Woman told to take a 'harden up pill'

Last updated 06:00 31/07/2014
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A lab specimen showing endometriosis in wall of a woman's Fallopian tube.

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Living with an invisible illness

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From the time I hit puberty I was suffering severe, intolerable pain. I would vomit, faint, cry, it didn't matter what I took, nothing would get rid of this pain.

I was told it was normal. That I was a woman and women got periods.

None of my friends had to take time of school. Maybe I wasn't coping? Maybe I did need, as my GP told me, to take a harden up pill?

I became embarrassed. I didn't want people to know I was having period cramps! I was in my early teens, and that was mortifying. You didn't talk about "ladies bits".

It wasn't until I was 18 and I passed out in the kitchen at work and was told by my boss "We're all women here, Kate! We all menstruate!", that I got really sick of being told I wasn't coping.

I knew my body better than anyone and I knew something was wrong. I demanded my GP give my a gynaecologist's referral. He laughed and said, "It's your money if you want to waste it".

I went to my appointment with the loveliest male gynaecologist. He asked me questions, he let me answer, and actually listened to me. He told me I most likely had endometriosis, but that I would need a surgery to determine this.

Five minutes with someone who listened. That was all I'd wanted.

Endometriosis? Turns out it's a chronic, and potentially quite severe, endocrine disorder where endometrial tissue grows outside of where it should. This causes bleeding, swelling, and as I knew well, severe pain.

Within three months I was taken into hospital where they cut four small holes in my abdomen. They cut out 13 lesions that had grown throughout my uterus, scarring me and causing extreme pain. Mine was on the more severe end of the spectrum, which meant I had more growth, spread over a larger area.

This condition can cause infertility, as well as severe discomfort, but it's something I had to live with for years, because people are too scared to discuss women's health issues.

Because I wasn't taken seriously by medical professionals as a teenager, my condition was not treated as early as it could have been, resulting in extensive scarring. I may now never be able to have children, and I have to be on pain medication nearly every day.

I'm in my mid-20s now, so I have come to terms with this, and I understand how best to control it. I have learnt that restricting or cutting out certain foods in my diet can help, and I must keep myself fit, but there's no cure for this condition.

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Knowledge and understanding is extremely lacking when it comes to gynaecological conditions, and many girls and women suffer, undiagnosed, indefinitely. It needs to stop.

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