doctors use all the technical terms, you know, and all this stuff. But they still have to explain so much to you. And I'm like well, first of all I was a sex peer educator in college. Second of all I'm a feminist. I know exactly where my myometrium is don't be shy. [Laughs] And they're always so surprised that I know the stuff. And also I don't have any shame about talking about it. It's made me very kind of emotional about our friendship and even this podcast in this project about just talking about our bodies so openly, you know? It turns out that a life time of being fascinated by my own period chunks means that having a hysterectomy was no biggie. [Laughs]

Ann: Slash also saved your life probably, like paying close attention. Yeah.

Aminatou: 100% definitely saved my life because it's been such a source of pain for me. So yeah, so five weeks post-surgery I don't have any surgery problems. It's really funny. They're obsessed with you peeing right and farting and pooping right before they send you home because that's literally how they know if they've broken anything.

Ann: [Laughs]

Aminatou: Any time you have surgery you have to sign paperwork that's like anything that's in the neighborhood of the thing that we're touching is like probably, you know, like we might fuck it up. Which I don't know how to tell you this, down there it's like your bladder and your rectum and I'm like please don't mess that up. So it's been really interesting. The bladder stuff is really fascinating because in a lot of women the bladder sits right next to your uterus. It just like rests there. It's like ugh, a seat.

Ann: Lazy bladder. [Laughs] 

Aminatou: Yeah. So when they take your uterus out your bladder is freaking out so a lot of people report this feeling of whenever they pee they feel like their bladder is about to pop out and I definitely had that for a couple days. It was really fascinating and there's a little bit of pressure and it's getting better. You haven't lived until you have to have a rectal exam let me tell you. [Laughs] That's probably going to be the first line of my memoir one day. Yeah, you know, it's just a tiny series of humiliations every day but honestly you can handle it. I laugh. I laugh so hard at the hospital all the time because I'm like this is the most ludicrous thing that could happen to anybody. So yeah, so surgery-wise I'm doing good. I take some percocet, walking around, all that stuff. But when they take out your ovaries you go immediately into medical menopause and let me tell you menopause is outrageous. I can't believe older women have not burned the entire planet into the ground.


Ann: I mean this is the sort of thing where, you know, the whole if men got their periods then whatever. It would be a national holiday every time you got yours or whatever. There's a million ways to talk about how it would be celebrated instead of shamed and all painful aspects would be removed. It's like ditto times a million for menopause.

Aminatou: Menopause is like wow. Menopause is truly kicking my ass. I am experiencing all of the symptoms and it feels like puberty in the sense that they're just like it's normal and we kind of don't know how long it'll last or how it'll affect your body. Like the perfect scam. And so some people in my support group, I'm in so many support groups. I'm in support groups, like online support groups, in person. I dropped in on this breast cancer water tai chi the other day. I'm just like I don't even have breast cancer; I'm just here. I need friends. [Laughter] Yeah, it's just like very strange. Some women in my support group are like oh, I didn't feel any symptoms. Others are like it's been four years. I still have hot flashes. And the thing about it that I think is the most frustrating to me is that all of cancer medicine is so precise, like they're always weighing you. It's like if you go through radiation they're weighing specific ounces of nuclear material to put in your body. Like everything is very science, very precise. And then, you know, you're like oh, like I'm -- menopause. Then they go "Have you tried essential oils?"

Ann: Ahh! I can't.


Aminatou: And that's all they can do for you. That's really all they can do for you. And I'm acutely getting all of the symptoms, like every part of my body is dry including my hair. It's really messed up. I am not sleeping an ounce. Like I need to take something to sleep every night or I cannot sleep. Who knew hormones also regulate your sleep? The hot flashes are whew. Like literal Satan inside your body. And then the mood swings are legendary. Like shout-out to everybody who I've cried to for no reason recently. All of it is messed up, like you're just . . . I feel out of control in a preteen my boobs are coming out, my voice is changing, all that stuff out of control except that every change is on the inside.

Ann: Hearing your frustration with this I've been thinking a lot about how few public narratives there are about menopause. Like it's not like everyone is into the project that we're into of de-stigmatizing menarche but obviously you can point to books and you can point to pop culture and shows and things like that that revolve around getting your period for the first time. The reverse process of exiting through the gift shop if you will . . . [Laughs]

Aminatou: [Laughs]

Ann: Is not something that's reflected, and I really do think that there's something about oh, if you're getting a period you are now like hello. Like you are now an attractive woman and the world wants something to do with you. You're an adult, sexualizable person which setting aside the validity of that there's not a lot of -- you know, aside from a few hot flash jokes in the Golden Girls or whatever let's be real they're pretty far past menopause anyway at that . . .

