It’s National Women’s Health Week — a very important observance! The goal is to empower women to make their health a priority, and I want to do my part by sharing why now is the time for women to take steps to improve their health and also raise awareness about a cause close to my heart: endometriosis.
If I could tell women what I wished I’d known, it would be: Don’t make the same mistakes I did! Debilitating pain is not normal.
When I was 15, I experienced heavy bleeding and felt sharp pains in the lower part of my stomach during and between my periods. I was told my symptoms were normal, and I thought they were just part of being a woman. At the time, I had never heard of endometriosis nor did I feel like it was accepted to talk openly about my period, so I just pushed through, didn’t complain, and ignored my symptoms.
But I shouldn’t have. In 2008, while performing on Dancing with the Stars, I had a particularly bad “episode,” as I call them. I started experiencing horrible pain and bleeding, so much so that I left the set and my mom, who was there, insisted we go to the hospital.
I saw multiple doctors and found that I had endometriosis. When I got my diagnosis, I felt relieved. I finally had a name for the pain I had been ignoring!
I thought about all the years of debilitating pain — the kind that makes you miss work and school — and living without an understanding or accurate diagnosis. I thought: If only I had said something sooner, I wouldn’t have had to be such a “tough cookie!”
National Women’s Health Week (#NWHW) is all about women taking steps to improve their health. What’s the first step? Speaking up!
It all starts with speaking up — to your doctor … your family … your boss … and your friends. Once I began to talk to my doctor, family, friends, and fans about my endometriosis, everything changed. I realized I wasn’t alone. I realized I could take breaks when I was in pain because my colleagues were aware of what I was going through.
Speaking up can also make you an advocate for other women. I realized I could help members of my family and close friends talk to a doctor about endometriosis symptoms they were experiencing. I use my platform to raise awareness about endometriosis, a chronic and painful disease that affects me and millions of other women of reproductive age. I was lucky to get my diagnosis when I did, but every woman is different, and I’ve since found out that women suffer an average of six to 10 years before receiving a proper diagnosis! Think of the impact we could start to make on a statistic like that if we just got educated, got empowered, and started a conversation.
My fellow #endowarriors and I are committed to speaking up and making a difference for women living with endometriosis. I encourage other women to do the same — not just for endometriosis, but also for any women’s health cause that’s near and dear to you.
Speak up! Doing so can help women and girls everywhere achieve their best possible health.
*Editorial Note: This post first appeared on the Office of Women’s Health blog on May 15, 2018