'Like barbed wire inside you,' Midlands women describe endometriosis pain

LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Fighting for exposure, that's the goal of one Lexington photographer.

But, this exposure has very little to do with her camera, even though she's using it to tell a story. It has everything to do with what you can't see – specifically, what's going on inside a woman's reproductive system.

"It's been born out of the realization that there's a need for the knowledge and the awareness of endometriosis," said Laura Effinger, owner of Lola Dee Photography.

The "it" Effinger is referring to is a campaign to raise awareness about endometriosis.

"It's misunderstood, underrepresented and unknown. And I feel like it requires more attention," she said.

Endometriosis is a disease in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus. It creates growths and lesions - causing pain and inflammation.

It can present with a variety of symptoms, while some women show none at all. The three P's to remember, according to speakendo.com are 1) painful periods, 2) pelvic pain between periods and 3) pain with sex. Those are a few signs that indicate you might have endometriosis.

WIS consulted two physicians for this story – Dr. Kathryn Moore with Vista Women's Healthcare through Lexington Medical Center, and Dr. Travis McCoy, a specialist in treating endometriosis and an advanced gynecological surgeon with PREG – or the Piedmont Reproductive Endocrinology Group.

"It's surprising how many young patients I'll talk to who have no idea what endometriosis is," said Dr. Moore. "If you have a patient who can't work or go to school, because their pain is restricting them, that's not normal."

Dr. Moore's research group is working on several clinical trials studying the treatment of endometriosis through oral medication. If you'd like information about how to become a patient in one of those trials, call (803) 254-3230 or go to vistawomens.com.

Meanwhile, one of the main messages from Dr. McCoy, who specializes in reproductive endocrinology and infertility, is to explore all your options before taking a treatment path. The only way to fully diagnose endometriosis is through laparoscopic surgery.

"In some women it's a simple disease," Dr. McCoy said. "But in some women it can be a really horrendous disease that can be debilitating in their life both pain wise and fertility wise down the road."

Julie Hamer is one of the subjects in Laura Effinger's campaign to promote endometriosis awareness through her photography. Julie was diagnosed with endometriosis when she was 20 years old. She was having excruciating abdominal pain – and on her first visit to the doctor, he told her she was faking it.

The second doctor she saw almost rushed her to the operating room.

"He did surgery on me and it only took about 45 minutes and he came and said I had six tumors, a dermoid cyst and he had found one tumor that was very close to being cancerous it was precancerous," Hamer said. "And he said I have never seen so much endometriosis in someone so young in my entire life.

Meanwhile, Laura was just diagnosed with endometriosis in February of 2017. She's had pain her entire life, as she suffers from Stones Disease. That means her kidneys produce kidney stones. She attributed her initial pain to that – until she saw a doctor who diagnosed her with endometriosis.

"It's something that there is no cure, there is no easy fix. It's just something that you have to learn to deal with. You have to adjust to a new normal," said Laura.

As Laura works to create a community and a support group for women with endometriosis here in the Midlands, she wants to hear your story. You can send her a message on her Facebook page.

If you'd like more information about endometriosis, head to this site.

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