Aminatou: Yeah. Frankie and Grace, you know, and always talking about the lubricant yam stuff. [Laughs]

Ann: That's true, yeah.


Aminatou: They're also kind of way past menopause. And it is always a punchline, right? It's always like a you're always supposed to laugh at this stuff and I'm like let me tell you this is not funny. It's really fascinating also to see how I've responded to everything else. It's like okay, cancer. It was kind of a relief for me at least to get that diagnosis because it meant that all of these years my pain had been real.

Ann: Right.

Aminatou: You know, and how I was dealing with everything else. But menopause is where I've turned into a complete -- I'm like no, this is not acceptable. And some of it has to do with the fact that I'm like if there's pain in your body or you're uncomfortable actually you should investigate it and there should be something to make it better.

Ann: Wait, what? Women don't need to be in pain all the time?

Aminatou: Yeah, women don't need to be in pain. So two things that I've read about this that are actually great, a couple of weeks ago friend-of-the-pod Jami Attenberg wrote a letter of recommendation in the New York Times magazine about hysterectomies and it's really beautiful. I won't ruin it for you. You should read it. It was the first thing that I read post-surgery and it was like a bomb to the heart but the point of it was if things are bad in your life you can cut them out. [Laughs]

Ann: You can birth yourself.

Aminatou: Right. And down the road I do want to have -- we'll probably do an episode specifically about hysterectomies and fertility and all that stuff because I have many thoughts about it. But it was really -- I'm like wow, what a radical thought. Something is giving you problems? Take it out of your life. We don't know how to do that. And very close to that other friend-of-the-pod Max Reed wrote in the Times also this really funny article about how men are babies about pain. [Laughs] Which you know I 100% believe. Nobody complains more than a cis man with a common cold.

Ann: [Laughs]


Aminatou: And it used to irritate me so much. It's honestly a thing that has always made partners unattractive to me is when they complain about like my throat hurts. My nose is dripping. Sorry, not to minimize your pain ex-partners even though I just did.

Ann: Also I legit complained to you about my cold before we started this call. [Laughs]

Aminatou: Ann, when you're complaining to me I know that it's real because you never complain about anything.

Ann: I mean lies but thank you.

Aminatou: Also I'm coming into the era of complaining. But now I'm just like oh, are men these unreasonable babies? Probably. But also are men just like very good at talking about things that make them uncomfortable and have a very low tolerance for pain? Sure. Now I'm like oh, maybe be more like the men. [Laughs] I can't believe I just said that.

Ann: Yeah!

Aminatou: But women, we tolerate an intense amount of pain and I know that for me I don't want to generalize because I don't know really what it's tied to. But I know that for me I've tied it back to this very irrational fear of childbirth pain. I've never been pregnant so I don't know what that pain feels like. I'm actually not sure how to quantify it. But in the pop culture they make it seem like that is the worst pain you can have. So every time I've been in pain I'm like ooh, at least I'm not pooping out a baby. And it turns out that problem I was experiencing pain that was more than that all along.

[Music and Ads]


Ann: So I'm sure that you saw all over the Internet lately too a headline that said something to the effect of menstrual cramps are as painful as heart attacks.

Aminatou: Yeah, I was like tell me something I don't know. [Laughs]

Ann: Right. And I think that you're right, the reason that got shared so many times is because people who have periods experience a lot of pain and it's not acknowledged or reflected that that is serious. Like all of those pads where blue liquid falls into a pad do not acknowledge that this actually can be debilitatingly painful. And I was like okay.

Aminatou: Yes, once a month you have a heart attack in your pants, you know?

Ann: Well, sort of yes. Whatever. So I was like I'm going to do a Google and find the original study because you know how we like to fact-check. [Laughs]

Aminatou: Yeah., unproven.

