Tampons, Toxic Shock, and Trolls

In June 2015, only two months after I got sick, VICE broke a story about Lauren Wasser, a model that was forced to amputate her leg due to Toxic Shock Syndrome from her use of a tampon. Coincidentally, Lauren’s story started in 2012 on October 3rd which happens to be my birthday. Lauren made the news again last month when she revealed that she would have to undergo an amputation of her other leg due to continued complications. Although I have never met Lauren, we are in some of the same support groups on social media and we have both dedicated our lives to raising awareness. Also, like Lauren, I have had to deal with the backlash of telling inconvenient truths.

A friend of mine once told me that darkest place in the world is the comments section of the internet. After the news broke of Lauren’s impending amputation the insults flew again:

“That only happens when you’re nasty.”

“The warning is on the box. Does being a model make you stupid?”

“That just means she’s dirty. She looks like a man anyways.”

“Bitch read the label. NOT SORRY”

And the list goes on…

I had hoped that maybe with the Christmas spirit in people’s hearts that the comments wouldn’t be so terrible. Although I was disappointed, I cannot say I was shocked. In October our local paper printed a feature on me and my work with Begin Again. Having just dealt with the backlash from my Presidents Cup post I almost asked the writer to pull it. That didn’t feel like the right thing to do so instead I thought that I would just ignore it. My supportive friends wanted to celebrate the story and shared it so I was inevitably sucked in again.

I would love to say that I just let things like this roll off my back but, unfortunately, I’m not a robot. There’s a real person sitting behind this screen and those comments sting. They make me want to crawl in a hole and avoid the world for a few days. But I cannot do the work of raising awareness from the comfort of isolation. I could make myself private on social media and I could stop doing interviews. I could protect myself. I remember when I first started sharing my story people told me I was brave. I couldn’t understand why. It really didn’t feel brave. But it makes sense now. Putting yourself out there is inviting the criticism along with the support. And, don’t get me wrong, the support has been overwhelming. But the comments like those? Frustrating at best. Heartbreaking at worst.

And while I believe it’s important to remind ourselves that being kind is always a good thing; this post isn’t really about that. I want to do a little refresh about some facts:

– Tampons can cause toxic shock. No one, not Lauren or myself, is saying that they will. But we want every single woman to understand that you could be just as unlucky as we were.

– If you use a tampon the person that it can happen to is you. We want to break the misconception that it doesn’t happen anymore. We want to make women aware so you can make educated decisions about your body.

– Yes, there is a warning on the box. This is what it says:

Tampon use has been associated with toxic shock syndrome. TSS is a rare but serious disease that may cause death. Read and save the enclosed information. Use for eight hours maximum.

Eight hours maximum? Pretty sure that implies you can sleep in them.

What I would like it to say:

Tampon use can and has caused toxic shock syndrome which has resulted in death. There is less risk associated with the use of 100% cotton tampons. Always alternate the use of tampons and pads and never sleep with one inserted.

TSS has happened in less than 2 hours of using regular absorbency tampons. Just ask Lisa Elifritz, who lost her daughter, Amy, at only 21 years old. Amy only used regular tampons and her family used to tease her about how often she would change them. I have also personally talked with other survivors that felt symptoms almost immediately upon insertion.

– Tampon companies are not required to list their ingredients… but we do know they are made with rayon or cotton-rayon blends. Rayon is made from bleached wood pulp (Yes, you read that right. Yes, we are sticking them up our vaginas.) Dr Philip Tierno, a professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU, has linked viscose rayon to the toxic shock syndrome toxin.

– Tampons are not the only thing that can cause TSS. Men and children can also get it. Any injury to your body can cause TSS. So, *newsflash* it is most often NOT related to personal hygiene.

Lauren recently underwent her second amputation and I’m sending her all the love in the world. I pray the rest of the world can show a little more compassion.