Lauren has been battling chronic pain ever since she was 15. Torturous cramping and weeks-long periods are just some of the awful symptoms the young woman has had to deal with.
In the last 10 years, she’s endured five surgeries and been to the emergency room more times than she can remember.
“I’ve had to stop working and I’ve lost jobs. I haven’t been able to work for three months,” Lauren says sadly.
“The pain has literally taken everything away from me. Almost every day I’m in pain, sometimes I can’t leave my bed and I can’t do anything.”
But despite the very real symptoms Lauren suffers and the debilitating pain, her condition is still overlooked by medical professionals far too often.
Lauren knows if she presented with a broken arm or a bloody nose at an emergency ward she’d be taken seriously. So why is endometriosis any different?
“They just don’t get it and make me feel like it’s all in my head. And it’s not just male doctors, it’s females as well,” she says.
“When I was in hospital a few months ago, several different doctors came up to me and said: ‘It’s just endometriosis, you’ll be fine.’
“Even now, if I end up in the emergency room, I’m told it’s just muscle pain. I’ve often been scared to go into the emergency room due to the nurses and doctors not believing me and leaving me to sit in a chair in absolute pain.”
Lauren’s chronic endo pain has been plaguing her since puberty, but shockingly, she was only officially diagnosed with endometriosis around four years ago.
“It was only four years ago I actually went to a new GP, and he was the first one to ever say ‘endometriosis’. I’d never heard it before,” Lauren says.
It took a visit to a gynaecologist in Brisbane to confirm just how bad it was.
“It was everywhere. I had it on my ovaries, my pelvis … everywhere,” Lauren says.
“I wanted to go back to every single doctor and say: ‘See! I’m not making it up’.”
It typically takes a woman seven to 10 years to receive a diagnosis, so Lauren’s story is not uncommon.
Finally having a name for her horrific pain didn’t actually change anything. Doctors still ignored her, friends didn’t understand and strangers would recommend fad cures that could never work.
But for Lauren, the worst part of her endometriosis journey is her struggle with fertility.
Many women opt for a complete hysterectomy, which removes the ovaries. However, this is simply not an option yet for Lauren, who at 25 dreams of becoming a mother one day soon.
“The hardest thing for me is not knowing if I’ll ever be a mum. That’s what really kills me,” Lauren says.
“And because it took so long to diagnose me, I’m scared that if someone helped me earlier, it would have helped with my fertility.”
According to Donna Ciccia, director and co-founder of Endometriosis Australia, Lauren’s story is the all-too-common result of a culture of dismissing women’s pain.
Donna tells New Idea that Australia is only just starting to “unravel” the complicated beast of endometriosis.
“What it comes down to with endometriosis is quality of life – it is a quality of life disease,” Donna says.
“It is a chronic, lifelong condition and there is no prevention or cure, and we don’t even know what causes it. That’s why we have been working hard to bring about awareness.
“We need more funding to try and unravel the enigma that is this disease.”
Women like Lauren, Donna says, deserve the right to live a full and happy life without the burden of a devastating illness.
“Endometriosis costs the Australian economy $9.7 billion annually. Women like Lauren want to be working and to be contributing to society,” Donna adds.
“She wants to have a future and to fulfil her potential. These endo-warriors – which is what we call them – deserve to live to their full potential.”
Follow Lauren’s journey on Instagram at @endolauren.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a medical condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus, also known as the endometrium, grows in other parts of a woman’s body, including the pelvis, ovaries or along the fallopian tubes. It has even been found as far away as the lungs and the brain.
When menstruation occurs and the lesions are inflamed and aggravated, it causes causes severe and debilitating pain, as well as heavy periods and cysts. It can even cause infertility.
There’s no definitive cure for endometriosis, however endometriosis specialists can suggest a number of treatments, including pain management, contraceptives and hormone therapy. Surgery can remove cut out (excise) the endometriosis lesion. A hysterectomy is not a cure for endometriosis but may be done as a last resort.