E for endometriosis: Stage four patient hopes to raise awareness here
Endometriosis patient says exercise helps her cope emotionally and physically
When she was 18 years old, Ms Namira Marsudi started experiencing severe menstrual cramps but assumed the intense pain was just part and parcel of the monthly cycle.
It was only when she began suffering from frequent fainting spells at 26, which caused her to leave her job as an auxiliary police officer, that she suspected something was amiss.
In 2014, the Singaporean was diagnosed with stage four - or severe - endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a reproductive and hormonal-dysfunctional condition where endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus and responds to the hormone changes in a woman's menstrual cycle. It could lead to impaired fertility and affects one in every 10 women worldwide.
As a stage four endometriosis patient, Ms Namira experiences such intense pain and inflammation that even a simple bowel movement can be unbearable.
Dr Steven Teo, an endometriosis surgeon at STO+G Laparoscopy and Fertility Practice, told The New Paper that chronic inflammation and scarring occurring over the pelvic and reproductive organs can result in pain during menstruation, intercourse or even when passing motion.
Women with severe endometriosis have a four-fold increased risk of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime.
Ms Namira, now 31 and working as an administrator with the Bone Marrow Donor Programme, told The New Paper about her struggle: "I got so depressed. Life was miserable. I lost my job, my boyfriend and was diagnosed with endometriosis."
She began having suicidal thoughts and was admitted to the Institute of Mental Health.
She recalled: "I thought I was alone and no one understood my pain at all."
She eventually picked herself up and has been advocating for endometriosis awareness through her E for Endometriosis campaign, promoting care and support for sufferers and caregivers in Singapore.
She started with a WordPress blog in 2012 and is now on Instagram for greater outreach.
On Saturday, Ms Namira shared about her disease to a group of more than 20 people at the Human Library Four event at The Red Box in Orchard Road.
Ms Namira is on contraceptive pills, which helps alleviate the symptoms of endometriosis by suppressing menstruation.
She also uses fitness to cope with the pain and has even participated in a fitness pageant in 2016.
She said: "Exercising is my coping mechanism, not just physically but emotionally. I feel like I am in control of my body."
According to Dr Teo, between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of women in the reproductive age-group in Singapore have endometriosis.
He said that he has seen more women with endometriosis in the past five years but does not think that it is becoming more common.
Notably, celebrities - such as Padma Lakshmi (also the co-founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America), singer Halsey, director Lena Dunham and actress Daisy Ridley - have been openly sharing their struggles with the condition.
Nonetheless, Ms Namira feels there is still some social prejudice that local women with endometriosis face.
She said: "I can imagine the number of people suffering behind closed doors.
"You need to understand you are not alone and you don't have to feel ashamed. That doesn't make you less of a woman. We can start making a difference by talking about it."