Ann: I also noticed that all of the websites that were linking to this were sort of of the bloggy, probably not going to do some original reporting variety. So as far as I can tell it goes back to a 2016 article in Quartz that is mostly a first-person thing. The writer's name is Olivia Goldhill, talks to her doctors, and she also interviewed a doctor at University College London who told her that patients describe the cramping pain as "almost as bad as having a heart attack." So to be fair this is not like doctors have decided to objectively try to measure the pain experience from menstruation and line it up with life-threatening, documented, really bad stuff. It's more like yeah, when you see people sharing that headline it's because we're all talking about the fact that we share this experience of knowing cramping feels that bad. I feel like people are sharing it because they're like "Doctors believe us! That's science." That's sort of the motivation for sharing that when really the doctors are just like this is what women say. And the upshot is they're not listening. I mean there is a body of research that says when women -- particularly women of color -- tell doctors that they are in pain it has to be so much more extreme before doctors are like "Oh, maybe we can manage that pain or address it."


Aminatou: Oh, that is so well-documented and even benchmarked against men's pain. Like men and women will come in with the exact symptoms and men will get more pain management and pain relief than women will. There's this entire thing called Yentl Syndrome that you should read about. It's very infuriating. And also anecdotally in my many support groups [Laughter] that I am a part of one of the big conversations that people have is around pain management. Before I had surgery I talked to my doctor about well, my third eye's wide open and I'm afraid of opioid addiction because . . .

Ann: Important convo. [Laughs]

Aminatou: I'm convinced that it would happen to me, and that's been a driving force in my life. It's like don't get addicted to opioids because I love to mask pain.

Ann: I know, but side-note, the text that you sent me when you were on dilaudid in the recovery room were some of the sweetest correspondence I've ever received. [Laughs]

Aminatou: Ann, dilaudid is so delicious. The nurses said -- the nurse in the recovery room told me . . . so first of all I'm a nightmare patient for doctors and nurses. Before they give me a shot I make them tell me what it is then I make them show me. I'm just like I'm a black woman. You're not going to kill me in here. I'm not going to beat cancer so that hospital negligence kills me. I don't play those games.

Ann: [Laughs]


Aminatou: So I'm always double-checking their work and I'm like "Can you say it again? Okay, what dosage?" And I'm already high from surgery pain so it's not like I know what I'm doing. I just want to be proactive. But anyway, she was like every time I gave you dilaudid you kept saying "Oh, no wonder these little white kids are addicted to this stuff. Delicious." [Laughter] It's true! The relief is instant. Yeah, if you could buy dilaudid at CVS I would be the poster child for how bad it is for you. Anyway, so I actually talked to my surgeon before surgery about pain management and if you're going to have surgery, especially if you're a person of color, talk to them about it beforehand and ask every question that you have. I was like what are you going to give me? How much of it are you going to give me? What happens if I run out or I have more pain? 

Because the thing that I'm noticing a lot in my support groups is people are feeling a lot of shame about asking for more if a couple of weeks in they don't feel great. And also I've noticed that everybody gets a different amount. Like I was given probably enough pills for four or five days post-op if I took them on the schedule that you're supposed to take them. Then I was like well, you know, actually percocet is just heroin plus Tylenol so maybe I'm just going to switch to the Tylenol and hold the heroin.  Yeah, because in Europe they don't give you percocet like they give you here but that's a different conversation. So I would really encourage people to talk to their doctors about it beforehand.

And also if you are legitimately still in pain after your allotted dose of pain medicine there's no shame in telling your doctor that you still feel pain. There's a reason pain management is an entire body of science and medicine. Just having this hysterectomy and the tu-mah -- I keep calling my tumor tu-mah -- taken out of my body, thanks Arnold Schwarzenegger, is I'm still a cancer patient. Hopefully that status will change over the next year. But I legitimately feel better than I did before surgery, you know? I remember my first post-op appointment and the doctor was like you look amazing. [Laughs] I was like yes, I was literally dying the first time I came to see you and I'm running around or whatever. So, you know, it's not to say that it's all charming and everything went well but I'm like oh, this is how sick I was. Like I'm so aware of that, just the difference.


Pain is really . . . women's pain, I don't know, it's been on my mind a lot and I feel like I've been ranting to you about it so, so, so much because some of it I'm like okay, how much of it do you actually have to go through and how much of it is patriarchy, you know? Is it pain-pain or is it patriarchy-pain and what does that mean? And also every way that we're socialized and raised to just like deal with it and how in the end it is all a scam and it's not fair to you. It's not fair to you and I'm just like I don't want to raise the next generation of women to feel this way and to feel like they can't talk about it.

