“Don’t accept it as natural,” actress Susan Sarandon firmly told a crowd of Endometriosis Foundation of America supporters last week, referring to intense pain from severe cramps. “It is not okay.” A lot of us have come to accept certain things about being a woman. (These high heels hurt! Why are my breasts itchy? I have a serious chocolate craving.) But when it comes to endometriosis, a disease that affects 1 in 10 women, accepting discomfort is what needs to not happen. The organization mentioned above, founded by Dr. Tamer Seckin and the stunning “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshi, is trying to change that. Its goal is to educate young women about endo and help those who have it. At the foundation’s 3rd Annual Blossom Ball, I had the chance to listen to how both Padma and Susan suffered from endometriosis, a debilitating and incurable disease that can be managed and treated if caught early. But because its symptoms are the kinds of signs that most women would rather keep a secret—painful sex, gas-y period cycles, insane menstrual cramps that leave you in bed for days—endo goes an average of 10 years without being diagnosed. TEN. YEARS. OF. PAIN. To top it all off, it can also result in infertility. Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s get clinical with what else I learned during Endometriosis Awareness Month. In short, endometriosis is a condition in which the tissue in your uterus lining wanders outside your uterus...and then grows and can spread and cause problems throughout your body. There is no actual cause or reason for why a woman gets endo. Although, she’s seven times more likely to have it if her mother did. Something else important to know: It’s not uncommon for endo to occur when you’re a teenager. So if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “My period is really awful, but it’s been this way my whole life,” then you should talk to your doctor, stat.
Talking about endo is one of the keys to early detection and raising awareness. Padma’s willingness to share her story and be involved with the foundation has helped secure headlines for the cause, and I was blown away by her sincere grace. But it was a photographer at the Blossom Ball who really stuck in my mind. She was blonde and pretty, a few years younger than me, and I had asked her if she was from a certain agency. She replied that no, Dr. Seckin is actually her doctor, she had/has endo, and she’s his personal photographer. “Oh my goodness, really?” I responded, thinking to myself that she looks like the kind of woman who reads FITNESS. “Yeah, I had it for 10 years, from about 16 to 26. It was really painful...” She talked a little bit about getting help from Dr. Seckin, and then she was off to get back to work. But for me, that little surprise stunned me. Knowing first-hand that the girl next door accepted her pain as a natural thing, and for so long, made it all that more real. And now, thanks to the foundation's work, I'm much more educated about endo. You should be, too... For more information about endometriosis and the Endometriosis Foundation of America, visit endofound.org. There’s even a great little video that’s both tasteful and super informative.