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Helen, 29, endometriosis
One in ten women suffer from the debilitating and limiting disease endometriosis, in which the lining of the womb migrates outside to bind up abdominal organs such as the bowel and ovaries. Treatment consists of hormone therapy (no good if you would like children) or risky operations.
Helen Llewelyn, now 29, and a production manager in the fast-paced advertising industry, tells it like it is. Thanks to a combination of surgery and homeopathic treatment, she now enjoys life to the full and has even discovered her sex-drive!
"I want to tell you my story. I want you to know what it’s like to have endometriosis. I want you to see that chronic illness needs more than one form of medicine to control it and how the mind and emotions are all part of the picture, especially when the physical symptoms are unbearable. I'm not going to pull any punches, I'm going to use words like blood and period and will tell you just how bad an attack of endometriosis gets!
"My pain used to keep me off school, then college, later uni, and now work, for about 20-30 days per year since I was 13 years old. The pain calmed down for a few years when I was put on Dianette, but became much worse when I was forced to come off it, due to worries about its side-effects.
"About two days in to my period, it would get really heavy with large dark clots pouring out, I would get through a pack of sanitary towels a day. I would have cramps throughout and feel run down and tired, unable to compute simple things. Then it would hit, usually about an hour after I got up or around bedtime, or for some reason at about 4am in the morning, my mouth would go dry, a pain would start banging in the base of my spine, I'd get boiling hot, feel like I need the toilet really badly, at this point I've learnt that I have about 15 minutes before show time, I would calmly try and get all the bits together I would need. I'd go to the first aid cupboard grab the pain killers, get a glass of water, boil the kettle to make a hot water bottle, find the massager, get a towel. By this point I would be feeling really sick, have horrible 'tap mouth' where you can't stop salivating, but you're really dehydrated also. My head would spin so I'd walk into doors and walls.
"I'd sit on the loo and feel great blobs of blood dripping out of me. Then a big circle of pain would hit. I would start sweating, clinging on to anything cold, the wall or the floor, spitting in the sink, throwing up, eventually, I'd fall on the floor. Here I would hit myself with all my strength thumping my back grasping my tummy, pulling my hair, crying, being sick, and the biggest humiliation of all, defecating. The shame, and the heartbreak of being in so much pain that I can't control my own body. My womb feels like it is trying to force itself out through my vagina, I feel like I’m sitting on a large sharp knife, like someone has grabbed my insides and is squeezing them till there's nothing left. My back throbs and feels really heavy like the pain is trying to get out. No person should have to endure that amount of pain. Ever. The circle of pain then starts coming round the other way, and the intense pain would start to ease, so I could stop thumping myself and start massaging instead. My head is spinning, I can't stand up, I feel like I could die, I actually want to die. It's humiliating. It's unbearable.
"About an hour or two later the pain eases off to a manageable thump and ache and cramp, what I guess I'd call a 'normal' period pain, I would get up off the floor and get into bed. The "episode" would knock me out, I'd be exhausted. I would sleep for hours, only to wake up to the pain again, sometimes hoping not to wake up. Not in a dramatic, I want to kill myself way, but in an 'I can't cope anymore, I can't do this again' way.
"The next day, my head full of cotton wool, I would feel sick all the time, in pain all the time, unable to function. Sometimes I would go into work anyway, brave face and all, walk in and feel guilty for being off, feel the faces looking at me, hear them all thinking 'it's only period pains' or 'bloody women in the workplace, they're not up to it'.
"Four or five days later I'd be back to normal, something in me would click, my head would be clear, the pain would be gone, I'd feel ok again, fine, brilliant, I'd forget the pain, think it wasn't as bad as it really was, get on with stuff, maybe for 18 whole days before it all started up again.
"What do my doctors say? I went for my first scan in 2005, when a large chocolate cyst (nearly the size of a 3 month old foetus) was found on my ovary. There was a theory that my endometriosis had spread on to my bowel. Not once has a doctor or consultant asked about my pain, I was never offered any pain relief. Doctors see endometriosis as a fertility issue, women who can't get pregnant are often found to have it, but it affects millions of women who are in pain so much it affects their careers, relationships and social lives. Let alone sex! I get a stabbing pain if I just think about sex. I can't even wear tampons, so you can imagine my fear. I'm 28 and cancelling nights out all the time, unable to move up the career ladder or get a rise as I'm always off work and just feel grateful to have a job, unable to go swimming which I love. This isn't how life was meant to be.
"My operation to drain and remove the cyst and laser treatment to burn off all the cells that they could see, has been successful – it took me about a year to feel the physical benefits. There is a risk my organs will be damaged in the longer term, but for now I can appreciate manageable pain levels, with the help of the contraceptive pill. But my mental state is no better and I don’t really want anti-depressants. I want to deal with this, not just cover it up.
"At a local Endometriosis Awareness Day I met Dr Sara Eames, a medically qualified homeopath, and listened to her talk about her approach to cases like mine. I thought there was no way homeopathy could help me and I had always been cynical about such therapies. But something clicked and I asked my GP if I could give it a go. I was referred to the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital on the NHS.
"The doctors had managed to fix the visible part of my disease with surgery, which means I hardly ever have a day off work now, but living the last 17 years of my life in pain I developed many other issues, mainly mental, that ‘traditional’ doctors were unable/unwilling to help with. I even went to a psychologist for over a year, but ended up pretending to be better as it was actually making me worse! The mental issues are as debilitating as the pain, and homeopathy has significantly improved these within a few months and continues to help today: my friends and relatives can confirm I have lost my anger, am more calm and less inclined to fly off the handle.
"It was amazing when I looked up the remedy Dr Eames prescribed me: for the first time in my disease’s history someone understood, someone actually 'got' what I was experiencing (other than the visible abnormalities in my body). It wasn’t flattering, not in the slightest, it’s the sort of things you don’t want to admit about yourself, but it was true, and there was help, and that was a big deal.
"As for my sex phobia, unbelievably, I have experienced sexual attraction and feel I have a sex-drive, which is such a surprise. I’m hoping now I have begun to overcome these issues homeopathy can help me with the last few physical symptoms I experience. Homeopathy has taken me from living beneath a cloud of anger and bitterness and given me back my life."
To interview Helen please call Cristal Sumner on 01582 408674 or email firstname.lastname@example.org