March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. According the CDC, endometriosis occurs “when the kind of tissue that normally lines the uterus grows somewhere else”. In other words your uterine lining can grow on ovaries, it can wrap around your intestines and in some cases on parts of the body nowhere near the female reproductive organs, like in a few rare cases the lungs. As serious as this sounds, unfortunately, many people have heard more about ovarian cancer (which is very serious) than endometriosis. I, however, have known about this disease and the havoc it can wreak for my entire life.
Growing up I used to pray that I would never get my menstrual cycle. I never wanted children and I never wanted to take part in any of the natural changes that occur within the 21-35 day interval of femininity. I saw it as the body’s unnecessary method of taking out the garbage and wondered what would happen if you could “become a woman” but keep all of that “stuff” in there. But alas the end of middle school came and my prayers were not answered. I was a normal woman and I had to deal with the “tribulations of womanhood”. But my overall attitude toward the process changed when someone very close to me was diagnosed with endometriosis.
She had been experiencing pain very regularly and ended up going to the doctor. Much of the process to her wellness escapes me but there are a few key moments that stand out in my mind. The first, she explained to me what endometriosis was- and out the window went my prayers to “keep all that stuff in there”. The second, it had been discovered through laparoscopy that her bowels had been constricted by the amount of growth. It was if someone clamped her large intestines shut and this is what was actually making her very sick. The third, she would have to go in for surgery because there was so much growth that the only way to cure her was a doctor removing all of the growth from the affected organs.
In the south there is a vine called “kudzu”, it’s an invasive plant species that grows over everything and can take over almost instantaneously. She compared the endometriosis to kudzu and informed me that a laser-like procedure would take place to scrape or burn away the endometriosis. In my mind, this was insane. How could your female uterine lining be your enemy and destroy you from within? I kept having nightmares of a blob like figure creeping from my uterus and attacking me. I felt helpless and thus began to pray that I would never have daughters. That prayer was not answered (later on) either.
Endometriosis can be treated with pain medication, hormone treatments or surgery. Because hers was so severe, she would have to go in for excision. She went into surgery and things began to get back to normal. But the pain returned and later during high school I found myself having the same conversation about endometriosis that I’d had a few years earlier. The reason it returned? The doctor believed that they had not removed all of the rogue endometrium during the original excision and coagulation. This meant that she would have to return and this time she was more sick than the previous time; so much so, that she spent weeks in the hospital. Thankfully she recovered and now lives a relatively healthy life.
Here are a few factoids to consider and measures you can take toward diagnosis and understanding (based on nichd.NIH.gov):
Eighteen years and three daughters later I’ve begun to think about my own aging body and what I can do to protect myself from health problems. The information I share with my doctors is critical in helping to keep me alive. I am very fortunate that I belong to a family that shares (sometimes too much) our physical, mental and emotional ailments. This gives me an idea of what health challenges and hindrances may be hidden away in my DNA. Endometriosis is one of these challenges and I will be talking with my daughters as soon as they start their path on the “tribulations of womanhood”. I urge every woman to talk with the older and younger women in their family about endometriosis. It could save your life or someone else’s.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working to make life more equitable for all people. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.