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Fighting menses disorder one day at a time

Saturday June 15 2019

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH

Mrs Emma Kirungu. She is battling endometriosis. PHOTO | COURTESY 

SONI KANAKE
By SONI KANAKE
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Most women hardly take medication for their monthly period while a few have to pop the occasional painkiller.

But Emma Kirungu, 37, has been on hormonal therapy treatment since she was diagnosed with endometriosis at 23, and she has had to bear excruciating pain and a heavy flow. She shares her journey.

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"My name is Emma Kirungu, a wife and a mum of two. I grew up in the farm, which was fun as we got to play and enjoy our childhood like the other children in the village.

I remember by the time I got to my teens most of the girls had already had their first menstrual period. However, as a late bloomer, my periods did not start until I was 17 and in high school.

My periods were nothing like I had anticipated; they were very painful and I would bleed heavily, sometimes for weeks. Womanhood came at a very high cost.

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DIAGNOSIS

Unfortunately, monthly periods are not something we discuss freely in our African culture, leave alone painful ones.

I did not know much about periods then but I knew mine were not normal. Sometimes they would disappear only to reappear with a vengeance.

They were marked with heavy bleeding and excruciating pain. When the pain became unbearable, mum took me to see a doctor.

Unfortunately, in her opinion, she thought I was just a teenager trying to get attention. That encounter marked the end of me discussing about my pain and what I was going through.

I would run out of sanitary towels as a result of my heavy flow, but I had decided never to discuss it again.

Like every young person, I was excited when I joined university though at the back of my mind I was still fighting my menstrual flow battles.

TREATMENT

By this time, I had become anaemic, which got my family's attention. The cramps too had become unbearable and often times I would sleep on the floor writhing in pain.

When I was around 23 and after many hospital visits, I finally got a diagnosis and started treatment.

My treatment has mainly included hormonal therapy to inhibit growth of the disease, and surgery to remove endometriosis tissue growing outside of my uterus.

However, these only provide short-term relief as endometriosis still has no cure. I have had to learn how to manage it. With affordable care and management, one can live a normal life though a supportive network is very important.

Endometriosis is a hormonal-based disease and can be triggered by certain foods.

PAIN RELIEF

It is therefore important to understand what triggers it so as to avoid such foods and get suitable alternatives.

I, for instance, do not indulge in red meat, wheat and dairy products. I have also learnt that to manage the disease though I must admit at times it gets out of hand and I have to seek medical attention.

Sometimes I might wake up bloated with pelvic pain, nausea, vomiting and really bad cramping and have to go see a doctor first.

I have to rest though it wears off gradually and the following day I might even be feeling brand new! To manage the pain, the doctor has to give me an injection, which at least brings a semblance of normalcy.

My last really bad cycle was in December. March was also not too friendly, but this month was worse.

AWARENESS

As endo warriors, we live a day at a time hoping that one day a cure for this monster will be found. To create awareness, we use the colour yellow, which symbolises hope. As we spread the yellow, we hope to raise awareness.

Continued hormonal treatment can mess up one's moods and general lifestyle, though I have purposed not to let it rain on my parade.

More often than not, I endeavour to have cordial relationships with my friends and colleagues beyond what my moods might be at a particular time.

Sometimes I'm forced to change my diet or rearrange my work and social commitments.

I feel there is need to raise awareness and increase the knowledge of endometriosis as most people do not understand it.

Period pain is not normal and we should not go through life thinking it is or allow our girls to think it is too.

SUPPORT

Often times when a woman or young girl complains of abnormal period pain, it is dismissed as 'fake illness', or 'just bad period pain', or attention seeking like in my case.

It is difficult to get support about a disease that is not well understood, especially here in Africa. While in college, I remember missing out on over a month's sessions of the semester as I was bleeding heavily and was in excruciating pain.

I was also battling anaemia. There is need to raise awareness among family members, friends, colleagues and intimate partners as most do not understand the burden we bare.

It is important people know such a condition exists and is not a ‘career woman’s disease’ as it has been previously labelled.

Endometriosis Foundation of Kenya is a non-profit organisation that aims to support, give information and provide a shoulder to lean on for women suffering from endometriosis and their families.

By working together across the counties, there is need for a powerful and effective force to collaborate with physicians, scientists, and policymakers to further awareness of endometriosis."

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