“I lost a week of my life every month of every year since I was 13."

Jul 14, 2020 @ 10:55 am
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In her September cover story for Women’s Health, Padma Lakshmi reflected on her painful battle with endometriosis, plus the long and difficult process of receiving a diagnosis for the disorder.

The Taste the Nation host told Women’s Health that she “started getting excruciating cramps when she was a teen.” But because her mother experienced similar pain levels (not to mention the relative lack of public understanding about endometriosis), Lakshmi “never questioned it; painful periods were just part of a woman’s life, she reasoned.” It wasn’t until Lakshmi was 36 that she was officially diagnosed with endometriosis. By that point, her condition had advanced to stage 4, which “necessitated laparoscopic excision surgery to remove the invasive tissue,” she told Women’s Health

According to the Endometriosis Foundation of America, which Lakshmi cofounded with her doctor, Tamer Seckin, MD, “endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus, or endometrium, is found outside of the womb, where the tissue should not be.” Symptoms can include “killer cramps,” as Laskhmi mentioned in her interview, as well as pain during sex, painful bowel movements and intestinal pain, heavy periods, bleeding between cycles, nausea and vomiting, and infertility, among others. It’s estimated that 11% of American women between the ages of 15 and 44 are affected by this chronic disease, according to the Office on Women's Health—or, put into another variable, one out of every 10 women in America. Despite that shocking statistic, endometriosis, “like so many other ‘woman problems,’” is infamously “underdiagnosed [and] understudied,” Bustle says.

Lakshmi was one among millions of women whose endometriosis simply took too long, and robbed too many years of her life, to diagnose and manage. After she received the procedure to remove invasive tissue, Lakshmi says she was “relieved” that her chronic pain had finally been treated. But, she added, “It wasn’t until a year after the surgery that I started getting really pissed."

"Like, ‘Wait a minute, I lost a week of my life every month of every year since I was 13 because of this shit, and I could have had this operation at 20 rather than 36?’” Lakshmi said.

She continued, “I’m shocked that a health professional didn’t say, ‘This is weird. Your cramps are above and beyond what they should be.’”

As noted by Bustle, endometriosis is most commonly diagnosed via laparoscopic surgery, “which is when doctors make tiny incisions and use cameras to perform surgery.” Obviously, this is an incredibly invasive diagnostic method. It’s also not 100% reliable; sometimes, “the endometrial lesions are so small that the cameras miss them.”

But beyond the fact that it’s difficult to diagnose, many doctors simply don’t take women seriously when they discuss their symptoms. In a profile for the Endometriosis Foundation of America, Lakshmi said that she had seen several gynecologists over the years, none of whom saw “anything abnormal in her ‘very abnormal systems.’” Instead of receiving a proper diagnosis and treatment, she was prescribed heavy narcotics to manage her pain.

She was ultimately referred to Dr. Seckin, whom Lakshmi says “was the first and only person to worry about [my] health as she did. ‘He was the first doctor to make me feel like I wasn’t crazy or over dramatic...He was actually astonished that I had been walking around with the severity of pain and symptoms I had.’”

Her frustrating experience navigating the healthcare system ultimately led Lakshmi and Seckin to found the Endometriosis Foundation of America. And in 2009, the foundation launched a gynepathology research facility, “the first of its kind,” in partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The facility is “devoted solely to investigating women’s reproductive issues, including endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and polycystic ovarian syndrome,” Women’s Health says.

Hopefully, Lakshmi’s work with the foundation will push more doctors to take women seriously when they confront them about their debilitating, chronic pain—because apparently this is a novel concept!