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Endometriosis & Social Justice Podcast: Featuring Shannon Cohn, Director of Below The Belt

Shannon Cohn, Documentary Producer, and Director has been broadcasted on PBS, Nat Geo, and Discovery Channel. Before becoming a filmmaker, she practiced international law and was part of the legal team who prosecuted Enron.

Endometriosis is a disease where endometrial-like tissue forms outside of the uterus in other different parts of the body. Some of the symptoms include pelvic and abdominal pain, bloating, gastrointestinal issues, infertility, and many other symptoms and diagnoses. 

 

Shannon Cohn describes that all of the work comes from a personal place. She has endometriosis and has two young daughters with a seven-time increased risk of having the disease. At 16, Shannon experienced her first symptoms similar to GI symptoms. She did not hear the word endometriosis until 13 years later when at 29 years old she had ovarian cyst surgery and her doctor offhandedly made the diagnosis after in the post-op. Shannon felt terrified of the stats about how it affects fertility as it was part of her own personal wish to have children. She went back to her OB-GYN with complex questions and although she was a great obstetrician to her, she wasn’t well-equipped to answer in-depth about the retraces and nor was she qualified to treat Endometriosis.

 

Billions of dollars in the US each year are due to lost productivity, medical costs, and all of the things that physically the disease puts on. Why are people not recognizing it? It feels almost criminal. 

It could change the lives of so many people to get them the care they need sooner and improve their quality of life. Below the Belt is geared more towards highlighting social justice issues surrounding the diagnosis and as the name implies below the belt, implies that unfair treatment. 

Shannon wanted to make a film and tell a story of the disease and people highlighted who live with it to bring the story to mainstream audiences by making the content digestible and personal. 

“One way to do that is to highlight the social justice issues that this disease does raise. I say it’s a perfect, awful storm of so many things like stigma and taboo. Historically with menstrual health or women’s health conditions below the waist, below the belt, so to speak, is the gender bias in medicine, racial bias in medicine, which compounds the issue and informed consent.”

Shannon speaks about a nurse at UCLA going to E.R., and the doctors weren’t taking her seriously. She could feel like she wasn’t being believed. So she started taking her boyfriend, who was a computer programmer, appointments with her to the E.R. with her because she found a market difference, that if he were there, they would listen to her more, and sometimes she would even let him speak for her on a health condition that was affecting her body.

She happens to be an African-American woman and her boyfriend at the time was a white man. Shannon decided to examine that and shine a light on it to say that this is happening.

“But it’s not just one thing. We have to change national discourse or international discourse around the disease, break the taboos, talking about menstruation periods, endometriosis, and related conditions that historically have been, you know, wrapped in like a silence, basically, or whispered about that needs to change.”

And it is changing. 

It all starts with awareness and shining a light on the issues so that people understand these are issues because it is holding back progress. When people understand and are aware of them, then we can all start working to change.

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