Ann: Well, and you're not like -- I mean first of all you're not ranting; you're talking about your life and your experiences when the external world is not validating and listening to you. I mean you are one of a handful of women in my life who spent years -- years -- of their lives in chronic, debilitating pain without a concrete diagnosis or treatment plan. Like there are women in my life who are still in the phase of okay, hopefully this next specialist can answer why I'm in pain all the time. Obviously I was devastated when I heard about your diagnosis but I was also kind of relieved too where I'm like okay, now . . . this is a thing that doctors are aware of how to treat and there can be new options and a new plan for you whereas -- yeah. So the answer is it's definitely patriarchy and if you are listening to this and you are a woman who experiences chronic pain and can't get a doctor to validate you or listen to you I don't have the answers but I just want to say we see you and it sucks and I'm sorry and patriarchy is terrible.


Aminatou: Right, you know? But also keep investigating because the only difference between you and a doctor is that fool went to medical school. [Laughter] It's still -- I'm just really aware of this. Like your body, your responsibility. I'm really aware of all of the times that I had an office job or whatever and it's like I don't feel great but I really can't go to the doctor because this memo has to go out today. You know, it's PR, it's not the ER. We don't save lives here.

Ann: [Laughs]

Aminatou: You know, and thinking about all the times that I didn't put my health first. Not to say that it's my fault that I got cancer. It is absolutely not my fault. Like for me it had to get to a point where it was like oh, I actually can't function anymore and that's why I'm cracking the books open. [Laughs]

Ann: Right, and also you have a PhD on your own body. You know your own body better than a doctor with a medical school degree knows objective truths about the human body so that's also real.

Aminatou: That's true. Oh, so you know another thing I was going to tell you about pain? So I was talking to a nurse once. You know, whenever they're like "Where's your pain level? 1 to 10." Which I always thought was very dumb and I'm like actually there's no universal pain scale.

Ann: Yeah.

Aminatou: Then what I realized they were actually doing is to see how for real you were. So you never want to say ten because they're just going to be like oh, exaggerator. But if you're like seven, eight, nine, that's real. And if you're like four they're like oh, she can take it. And I was always like "Uh, I guess this is a two or a three for me." And really it was a 17 on the 1 to 10 scale. [Laughter] So stuff is different for everyone but, you know, it is your body, it is your responsibility and you owe it to yourself to investigate all sorts of discomfort.

Ann: Ugh.


Aminatou: The flip side of that is I was already a hypochondriac which probably saved my life but a lot of cancer patients just report having so much anxiety now about everything that's wrong. It's like you know this about me, every time my head hurts I'm like oh, that's my brain tumor. My leg hurt the other day and I was like yep, definitely have deep vein thrombosis now. [Laughter] And apparently the anxiety lessons over time but that's a thing that's also really front-of-mind for me. I'm so paranoid about every noise and crack and creak in my body. But you know what? We'll check back into the cancer journey.

Ann: [Laughs]

Aminatou: Not to say that it's been a blessed experience or anything. I'm just glad that there's a plan and also I'm so aware of my own just like privilege and confronted with it every day that I can advocate for myself and I can have access to healthcare. It's a very hard thing to grapple with.

Ann: I'm so happy to have you back in the world. And also I know we've talked about this before too but the idea that look what you were doing before while you were managing essentially a health crisis. Like how unstoppable are you going to be after you're through the woods on this one? I can't even handle what you're going to accomplish. I'm dying.

Aminatou: Yeah. When I beat cancer it's over for you bitches. [Laughs]

Ann: It's like you're going to pummel your way through literally every other goal you've ever had. I'm so excited.

Aminatou: That or I'm just going to stick to this life of naps and being chill all the time. I'm like wow, life can be like this? Part of the reason that I decided to be open about talking about this cancer is because . . . [Laughs] It's really because I'm an impossible person to help, because if it was up to me I would've just had secret cancer and never talk to anybody. But I had to talk to you and Gina about it because it involved logistics. Other friends saw me and I was like oh no, I guess I should talk about this. But then I watched my friends have a hard time dealing with it and I was like yeah, I can't ask them to keep my secret. We're all going through this together. I'm impossible to help so maybe we can help each other. [Laughter] Like throw you a bone.


But the thing that's been really delightful is that actually once I relented, sure, please stock my fridge with food. Check on me. Take me to the doctor. Like all of those things that I loathe to have people help me with. It's like oh, not only is this fine, this is amazing.

