Photographer: Kat Threlkeld
I met Christina at a business event and got to hear a little bit about her blog, FemEvolve which she began to combine her love of empowering women with her science background. In meeting with Christina she opened up about the pain of living with endometriosis and how it's changed the trajectory of her life.
What is your name and what do you do and/or what is your passion?
My name is Christina Paruag. I’m a fourth year university student studying Medical Physics. My passion is women’s health, it’s something that I hold close to my heart and want to make a difference in.
This passion has led me to start a digital magazine called FemEvolve, which is an upcoming women’s health and wellness focused magazine, providing reliable information from both scientific research and personal experiences of women who are experts in different fields.
I want this magazine to have an authentic feel so the content will be written by real people facing real challenges.
Can you talk more about your inspiration to start FemEvolve?
I was 19 years old and in my first year of university when I felt like the world was ending.
For many years, I had horrible, excruciating periods from which I would vomit for days and roll around in pain. The only thing that helped was taking eight Tylenols for the first three days of my period. Other people in high school would joke that I was pregnant because I was constantly vomiting. Even during my gym classes, I would pass out from running while on my period because the cramps were so bad, they were out of this world. I would only wake up once someone had carried me inside and placed me on the cold gym floor.
I noticed that my period was getting worse and worse in the first few months of university. I would have to leave class halfway and limp to the bus station because the pain was so bad. In October of 2013, the day before my second midterm, I started feeling very sick. I felt like I wanted to vomit (and I was done my period), my lower stomach on the right side felt like 1000 knives were stabbing it and my skin was pale. My mom found me at home and urged me to go to the ER thinking it might be appendicitis. They ran tests and eventually found that I experienced a ruptured ovarian cyst. I had some abnormal bleeding which indicated it as well as it showed up on an ultrasound. I felt confused, but also a little relieved that it wasn’t appendicitis. The ER doctor asked if I had always had painful periods and I said yes. He recommended that I visit a gynaecologist. My periods after the cyst were even worse. The first day of my cycle, I thought I would die every time. I couldn’t help but scream at the top of my lungs, kick my legs around and beg for it all to stop as tears streamed down my face. The first few days of my cycle started becoming like this, leaving me feeling paralyzed, unable even to move to go to the bathroom.
A few months later I was finally able to see a gynaecologist. He assessed me and asked if I experienced ovulation pain, the week before my cycle. I told him that in the past few months I started noticing it. He started me on birth control to see if it would help my cramps but it only made me extremely moody and made my boobs hurt. I tried different pain medications, very strong ones. I was even given medications to help with the heavy bleeding. Nothing really helped, I only found bad side effects from the treatments.
Eventually he explained to me that I might have something called endometriosis. He drew a diagram of the female reproductive system and how endometriosis affected it. He suggested I have a laparoscopy done- a surgical procedure in which he would make a few small incisions in my abdomen to view my ovaries and fallopian tubes and remove any form of endometriosis found. He told me that surgery is the only definitive way to diagnosis endometriosis.
At this point I was feeling very lost and scared. I looked for resources online, however most were about exercising more and changing my diet. I could barely move to be able to stand and cook, and exercising made my pain worse. I’ve created my own resources through time that I want to share with other women. Through the years, I’ve taken this lack of available information and resources, the fact that periods are still a big taboo topic, and turned it into FemEvolve. A magazine that women can read and rely on, with alternative approaches to healthcare rather than certain band-aid treatments such as medications.
You live with endometriosis, can you explain to our readers what it is and how it’s affected your life?
Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus gets deposited and begins to grow in other areas of a woman’s body.
This tissue travels because of cells that move into these areas. This causes adhesions and binding of organs, as well as extreme pelvic pain. Endometriosis is most commonly found in the pelvic cavity (ovaries, fallopian tubes, etc.), however it can also be found on the appendix, intestines, colon, rectum, and in rare cases, the lung, eye and the brain.
Now this all sounds quite scary, I know. I’m quite lucky I was diagnosed so early on. After my laparoscopy, extensive tissue had been found all over my ovaries and fallopian tubes, however it didn’t spread to other areas because it was so early on.
Endometriosis is known as the #1 cause of infertility in women. It also can lead to every day, chronic pelvic pain for many women.
Pain when urinating and with bowel movements. Pain when bending, lifting heavy objects, sitting or standing for too long. Constant nausea (which has made it tough for me to eat a lot and gain weight). Heavy periods are common too. I still experience extremely heavy periods that make me black out on the second day of my cycle.
