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A cyst the size of a grapefruit grew on her ovary. Doctors said the pain was appendicitis. It wasn’t.

“Women of all races face a lack of credibility when they go into a healthcare encounter,” said one expert. “The situation for Black women, and other women of color, is even more dire.”

Photographer Eva Woolridge with a piece from her collection, 'The Size of a Grapefruit,' at the Leica Gallery.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Four years ago, Eva Woolridge collapsed on her way to work, overwhelmed by a sharp pain in her abdomen. At a nearby urgent care clinic, she was met by a doctor who jokingly asked Woolridge where she had eaten dinner the night before so the doctor could avoid the restaurant.

After being told it might be appendicitis, she rushed to the nearest emergency room. There, doctors discovered that it wasn’t appendicitis or bad sushi but a cyst the size of a grapefruit on her right ovary.

After emergency surgery to remove the ovary and the cyst, Woolridge was sent home without much information about what this change would mean for her health. Years later, she said she still doesn’t fully understand why the cyst occurred or what losing an ovary means, which has made her more hesitant to take risks like going back on birth control.


“I wasn’t given information after about whether I could have kids or what my period would be like,” she said. “No one explained to me how my body would readjust to losing an ovary. I felt scared and isolated.”

To make sense of her traumatic medical experience, Woolridge, a Black and Chinese-American photographer, created a 10-piece series documenting the range of emotions she experienced before, during, and after her surgery.

“I needed to see what happened to me and process these emotions that I was experiencing: anger, depression, isolation, shock, having to inspect this experience myself, having to do my own research, and then surrendering to the experience,” Woolridge said.

Five of the pieces from the collection, “The Size of a Grapefruit,” are on display through March 27 at the Leica Gallery in Boston. The series, originally created in 2019, stars a nude Black woman and a grapefruit shown in various poses that match emotions or stages Woolridge experienced during her ordeal.


A work from “The Size of a Grapefruit” at Boston's Leica Gallery. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

In one of the photographs, called “Denial,” the model is shown holding a grapefruit behind her back to symbolize that she recognizes she’s having pain but is denying the fact that it exists. The photograph represents the weeks that Woolridge ignored the pain she was feeling because she said that, like many women, she was conditioned to remain silent and bear it.

“We’re taught to ignore our body’s natural warning signs,” she said. “Even now, I’m still scared that I’m not listening to my body enough.”

Woolridge is not alone in her experience.

Research has found that women’s medical complaints are less likely to be believed or taken seriously. In 2009, researchers found that middle-aged women with heart disease symptoms were twice as likely as their male counterparts to be diagnosed with mental illness instead. Another study, from May 2022, found that women complaining of chest pain waited longer in emergency departments than men to be evaluated for heart attacks.

“Women of all races face a lack of credibility when they go into a healthcare encounter,” said Tina Sacks, an associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of “Invisible Visits: Black Middle-Class Women in the American Healthcare System.” “The situation for Black women, and other women of color, is even more dire, because of the combination of racism, in particular anti-Black racism, and sexism in the medical space.”

Negative stereotypes about Black women have historically been additional barriers to reproductive healthcare. In 2019, Canadian and Filipino researchers found that Black women were half as likely as white women to be diagnosed with endometriosis, and research dating back to the 1970s found that Black women were more likely to be misdiagnosed as having pelvic inflammatory disease, which is caused by sexually transmitted bacteria.


False beliefs about the biological differences between races that date back to the era of slavery also shape how some physicians judge the pain of Black patients. A survey of more than 200 white medical students and residents published in 2016 found that half believed Black people feel less pain than white people and made less accurate treatment recommendations based on those assumptions.

Woolridge’s work is on display to accompany the gallery’s Leadership Redefined exhibition, a portrait series highlighting some of the city’s female and Black and Brown leaders, including Ruthzee Louijeune, the first Haitian-American to serve on the City Council, and Imari Paris Jeffries, the executive director of Embrace Boston.

Jeannie Dale, the gallery’s director, said she chose to display both series in February and March to mark Black History Month and Women’s History Month. When it came to selecting artwork to accompany “Leadership Redefined,” she turned to Woolridge, whose work she has displayed before.

“It immediately clicked in my head that she’s advocating for the same things these leaders are working towards: Black representation, autonomy, and using your voice to make a stand,” Dale said. “Eva’s work is just so beautiful and powerful, I was itching to get it on the walls again.”


Zeina Mohammed can be reached at Follow her @_ZeinaMohammed.