Ann: I know! Also as someone who loves you it feels really good to be able to have a concrete action to take that communicates how much I love and support you. And I'm not saying you should make choices about how public to be about what you're going through based on serving your friends and their needs but it does feel really good to be like okay, here's a concrete thing. A meal train. Here's a concrete thing, a blood drive.

Aminatou: Yeah.

Ann: Those are things where I can just -- I don't want to sit around and just be like texting you about how you're feeling; I want to do something.

Aminatou: No, it's true. And also I'm telling you I finally relented to letting people help and letting people know. One reason I can do that is because I have the best friends in the world. So it turns out that when they say they're going to do something they actually do it. But also I'm just like oh, wow, life can be like this. You can just let people take care of you. So even when I get better I don't think I'm going to talk about it because I'm like excuse me, can somebody do my laundry again this week? Because I can't bend. Thank you guys.

Ann: I mean also callback to a metaphor from a few weeks ago but the lady web makes a good safety net, you know what I mean?

Aminatou: Yeah.

Ann: We can catch you. [Laughs]

Aminatou: Yeah, no, y'all caught me and I feel very loved and supported. You know, it's going to be a journey. It's going to be the rest of my life but as long as I'm here it's going to be pretty fun so let's see.

Ann: Oh my god, I'm getting really emotional right now.

Aminatou: I'm an emotional mess all the time. Everybody's always like oh, why are you so -- how are you doing so well? Or blah, blah, blah. And I'm like first of all I go to two therapists and I'm on 100 milligrams of Zoloft. Hopefully more starting next week. And that's another thing that I really want to acknowledge is getting yourself centered and medicated and talking about it is one way to deal with a lot of stress in your life. Like it's so funny, everybody's always like "Oh, you're in a good mood. You're being cheery or whatever." I'm like no, this is my life. You only get one life. You can sink or swim and I am swimming as hard as I can. For anybody who always says like "I don't know what I would do if that happens to me," trust me, you're going to do the exact same stuff that I am doing. Being sick doesn't turn you into some sort of like saint; it just brings up -- you become your most you self because that's really all you have.


You know like how some people are also it's like little women, when you get sick, they're going to write a book and do all these things? I turn to the opposite. I'm like I'm going to watch all of the reality TV that I'm not current on.

Ann: [Laughs]

Aminatou: I'm like this is what I want my legacy to be is Real Housewives of Beverly Hills marathons. And I found a lot of comfort in that. But honestly therapy has been really helpful. I go to my regular therapist and then I go to this other therapist that is like a trauma/sick people specialized therapist and I've made this joke to you countless times. It's regular therapy is the same as cancer therapy, still your dad's fault. [Laughter] So shout-out to my dad who is . . . but, you know, I am really supported but also I was like my mental health is going to be a priority for me this year. And giving in to taking meds has been great. I'm like oh, it's not because I don't try hard enough. I literally have a chemical imbalance. There's actually a lot of science that shows that there is a direct link between gynecological cancer and depression. Surprise, surprise!

Ann: Wow.


Aminatou: That makes a lot of sense. I have no shame around it. Take the help. Like anything helps. Take the help, yeah. Zoloft nation reporting in for duty. I feel great. [Laughter] I feel great. I'm just like wow, maybe if everybody was on an SSRI we would all be fine.

Ann: I mean we're going to be fine.

Aminatou: That's right. Buy your own neurotransmitters if you don't make enough. [Laughs]

Ann: Oh my god.

Aminatou: We've got this. Okay. That's the end of my cancer journey rant. Check back in in a couple of weeks or months. [Laughter]

Ann: So I guess we should get back into the news.

Aminatou: Okay. Tell me what's going on around the country.

Ann: Have you seen what evil gnome Mike Pence is saying this week?

Aminatou: You mean the villain from Archer, the television show? [Laughs]

Ann: This man was at an anti-choice luncheon which with Mike Pence that's just called lunch.

Aminatou: I know.

Ann: But this was an official . . .

Aminatou: Every luncheon is an anti-choice luncheon with this guy.

Ann: And he was like "Listen, all of you people who 100% hate women alongside me don't worry. Abortion is going to end in our lifetime."

Aminatou: Whose lifetime?

Ann: Right. There's no ending abortion. All the research from countries with stringent laws around reproductive rights and access, we know what happens: abortions still happen, women die from them. Poor women die from them. Rich women fly elsewhere and continue to get them. Like that's what happens. Bodies and bodies of reporting on this, right? So not like Mike Pence cares about the facts anyway. But then . . .


