Living with endometriosisfor 14 years

EXPLAINED … With endometriosis, bits of the uterine lining (endometrium) – or similar endometrial-like tissue – grow outside of the uterus on other pelvic organs. Outside the uterus, the tissue thickens and bleeds, just as typical endometrial tissue does during menstrual cycles. Graphic: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

Beata Kauna was 13 years old when she got her first menstrual period and was a Grade 8 pupil at a secondary school in the northern part of the country.

Just like any other young girl, the idea of menstruation was still new to her, however, she soon noticed that her periods were heavy, painful and came with headaches and abdominal pain.

“I spoke to my parents about it and have been going to general practitioners over the years but all I have been getting are painkillers to help with the pain,” Kauna says.

Over the years, she often saw huge blood clots during her period, which lasted approximately seven days.

Some days are better than others, but the first two days of her period are always the worst, she says.

Apart from the painkillers, she also remembers receiving antibiotics from various general practitioners she was able to see because she was fortunate enough to have had medical aid.

In 2016, Kauna was diagnosed with ovarian cysts by a general practitioner, however, at the age of 19, she was too young for surgery.

“My doctor recommended that I change my diet which really helped a lot,” Kauna says.

In 2019, the pain got worse. At the time, Kauna was a teacher at a combined school at Tsumeb.

Throughout the year, she used to take at least two off days each month during the first and second day of her period.

“I only used to do this when the pain was very severe, but some months I just used to rely on the painkillers. I couldn’t open up about it because everyone thinks periods should not be painful,” she says.

In 2020, Kauna was finally able to find a gynecologist – something she struggled with for many years.

At the age of 24 after blood tests, pelvic examinations and ultrasounds were conducted by her gynecologist at a private hospital in Windhoek, her life changed.

It was on 30 October 2020 when she received the news that she has been diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis and the ovarian cyst was huge, approximately 5cm long.

“Due to the size of the cyst, an operation needed to be carried out as soon as possible as it was too big and was likely to damage my left ovary,” Kauna says.

Having lived with endometriosis for the last 14 years, Kauna says she has found many ways to manage and survive with the condition.

“Even after the diagnosis, nothing much really changed. I just started exercising, using castor oil packs, watching my diet, opening up and being busy to avoid overthinking about it,” she says.

Additionally, she says that she has made peace with the fact that endometriosis is likely to be taxing, as long as menstruation persists.

Registered nurse Helena Shigwedha from Hope Community Clinic Centre describes endometriosis as a condition where tissues similar to the lining on the inside of the uterus grow outside of the uterus.

The tissue causes pain, inflammation and sometimes fertility problems.

“Some of the common symptoms of endometriosis are painful periods/cramps, diarrhoea during periods, excessive bleeding or heavy menstrual flow, pain during and after sex,” Shigwedha says.

Other symptoms also include pain when urinating or defecating during periods, pelvic pain that is mostly worse during periods, infertility, irregular periods, a bloated tummy and constipation before and during periods.

“There is no cure for endometriosis, but various treatments slightly reduce the pain such as painkillers, hormonal medicines, contraceptives and surgery to remove the organs affected by endometriosis.”

Shigwedha highlights that experiencing painful periods is not normal, and young women should know signs and symptoms in order to seek treatment.

“Enduring pain is not necessary and you are not alone in this journey,” she says.

March is globally recognised as endometriosis awareness month, and is dedicated to raising awareness about the condition, dispelling the shadows and supporting one another.

Another young woman who has been diagnosed with endometriosis and opted to share her experience anonymously, says the condition is associated with economic and social challenges.

“When I was in school, I used to miss at least three days of school every month because of the severe pain and I could not even speak about why I was not at school due to the stigma associated with menstruation in rural areas,” she says.

Apart from heavy and painful menstruation, she experienced pelvic pain and felt pain before and during sexual intercourse when she became sexually active.

“I always wondered where the problem lay until I sought help,” she says.

She was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2022, after experiencing symptoms for over 12 years after first getting her period at the age of 15.

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