Silent Trauma is the one book I’ve self published. It’s fiction built on the facts of Stilboestrol (Diethylstilboestrol in the USA – DES) I knew I needed to write the story in my own way; to make the characters as rounded as possible even though it was the story of the drug, rather than the characters themselves that led the way. I would have liked to give them more of a back-story but I think they came alive in their own way in the end. I wanted to reach as many people as possible so I knew I needed to make the story as interesting as I could without it being completely didactic. But I’ve also heard some heart-breaking accounts of the lives of the women affected by Stilboestrol and I was always aware that I was representing them, so my facts had to be correct. And, if anything, the years of research I did made me recognise the courage of so many of these women who just get on with their lives.
I was also lucky to be given permission by The Independent on Sunday to use an article in the paper about two DES Daughters in the UK, as a Foreword. http://ind.pn/1bIgqre. By combining that and the quotes at the beginning of the chapters with the fictional story I hoped to achieve what I set out to do; to bring the information about the drug to the reader and to give them a good story.
Silent Trauma is the story of four women living in different parts of the UK but drawn together in friendship because of the consequences of Stilboestrol. The story opens in when eighteen year-old Lisa Matthews is diagnosed as having clear cell adenocarcinoma of the cervix. The treatment is a radical hysterectomy. Unable to face that prospect she commits suicide. After the death of her daughter Meg Matthews spends years investigating the drug and tells Lisa’s story to the local radio station. Rachel Conway hears the interview, contacts Meg and confides in her friend, Jackie Duffy, who is shocked; she herself has been affected by Stilboestrol and has never told anyone. Jackie has a destructive relationship with her mother Mary who refuses to accept that the drug she took caused the problems. Her rejection of Jackie stems from her guilt and her homophobic revulsion of Jackie’s gay relationship with Hazel, an older possessive woman. Like Meg’s daughter, Lisa, Avril Breen, a writer, developed cancer in her late teens. She underwent a hysterectomy and vaginectomy after which her fiancé called off their wedding. Unwilling to form another close relationship Avril isolated herself in a cottage in the Pennines. She hears about Meg’s interview and contacts her, consequently becoming friends with Rachel and Jackie.
As the friendships grow we follow the women’s lives and their determination to make public the devastating results of the drug.
Excerpt from Silent Trauma:
” …’How’s the group going?’
‘Good … really good,’ Meg smiled. ‘A few women have emailed. And Jackie gave her mobile number as a contact and she says one or two more have rung to talk to her; find out who we are and what have you. I couldn’t … well I didn’t… get anywhere on my own. I think the more we are the better chance we have of the Government listening at last. Well, let’s hope so, eh? It’s worth a go. The main thing is finding other women.’ Meg switched the oven off. ‘You alright?’
‘Mmmm, not bad.’ Alice shifted around on the seat and grimaced. She sniffed loudly. ‘Smells smashing in here, love,’ she said, ‘I didn’t realize you were busy.’
Meg buttered two scones and put them on the plate in front of her. ‘Always bake on a Friday, Alice,’ Meg said, careful not to let her friend see her smile; it was a conversation they had every week.
The big woman leaned down and scratched at the bandage on her leg. ‘Bloody ulcer’s playing me up again,’ she moaned.
‘What did your doctor say?’
‘Same as usual, lose weight and rest. Bloody fool. How can I rest with everything I have to do?’ She gave a short laugh. ‘And what am I supposed to do while I’m resting? Minute I sit down my stomach thinks I should be eating.’
Meg nodded. She sat across the table from Alice and mopped the spilt tea in her saucer with a tissue. ‘It’s not easy, I know. Anything I can do to help?’
‘No, lovey.’ Alice bit on a scone and slurped her drink. Crumbs and drips from the cup ran down her cleavage and she absently rubbed her chest. ‘Take no notice of me, I got out of bed the wrong side I think and I don’t know why.’ She grinned, revealing the gap in the top set of her large teeth. ‘I really popped over to give you some news. Our Wendy’s set a bloody date for the wedding.’ She gave a loud guffaw and slapped her hand on the table. ‘Fair took me by surprise; I never thought I’d get rid of her.’ She stopped, gazed over at Meg, her voice quieter. ‘I mean …’
‘I know, Alice, you must be so happy for her.’