Aminatou: Right. He's like "I won't give you birth control but also I won't give you abortion." I'm like my man, you've got to pick one.

Ann: I know. He's like "Mother and I were just celibate," you know?

Aminatou: [Laughs] Oh god.

Ann: But so the National Network of Abortion Funds was on his ass and put out this release that was like "Okay, let's see how that's going in your home state of Indiana." Indiana, which has some stringent laws against abortion. You might remember the Purvi Patel case where women . . .

Aminatou: [Sighs]

Ann: Yeah, women who may have had a miscarriage or something need to defend to the state that it was not an abortion. It's like actually not the worst analogue for looking at the direction that he wants to take the country. And guess what? It's not a safe place to be pregnant. It's not a safe place to give birth. It's not a safe place to have an abortion and it's also not a safe place to have a miscarriage. It has the fourth highest rate of maternal deaths in the United States.

Aminatou: That is shameful. He set his entire state on fire and then left to be vice president. I'm like we see you.

Ann: And the other thing for this Save the Babies perspective, it has an early infant mortality rate that is higher than the rest of the nation and is especially higher for the disparity between black and white infant deaths. So definitely all these babies that he says he wants to save are dying in Indiana and overall Indiana residents have worse health outcomes than the rest of the nation, particularly among people of color as well. So this is what's going on in his case study for ending abortion in our lifetime nationwide.

Aminatou: [Sighs] These ghoulish people, my gosh.

Ann: Can you not read? That's sort of my question here. I'm just like . . .

Aminatou: No, they literally can't read Ann. It's just like well . . . you know, this is the thing that drives me -- that just incenses me so much about these people who say they're pro-life. I'm like first of all I'm the real pro-lifer here. I actually care about alive women and alive babies. I don't know about you people.

Ann: Big talk from a person without a uterus. [Laughs]


Aminatou: That's right, whew. Big talk. But it's also just this thing where if you want to make laws based on your religious book there are a lot of countries you can move to. In this country we worship the constitution. Get it together.

Ann: Right.

Aminatou: They're always trying to have it both ways. The hypocrisy of it is what galls me more than anything else because that's what allows them to be dangerous is they shroud themselves in the language of religion and they care about people or whatever. I'm like there is so much evidence that you actually don't care about anybody. If the Christian right cared so much we would not have so many children that were up for adoption in this country.

Ann: Right, or living poverty or skipping meals. Yeah.

Aminatou: Or like moms that are dying in childbirth. I'm like if they put all the energy that they put into their fake fetus performance art into actually doing things to alleviate poverty or God forbid help pregnant women, wow, you could accomplish a lot actually. But no, that's not what they're doing.

Ann: Okay, so speaking of the constitution have you been keeping up with this Supreme Court case that's going to be heard later this month? I know you have.

Aminatou: No, you told me about it remember? [Laughs]

Ann: Oh right, I'm sorry.

Aminatou: You think I'm joking about this. I'm like no, I have been on a solid Housewives of Beverly Hills and I'm watching MASH, the best TV show.

Ann: Oh my god.

Aminatou: Anyway, that's a conversation for another date. Tell me about . . .

Ann: We are not diverting this conversation about reproductive health loss to MASH. [Laughs]

Aminatou: I'll talk about MASH on my own free time.

Ann: Okay, so in California, my beloved adopted home state, in 2015 the legislature passed something called the Reproductive Fact App. You know how I love facts.

Aminatou: I love that. I love facts.

Ann: Yeah. And basically it's a way of saying to crisis pregnancy centers and places that are anti-abortion propaganda sites masquerading as healthcare clinics that actually they're required to tell people that the state has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to family planning, prenatal care, abortion, the whole gamut.

Aminatou: What? Facts.


Ann: Yes, facts. It is a fact that the state has these programs and if you are telling people that you are a clinic or a medical site offering access to information and services the state of California is like guess what? You actually have to offer access to information. Not the services; just the info.

Aminatou: Right, like don't lie. Just tell the truth.

Ann: Yes. And so there's an anti-choice group called NIFLA, the National Institute of Family and Live Advocates.

Aminatou: [Laughs] You just made that up.

Ann: I did not make -- I really wish I made it up.

Aminatou: You made up NIFLA. Stop it.

Ann: Yeah, so NIFLA is like this curtails our free speech rights because we have to tell facts to people.

