Padma Lakshmi, author, actress, model, television host, and producer of Top Chef, is a prominent example of how endometriosis can affect just about any woman. Whether you just got your period or you’ve had it for years, that pelvic pain may be an unbearable sign that you have endometriosis. She discusses with Mediaplanet how she found out that her period was different from other women:

Mediaplanet: When did you first know that your period was different from other females?

Padma Lakshmi: My mother always had difficulty with her period. She told me early on that some people have painful periods and others don’t. So when I had my first period, I expected for it to be painful. It wasn’t until I went to college and saw my roommates who’d have their period just throw a tampon into their purse, and skip out the door that I realized how significant my pain was in comparison.

MP: Endometriosis can have significant mental and physical effects on women. Based on your experiences with this condition, what advice would you offer women?

PL: I would tell them to remember that they’re not alone and they’re not crazy. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. It’s important that you listen to your body and be your own best advocate. Find a a gynecological surgeon who specializes in laparoscopic excision surgery in your area. At this time, the only way to diagnose endo is through that procedure. If you can’t have surgery right away, talk to an experienced gynecologist about other therapies, such as birth control and/or hormones.

MP: We understand you were undiagnosed for a long period — what were the barriers surrounding your diagnosis?

PL: Some of the biggest barriers surrounding an accurate endo diagnosis is that not many people know about it. When I was diagnosed I had never even heard of the word endometriosis. When you go through something that painful every month, and no one can give you answers as to what’s happening with your body, you just try and get through it. But sweeping a serious problem under the rug won’t make it go away. It’s heart-wrenching and time-consuming, but you have to advocate for yourself until you find a caring doctor who respects your experience as it relates to your womanhood.

MP: The EFA’s ENPOWR Project encourages young girls to recognize the early symptoms of endometriosis-- how has doing so started to help young women?

PL: ENPOWR is one of the EFA’s initiatives that I’m most proud of. We go into science classrooms and educate both boys and girls about early symptom recognition. It’s wonderful because it gives girls a resource if they think they are suffering from endometriosis. It allows them to understand what’s happening on a deeper level, and also sensitizes their male counterparts, who while not having it, may know a female who does. I went on a ride along once where after the presentation, a boy came up to me and said “I think my mom has this.” And for me that was a huge accomplishment because now he’ll be able to help his mother,  and really any other women that come into his life that suffer from endo.

MP: Can you walk readers through your typical period symptoms month-to-month before being diagnosed and the thoughts you had surrounding your personal period?

PL: My periods would essentially incapacitate me for one week out of every month. I would be on high dose pain killers like Vicodin or Tylenol 3, and become very nauseous as a result. It would become this back and forth tug of war, being in immense pain or being in less pain but feeling so sick to my stomach. I would have hot water bottles for my back and feel a pain shooting up my left leg. It became something that I dreaded, and it severely warped my sense of body image because it felt as if my own body was turning against me.

MP: Since being diagnosed in your 30s, how have you witnessed the conversation surrounding endometriosis awareness change in both public and celebrity circles? What is required to continue the momentum on all fronts?

PL: People need to continue speaking up about endometriosis and pushing lawmakers to provide more federal funding for research. There’s no cure for endometriosis but it is treatable. It takes a woman on average, 10 years to get a proper diagnosis. If we keep making noise, hopefully we can save women from suffering for over a decade without any help.

Social media has also made a huge difference in endo awareness. When I was in my 20’s, we didn’t have the internet to look things up. We didn’t have chat rooms to talk about how we were feeling. Digital media has opened up new doors in being able to support one another.

I’m very proud of the way our foundation has changed the conversation around endo. After 8 years of building the organization, I can now leave the foundation to my co-founder to continue the mission, and that will enable me open up the scope of my work for this cause in new ways. I look forward to helping other groups who have the same goals as the EFA. I’m honored to lend my voice to any person or program fighting to keep women and young girls pain free, and ensuring their fertility stays intact.

All women are not created equal, but all women (and men) deserve the same opportunities to lead a healthy, productive and full life. 

MP: When you found out you were pregnant, what was that like after believing you couldn’t get pregnant “the old fashion way”?

PL: Krishna is truly my miracle baby. I was so overjoyed when I found out that at first I didn’t believe it was real. I got the news and then had to hop in a cab for a business meeting. When I stepped out of the cab and saw a confidant, I told her immediately. In fact, when my endometriosis surgeon found out, he didn’t believe it either. But, when you’ve been told that you can’t become a mother the old-fashioned way, and then a miracle like this happens, it’s really the most amazing and humbling feeling. I feel very fortunate.