March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, and if you’ve never heard of the painful condition then you wouldn’t be the only one.
According to the NHS, endometriosis is a condition where: “tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the fallopian tubes.”
Symptoms of endometriosis include extreme period pain, beyond the normal range, pain during sex, sickness, back pain, blood in the urine, digestive issues and difficulty getting pregnant.
Tragically, for some women this tissue growth is not limited to the reproductive organs.
This means that the condition can have cataclysmic health implications when left unmanaged.
Actress Mica Keeble nee Proctor, 24, who played young Charity Dingle on Emmerdale, spoke to the Daily Star about her horrifying journey to diagnosis and treatment.
Mica said: “For as long as I can remember my periods have been an issue – but, I was told it was normal and that being a woman meant going through pain and bleeding and so I suffered through.
“One day at school, I remember waking up in a pool of blood and freaking out, but I was told it was fine and had to force myself to go to school.”
It wasn’t until she started going to college in York that the symptoms grew worse.
In her second year, Mica was rushed to hospital and discovered she had a collapsed lung.
From then on, every month when she went through her “normal” cycle – endometriosis can cause irregular menstrual cycles – her lung would collapse again.
Mica was sent to Leeds, York and other hospital's looking for an answer.
She added: “No-one really knew why my lung was collapsing every month, and so I was sent to a lung specialist at Leeds General Infirmary who linked it to my menstrual cycle,
“It was discovered that I was suffering from a Catamenial Pneumothorax.”
This is a form of endometriosis which affects the lungs.
It means that every month, air was leaking into the space around the lungs during menstruation or ovulation, causing them to collapse in on themselves.
It is thought to be caused by endometriosis (development of womb-like tissue) of the membrane surrounding the lungs.
Sadly, diagnosis did not smooth the way quickly for Mica's treatment.
She told Daily Star Online: “The specialist sent me to see a gynaecologist in Harrogate.
“The woman there said she didn’t know why I was there and that she had never heard of the condition.
"So, I went to my GP and told him about it and he said that he hadn’t heard of it in his career either.”
Her GP did some research and re-referred her to the gynaecology department.
After several months she finally saw a gynaecologist who was determined to help.
Mica commented: “She booked me in for an operation to look inside my body, because endometriosis cannot be seen with a scan.”
The operation, a laparoscopy, requires a camera to be inserted into the pelvis through a cut near the navel.
Mica explained: “When I came round I had no scars, the surgeon told me she didn’t operate as she had felt a ‘mass’ behind my belly button – she said it could have been cancer or an endometrial mass.”
“My heart sank, I was petrified.”
After having medical scans it was discovered that the mass was actually just the main arch in Mica’s spine – it was far forwards because of how petite she is.
Mica said: “So, I was sat in hospital being told that I was ‘too slim’ to have the operation, as if she cut through it accidentally then I could die.”
After that, Mica was given treatment in the form of nasal sprays which were supposed to put her through the menopause at 19-years-old.
She said: “I had a breakdown at work one day, I was so frightened that I wouldn’t be able to have kids, and so scared of the pain.”
Soon, she was fitted with a coil, as an alternative treatment to the sprays.
Her body would begin to reverse the menopause after she stopped using them.
Mica said: “I bled for three months after having the coil fitted.
“I had to have other medication to stop the bleeding.
“It made me scared of sex, it kills me to be open about it, but I was just so afraid of the pain.”
Mica started a new job, working with HECK sausages, and told the company about her condition.
She said: “At first, I think they were probably like ‘Oh, great, what have we taken on?’, but then I met Roddy.”
Roddy Keeble is the head of production at the company – which is his family business.
Mica continued: “He was a lovely guy, and between him and his mum they found an endometriosis specialist in Manchester and booked me in to see him.
“A month after the consultation, he performed an operation to cut the endometriosis away.
“I couldn’t have done it without Roddy, his mum and HECK.”
There is no cure to the condition, but birth control and removal of areas of endometrial matter can help to treat it.
Mica carried on throughout it all, studying acting, working in quality control at HECK, travelling the country to attend auditions and acting in Emmerdale.
In December last year, She and Roddy married in the village of Bedale.
Mica said: "I have been told I will struggle massively to have kids.
“For any woman to hear that is difficult – I beat myself up a lot for that, even though I know I shouldn’t put myself down about it, I did.
“I’m the only person in my family with endometriosis, but my mum and sister supported me a lot – some of the pain I kept from them, because I wanted to be strong.
“My sister even told me that If I couldn’t have children, then she would help and even carry a child for me… if that’s not love I don’t know what is!"
Inspirational Mica believes that there isn’t enough awareness of endometriosis in the UK.
She commented: “People who don’t have endometriosis can’t imagine the pain, and many just see it as ‘a heavy period’.
“I felt at certain points as though I didn’t have anyone who understood what I was going through and I was passed from pillar to post.”
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Mica is not the only one to feel this way.
It’s thought that 176 million women worldwide suffer from the condition – that’s one in 10.
And in Mica’s experience, sufferer's extreme pain is often dismissed by doctors as “normal” period pain.
If you feel you need more support or advice, as a sufferer or someone who believes you may be a sufferer, head to the Endometriosis UK website.
There you can find support services, reliable information and a community for those affected by endometriosis.
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