We need to talk about endometriosis

In 2009, at 5.30am on a Monday, an excruciating pain awoke me from my sleep. It was a crippling bump in the night. I was just 26, had moved to Dubai a few months earlier to start a new life and was pursuing a career I loved. Unable to move or speak, I immediately called my mum who was sleeping in the next room. She quickly rushed to my side and in the morning we hobbled into hospital. Just two weeks later following urgent laparoscopic surgery in Australia, I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis. And so began my relationship with this chronic illness. We have been together ever since.

Endometriosis affects one in 10 women during their child-bearing years, a staggering 176 million worldwide. It’s a painful disease that occurs when tissue from the uterus, or endometrium, grows outside of the uterus, typically in the abdomen. When you menstruate each month, this tissue bleeds as it would in the uterus, causing adhesions, cysts and scar tissue. A trespasser of the highest order, it affects every aspect of your functioning and day-to-day life. There is no cure, the cause is unknown and it can generally only be detected and treated with laparoscopic or key-hole surgery.

Back in Sydney, I booked in with top Australian endoscopic specialist Professor Alan Lam. On inspection, he found I had stage 4 endometriosis, it was growing in my abdomen, bowel and bladder. My organs were fused together. The earlier ultrasound in Dubai revealed I had an 7cm cyst on my left ovary, which ruptured causing severe sudden pain.

The signs were there. I had suffered cramps since I was a teen and relied heavily on painkillers, but it was in my nature to be resilient. Having no awareness of the disease, I believed weathering pain was a normal part of being a woman. It took a debilitating blow to my body to make me finally take notice.

Since my diagnosis, I have had two surgeries and take an OCP (oral contraceptive pill) continuously so that I don’t get my period. I have made some huge changes to my lifestyle over the few years, which has helped enormously. I exercise four or fives times a week to boost my mood and I eat healthy 95 percent of the time. Endometriosis is a strong factor in infertility and this year I was diagnosed with adenomyosis (where the endometrium grows into the muscle wall of the uterus), which further reduces my chances of carrying a baby. Naturally, there is an overwhelming sadness that comes with this disease that I find hard to shake at times.

But I can’t dwell on it. It’s been four years since my last surgery and during that time I’ve been able to get a handle on my pain. I see my specialist at least once a year and every so often, when I get breakthrough bleeding and cramping, I am prescribed a different pill.  Having a job which allows me the freedom to work remotely is something that I feel thankful for. I often try and remember the good things; I have had a privileged upbringing, was born into an incredibly supportive family and have the closest of friends. There is no quick fix for endometriosis, but it’s possible not to let it overcome you.

10 things you need to know about endometriosis

Symptoms include painful periods, lower back pain, depression, mood swings and diarrhea.

It can affect your mental health as much as your physical. If you’re depressed, seek professional help from a counsellor who has experience in chronic illnesses.

Sufferers need rest, lots of it. Somedays all you can do is lie down, and that’s okay.

Depression and anxiety is common in women with with endometriosis.

Your school, work and social life will be affected.

It can lead to infertility in women, but many are still able to conceive naturally.

Ironically, being pregnant also suppresses the symptoms.

You’ll likely need to have surgeries throughout your life.

There are a number of online of support groups including @endostrong on Instagram for women looking for support.

10 ways to make your endometriosis more manageable

Endometriosis is fuelled by the hormone estrogen, which can be found in a number of foods. A natural, plant-based diet will help alleviate symptoms.

Quit smoking. The toxins in tobacco smoke can heighten the symptoms of endometriosis.

Avoid refined and processed foods, red meats or anything loaded with chemicals, which can increase inflammation.

Avoid any foods that stimulate the body and trigger cramps, such as caffeine or coke.

Doctors say that there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that yoga aids in the treatment of endometriosis.

Try acupuncture, it can aid with infertility and alleviate pain.

Take time to rest when you need it.

Eat a healthy diet of foods high in fibres, leafy greens and fatty acids.

Nuts and seeds are great for their essential oils, which are anti-inflammatory.

Drink plenty of water.

Get plenty of exercise to balance your hormones and boost your mood.

As published in the April 2016 issue of Aquarius Mag.

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