Story Feature: Endometriosis
This month is Endometriosis Awareness Month and we have an inspiring story that was kindly shared with us. Here is a story submitted to us by Christina Paruag, an Endometriosis survivor and advocate for equality in the Canadian healthcare system.
"Below me, there was a wet and sticky feeling. My thighs were stuck to my underwear, my pants felt heavy and uncomfortable. I was sitting on top of a desk, waiting for the bell to ring to signal recess. I moved forward slightly on the desk and looked back to see a bloodstain. “Oh no!” I thought. I was mortified. Would any of my classmates see this?
It was Grade 7 and I was brand new to this world of periods. My stomach ached, my thighs felt like they were being sawed off and my back ripped apart. Yet everyone around me told me that this extreme pain was normal and that I would feel better soon.
That day, I asked my teacher if I could stay back and clean the fish tanks instead of going outside for recess. My friends and I sometimes did this to avoid the winter, although it was warm outside today. He thought it was strange, to stay inside, hiding from the rest of the world on such a beautiful day, but he said go for it. My friends didn’t want to stay in that day so it was just me. I waited for the classroom door to shut, and I frantically got to work cleaning the desk with soap and water. I scrubbed, crying inside and praying no one would notice. I cleared it and ran to the bathroom, horrified by seeing my skirt with a giant red stain. I wore my sweater around my waist for the rest of the day and wondered if any other girls in my class had bled onto chairs and desks, the same way I seemed to.
This was just the start of my experiences with heavy, painful periods. 4 years prior, at the age of 8, I was in and out of the nurse’s office at school and the ER with severe abdominal pain that extended into my hip. I was diagnosed with a fractured hip at only 11 years old, which the doctor later said was a misdiagnosis. Now that my periods were here at age 12, this pain felt familiar, but I didn’t link the stomach and hip pain to my periods back then. My parents were celebrating the fact that I was “becoming a woman” when I saw red for the first time in the toilet, but I was curled up in a ball in front of the fireplace, wondering why I ever wanted a period in the first place.
Each period that came was similar - painful cramps that started in my stomach and thighs and wrapped around my back - like a long, uncomfortable hug from someone you didn’t want to hug you. My periods were long - ranging from 9-21 days, and they were extremely heavy. I always used pads and would soak through 2-4 pads an hour, my periods getting heavier as I got older. I had many thick, painful blood clots too. By the time I turned 19, I had a ruptured ovarian cyst that landed me in the ER. This marked the start of ER trips 3-5 times a week, with me screaming my head off from the pain. Pain that only grew in intensity from when I was 12 years old. I had never felt pain like this in my life, and it seemed to be there for three weeks of every month. It felt like I was giving birth, and anyone who heard my screams thought that I was. I missed so much school - only going into university for labs, midterms or exams. I was falling behind and felt like a failure because of what my body was doing. I didn’t know how to make it stop.
Eventually, I was referred to a gynecologist who mentioned endometriosis to me, a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus deposits and grows in other areas of the body. I was in shock. Was this what I was experiencing all these years? Was I really not weird or crazy, rather, sick? He drew a diagram of the female reproductive system and how endometriosis can cover it in scar tissue and adhesions, and eventually bind organs together. I rushed home and looked it up to learn more. I agreed to laparoscopic surgery, had one a few months later to get diagnosed, and once the biopsy confirmed it, I felt validated, yet still confused. None of the nurses or doctors I had seen prior to this seemed to know anything about this condition. I was constantly told to suck up my pain and that it was “just a bad period”, even when the pain continued for three weeks every month with no bleeding. I was constantly planning my life around my pain, rather than enjoying anything.
All of the pain came back full force after 6 months. I had made many lifestyle changes, yet I struggled again to get out of bed on some days every month. The ruptured ovarian cysts continued, and eventually, in 2016, I had one the size of the grapefruit that almost killed me from internal bleeding. It sparked something in my body, and I started experiencing monthly kidney infections. I saw countless doctors only to be told that I just need to continue taking medications.
In October 2020, after being fed up with being in such extreme pain and dealing with such painful periods, I had an endometriosis excision surgery in the U.K. that changed my life! My periods are so much lighter now. I bleed for 4-5 days and I’m able to move around most days. I’ve learned to appreciate my body and love it through everything.
Now, I’ve started a fund to help cover up to $20K CAD toward an out-of-country or province excision surgery for other endometriosis patients in the world. I’m also relaunching my wellness platform FemEvolve, which I previously ran as a digital and print magazine where health writers contributed, doctors and holistic practitioners were interviewed, and we shared stories of women overcoming difficult times, including with their health. I continue to share my story on social media and on small and large stages, to let others know that painful periods are NOT normal. There is support and the chance to live a better life out there. Your period doesn’t need to dictate your life, but it does take finding the right doctor, support, and keeping a strong mindset through it all. All this time, I was waiting on the “bell to ring” to help me heal, to help me find answers, not realizing the power to take back control of my periods was inside of me all along."
Thank you so much to Christina Paruag for this story of strength and all that she is doing for the endometriosis community. You can also check out her and her wellness platform @christina.paruag and @femevolve.
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All images are courtesy of Christina Paruag.