Aminatou: Ugh.

Ann: Yeah. And the Supreme Court is hearing the case later this month so . . .

Aminatou: Oh my god, okay. So speaking of the constitution . . . [Laughs] Let's talk about my favorite amendment, the second amendment.

Ann: Oh my god.

Aminatou: It's not my favorite at all.

Ann: Do you have a favorite amendment?

Aminatou: I do, number four. [Laughs] Search and seizure.

Ann: I knew you would have a favorite amendment.

Aminatou: You know how I love a procedural.

Ann: I have to confess, I mean obviously I love the first. It's so complicated. I actually kind of love how it's bandied about falsely and we can argue about its bounds all the time.

Aminatou: Oh, Ann, I don't like the first amendment. I think that even worse than the second amendment I think people who are champions for the first amendment are all performance artists. But also this is the experience of people of color, right? It's just like here are all the rights. Who has access to them? You know, where I'm just like oh, is it the first amendment when black people speak their truth?


Ann: Right. Is it the second amendment where black people get to own firearms? Is that the amendment? Yeah.

Aminatou: Yeah. But the fourth amendment is my favorite because literally all of the Law & Order universe is built upon unreasonable searches and seizures. [Laughs]

Ann: Dun-dun. Yeah. [Laughs]

Aminatou: I'm a militant for fourth amendment. Anyway, one story that's been really heartening is the response that the Parkland teens have had to the mass shooting in their school. We've been talking in this country about gun control for two straight weeks. That has not happened ever. Just ever. So the kids are all right. They're doing amazing work and it is also heartbreaking that children are the only people who have the courage to stand up for our politicians.

Ann: Well also in the dirty game of capitalism children are the only people with time to protest so like yeah.

Aminatou: Oh, 100%. I'm just like if we could outsource, you know, in my Brave New World society the teens are who'd do all of the protesting. A lot of people are very dismissive towards teenagers which is so dumb because if you look at the entire history of every good civil right we've gotten in this country, like actual college students and teenagers are who made the first step every single time.

Ann: Sure. There's like that old button that says don't trust anyone over 30. It's like that.

Aminatou: That's true. I'm like I'm 32 now and I'm just like I don't like Trump, but wow, these taxes, this is going to be good for me. I'm making light of a lot of this but every big cry I've had recently has had to do with the teens because they have the courage, they're doing the work, and they're actually getting results. They're getting republicans to talk about actually raising the age that you have access to firearms to 21, a thing that three weeks ago was unthinkable in this country. They are getting big stores like Dick's Sporting Goods, my favorite name . . .

Ann: Have you ever been in a Dick's?


Aminatou: You know how many Dicks I've been in? And Walmart to really reconsider the assault rifles that they're selling and things like that. And, you know, and obviously we're not where we want to be but I'm like in two weeks these kids through their grief have done more than anybody in the last 30 years. I'm thankful. I'm grateful. I hope that they grow up to rule the world because they're doing amazing organizing. But at the same time it's like I think about black teens who've been at the forefront of so much gun violence activism and the teens in Ferguson and the teens in Chicago and how they were not embraced this way and they weren't celebrated this way. And that hurts, you know?

It's true that the Parkland teens come from -- they come from a very rich school district. They in some ways have so much more privilege and if a different school had been shot we wouldn't have this conversation. But, you know, that doesn't diminish the work that they're doing. They're doing incredible work but it also makes you think about whose activism we rally behind, right? It's like all these celebrities are giving them millions of dollars. And I was like whoa, what would it have been like if Oprah had given the Ferguson teens $500,000 dollars? Or George Clooney.

Ann: Right. Or those teens who organized that march in Chicago for Black Lives Matter, like what would've happened? You're right.

Aminatou: It's just a lot. But, you know, thank you to the teens who are doing the work. The March For Our Lives is happening in D.C. on March 24th but you should look up your own city to see where it is. I will be at the one in New York. I have cancer and I'm going to be at the New York one. What's your excuse?

Ann: I mean the one in L.A. coincides with our L.A. blood drive.

Aminatou: Wow.

Ann: So just march before you donate blood and just make it a banner day. [Laughter]

Aminatou: Yeah, march before you donate. You don't want to mess up that world. You know, and also have hope that this can change. We always act like some things are completely immovable and the second amendment is one of those things. I don't own a firearm. I respect the rights of people who own firearms and I honestly think that people who own firearms should actually be the ones doing all the work. I'm like it's a bad look on y'all when somebody is shooting up places. You guys should be doing all of this. There's regulation that we can actually agree on. Like that's not what's happening.


