For years I thought I was cursed. My monthly “curse” was worse than that of anyone I knew. My father would snicker at me and call me baby as I lay in bed. My female family members would roll their eyes and say that they didn’t even notice their “special friend.” I hated them. Every month, I imagined that tiny man-dwarves were hacking away at my insides, gleefully twisting up the muscles, punching, hitting, and scraping away for hours on end. A kung fu master kicking me in the stomach would have been preferable to getting my period.
Each time, I’d search for a cure. I’d take four Aleves, a fistful of aspirin; I’d try muscle relaxants, and painkillers—sometimes all together. Once I had morphine. Nothing worked. Surprisingly, marijuana was the only thing that gave any relief, but I couldn’t tell if it was the natural medicinal qualities of the herb, or the fact that I was simply stoned enough not to care about the pain.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was diagnosed with endometriosis. My fantastic doctor assured me that I was not alone. Endometriosis—a condition that afflicts approximately 5.5 million women in the United States and Canada of childbearing age—is a chronic disease that occurs when the endometrial tissue normally found in the uterus drifts to other parts of the body—the fallopian tubes, the cervix, even the bladder. These lesions grow with each cycle, but unlike menstrual blood, the buildups can’t exit the body, and scars or cysts form. The results are an increase in pain before, during, and after the menstrual cycle; gastrointestinal complications like diarrhea, constipation, and nausea; and risk of infertility.
For some, surgery is an effective option. A minimally invasive laparoscopic operation removes the endometrial growth via small incisions and only requires a one-day hospital stay. Additionally, doctors lessen the amount of bleeding via hormonal treatments—prescribing the more conservative birth control pill treatment, or more radical drugs like Lupron, which temporarily induces medical menopause, and Danazol, which inhibits ovulation. Three years after surgery, period pain is a distant memory.