Endometriosis can mean multiple hospital trips in a year (or month!). It affects your immune system so it’s common to have frequent colds, especially with your period. Brain fog occurs because of the chronic pain. One of the worst symptoms for me has been chronic fatigue, it happens no matter how much sleep I get.
Photographer: Kat Threlkeld
I never thought that night after the ruptured ovarian cyst that my life would change forever. School was the toughest change for me. I started missing 3 weeks of school at a time, 1 week before my period, 1 during and 1 right after. My grades dropped so much, I stopped feeling like myself. Some professors and school administration would give me a hard time. How could I explain that I was missing school because of a period?
Work has been affected. I still can’t hold a full-time job. The pain can be unpredictable and sometimes your boss and co-workers are not understanding of this.
I lost many friends along the way. Both friends in university and friends from high school who I couldn’t reconnect with. They didn’t understand why I would cancel on our plans. It was tough to get them to understand what this condition had done to my body- I couldn’t walk for many days or function in the same way others did.
I thought that women would be more understanding as this condition is triggered by my period, but I faced so much shame and isolation.
I would constantly hear, “Oh, they’re just cramps, take a Midol” or “Well my period isn’t bad”. They failed to realize that every woman’s menstrual cycle is unique. And this wasn’t “just a period”, it was so much more. Certain family members didn’t understand. People thought I was making it up for attention.
I think that dating has been a really difficult and devastating part of it all. Not only does endometriosis affect your ability to keep plans for dates because the pain is unpredictable, intimacy can also be painful. Many women have described it as feeling as if a knife is inside of them. It’s not pleasant, and only pushes your partner away. Fertility is also a big thing, so you have to find someone who is understanding and willing to help you through it all. It makes me scared to date, like, “Will you actually love me despite all these flaws?” But I also believe the pain has made me stronger and that good, understanding men exist out there.
Endometriosis can be caused by a number of things. Finding exercise that works for you is important- whether that’s yoga, a light walk every day or resistance training. Changing your diet is important too. I now make simple meals with little to no dairy and small amounts of gluten (which makes the inflammation worse for me). I avoid all fried or oily foods and as much junk food as possible. A clean diet really helps eliminate flare-ups.
Thankfully I’m starting to do much better thanks to low-intensity laser therapy that targets the scar tissue directly. I’ll be posting more about in on my blog shortly!
How do you think your struggle with endometriosis has affected your path?
I used to tell my close friends and family that I feel like I’m living in a nightmare. That I hope the rest of my life won’t feel this way. Having this condition has caused me to be more grateful-just for the simple fact that I’m alive and breathing. I’ve become so positive throughout this journey. I’m grateful for the small, beautiful moments every day.
I now practice yoga and meditation daily which really calms me down, decreases my stress (which contributes to the endo!) and helps me feel more balanced.
For the longest time I wanted to be a radiologist, however I now feel like I’ve discovered my true calling with FemEvolve. I loved writing in high school so this is a great way to combine my writing with my science background. It all happened because of the years of pain and loss. I believe that there are many beautiful moments waiting to happen, moments in which I can help other women, including my future daughter, so that they don’t have to face this horrible illness.
In what moments in your life do you feel most powerful?
I would say that I feel most powerful on the days when getting out of bed is so tough and I still do it. Many days have started with me waking up and feeling as if I got hit by a truck.
Sometimes I’m able to push through and this always amazes me.
I keep track of it in my phone to look at when I feel down. I think, “Wow, if I can do that, I can do anything.”
What women have been most influential to you and why?
After my diagnosis I’ve completely admired Padma Lakshmi. She’s known for her work on Top Chef, but she also Co-Found The Endometriosis Network of America. She is constantly raising awareness to help women. I also love the fact that she models, shares amazing recipes and has a high value for education.
Another woman I’ve recently started following is Carrie Green. She has a business called the Female Entrepreneur Association (ladies in business, check her out!). I’ve learned a lot about business through her resources. It’s also inspiring to see a woman grow a successful business yet remain so humble in the way that she has.
Do you have any advice for our easy community?
In regard to health, if you have painful periods, consider speaking to your family doctor or gynaecologist.
Painful periods are not normal! You shouldn’t be missing school or work because of them and this could be an indication of a condition such as endometriosis, fibroids or PCOS.
Don’t let anyone stop you from achieving what you want. If you have a dream and a goal, stick to it and believe you can do it. Don’t let any friend, parent, boyfriend, etc. tell you that you’re not capable. Sometimes I’ve felt scared in starting FemEvolve and sharing my story, but I know that it’s something that needs to be talked about, and something that many can learn from. Believe in yourself and your abilities and keep working towards your goals. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to.