‘Oh I am, I am,’ she said. ‘It’s fairly soon too – in May. She’s – she’s having a bairn.’
In the long silence that followed the clicking of the fridge freezer vied with the faint sound of commentary of horse racing from the television in the bedroom. Alice made the small lip-popping noises she always made when she was embarrassed or uncomfortable.
Oh dear god; the pain filled Meg’s chest. ‘That’s wonderful, ‘ she said eventually, reaching over and patting her friend’s large soft hand. ‘Wonderful. When’s the baby due?’ …”
Before it was published I sent the manuscript to Fran Howell, the former Executive Director of DES Action USA http://bit.ly/1dhciiD and to a few of the DES Daughters I’d been in touch with, and I asked them to tell me whether there was anything in it that was either incorrect or inappropriate. Fortunately there was little I needed to alter. Many of the DES Daughters who have read it have since contacted me to say they can empathise with the women in Silent Trauma.
I am constantly made aware of the lack of knowledge of Stilboestrol in this country (the UK). Whenever I begin to talk about the drug most people assume I am talking about Thalidomide. When I explain about the damage the drug has caused the response is almost always amazement and disgust that consecutive UK Government have been reluctant to help – or, I’m afraid, to acknowledge, that the consequences of Stilboestrol continues.
I first heard a programme about the drug on the radio and realized a relative of mine was affected by it. The damage it causes is very personal and, as private person, she didn’t want anyone to know, so I contacted them on her behalf. To cut a long story short I wrote an article for the UK based DES Action. Many women then wrote to me with heart-breaking accounts of their lives.
In an attempt to reach more people I wrote a short story which eventually resulted in my eBook, Silent Trauma.
I take the book with me at all the events I have for my traditionally published novels,Pattern of Shadows and Changing Patterns. I also promote on social media.
I wrote Silent Trauma, not only for the people who know about DES and have been affected by it but for everybody and anybody who will listen. Unfortunately DES Action UK folded due to lack of funds and support but DES Action USA ( http://bit.ly/1dhciiD )promises to help and advise anyone who contacts them. The charity also has a newsletter, Voice, to which anyone interested can subscribe.
Some initial facts of DES (there are many more, better informed facts in Silent Trauma): In 1938, (Stilboestrol/ Diethylstilboestrol) was created by Charles Dodd. It was expected that this synthetic oestrogen would help prevent miscarriages. It didn’t but what it did do was cause untold damage to developing foetuses. Years later, Dodd raised concerns about DES but by then very few in the medical field were listening – it was a big money-spinner for the pharmaceutical companies . In the early 1970s cases of a rare vaginal/cervical cancer were being diagnosed in young women. It also caused malformation of the uterus which meant that many women were unable to carry foetuses beyond the first trimester.Now researchers are investigating whether DES health issues are extending into the next generation, the so-called DES Grandchildren. As study results come in, there is growing evidence that this group has been adversely impacted by a drug prescribed to their grandmothers. In America there is been a huge campaign to prove that some DES daughters who developed breast cancer did so because their mothers were prescribed Diethylstilboestrol. The first DES Breast Cancer trial was settled out of court by the drug company after the opening arguments. The company did not have to admit guilt for making and promoting DES as an anti-miscarriage drug that causes breast cancer and the DES Daughters, who accepted the settlement, cannot disclose the amount. But there are many other DES breast cancer lawsuits already filed and waiting in the wings. So, even though there was no actual guilty verdict against the drug company there is still a feeling of satisfaction in the DES community.
There is also a wonderful DES Daughter in the UK who has a website http://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/des-daughter/ which is constantly updated with the latest news about DES and other similar issues. She also has a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/des.daughter?fref=ts
The mission of all DES Action groups worldwide is to identify, educate, provide support to, and advocate for DES-exposed individuals as well as educate health care professionals.
I did approach my own publishers and four others with the manuscript of Silent Trauma. The reasons for the rejections were twofold. One was that ‘they wouldn’t be able to sell “issue –led” novels’. And two, I was told, was the worry of being sued by the drug companies. To my mind, if any of them decided to sue, they would be accepting culpability. But just in case any of them are reading this, the house is in my husband’s name only and I have no assets
Silent Trauma is on offer at 99 pence
Find a copy here.