Ann: That's like my belief that people who are fans of sports teams with racist mascots should be doing all the work to get the mascot removed.

Aminatou: 100%.

Ann: It's like you are the ones who are seen as a constituency here. Like if you're a gun owner you are the constituency for the NRA even if you're not an NRA supporter and so how are you making it clear that the NRA does not speak for you?

Aminatou: Yeah, it's a bad look.

Ann: We also -- we did a big episode about guns in 2016 that we'll link to in the show notes where we talked about a lot of this stuff in more depth and we interviewed listeners who are gun owners and then also, you know, speaking of complicating your understanding about guns we talked to Lucy McBath who is an advocate with Every Town whose son Jordan Davis was killed as a result of gun violence. And she talked a lot about the way race plays into this and is an amazing advocate. So follow Every Town and follow their instructions on how to get involved because I do feel like, you know, we've seen all of the statistics about how many dollars the NRA is funneling towards politicians.

Aminatou: Millions.

Ann: Millions. And that is true and it's a problem but ultimately there's also when you look at polling, especially in certain states, about support for really, really lax gun laws, that's something that is unrelated to how they're spending on politicians. And so I think that a grassroots response is just as necessary as turning off the funding tap. So join the grassroots gun control effort as well.

Aminatou: Think about all of the teachers that you know. I alone know so many teachers. Teachers do so much. We pay them no money and the congress's idea of gun control is giving guns to teachers. I'm like first of all you don't pay them enough to outsource your kid's security to them. And second of all that is ludicrous. And then when you add race into the mix it's just like sure, the black teacher holding the gun will be the first person to die when the SWAT team shows up.

Ann: Or just driving to work.


Aminatou: Yeah. Like one of the most famous school employees with a gun was Philando Castile who had a concealed carry permit. He was still shot and guess who did not come to defend him? The NRA who they, if he had been a different race, they would've been all over that story because his rights were trampled. You know, all of these conversations about arming teachers and maybe we should beef up mental health. And it's so offensive how all the right wing, they keep calling people crazies and sickos and all of this stuff. I'm just like no, it's true. We should have a real conversation about mental health, to talk about it in a way that isn't offensive, but all of these things are distractions also from the fact that there are real concrete actions they could take to make sure people don't have weapons of war in their hands and pretend that they're using it to hunt deer.

Ann: Yeah, 100%. Did you see that meme that was like "This is the only glock I want in my classroom" and it was a glockenspiel?

Aminatou: [Laughs] That's great.

Ann: Which I 100% agree with everything you're saying, especially about teachers, but I also want to bring it back to the fact that the NRA is really savvy about this stuff and if you make it a conversation about arming teachers then everyone gets bogged down in that and gets distracted from bigger legislative goals. And so let's definitely talk about how we are and are not supporting teachers but eyes on the prize. Gun control laws that apply across the board, that is the prize.

Aminatou: Ugh. Yes. We have a lot of work to do. I've got to work on my March For Our Lives sign.

Ann: Maybe you can steal that glockenspiel meme.

Aminatou: It's going to be Ms. Frizzle with a gun.

Ann: Oh my god.


Aminatou: I think that's what it's going to be because my immigration march sign that I stole from somebody else is great. I feel like people have chilled on immigration recently.

Ann: No, people are locking down ICE offices in San Francisco today. People are not chill on immigration.

Aminatou: It's true. There's just no marches to go to right now in my area okay? [Laughter] Is what I mean. The immigration sign says "You're lucky I got off my plane, bitch." And so I mean the other really good one I saw is "We gave you hummus, have some respect."

Ann: It's so true.

Aminatou: So yeah, I've got to think about this one but you're right the glockenspiel is pretty good. It might just be a big Ms. Frizzle sign because shout-out to Ms. Frizzle.

Ann: All right boo-boo. I'll see you at the gun control protest, at the blood drive, and on the Internet. [Laughs]

Aminatou: Oh wow, being an active and engaged citizen. So much work. But you know what? We can do this. We can do this. See you at the March For Our Lives, March 24th. Also on the Internet. [Laughter] You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website, you can download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can email us at We're on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @callyrgf. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter The Bleed on the Call Your Girlfriend website. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn, all original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs, our logos are by Kenesha Sneed, and this podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.