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Author and actress Eleanor Thom opens up about the realities of living with endometriosis in this powerful letter...
Around one in 10 women of reproductive age in the UK suffer from endometriosis. The condition is where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. It can cause pain and infertility and at the moment, the causes are unclear. On top of this, there is no definite cure.
Eleanor Thom, who has appeared in Absolutely Fabulous and Drifters, suffers from the condition. Here she writes a letter to her private parts in order to raise awareness of the realities of living with endometrosis….
It’s a memorable moment for any girl, the day you get your first period.
Mine arrived in March 1995, while I was at school.
‘You’re becoming a woman,’ my mum Viv, then 44, said. I felt pretty proud, too.
‘You can choose a film and a takeaway for tea,’ my dad Rony said sweetly.
But if I’d known then what I know now, there’s no way that I’d have celebrated.
You see, from then on, you made life hell. Month after month, my period arrived, and it was always the same.
I’d be doubled up in agony, clutching my stomach, fighting back tears. No amount of hot-water bottles helped.
The doctor said I just had bad periods, so I continued to suffer, thinking it was just bad luck. But it never got easier.
The pain was paralysing.
It felt like you, my own body, were waging war against me.
‘Why won’t it go away!’ I’d sob in the middle of the night.
Mum took me to see holistic doctors but nothing helped. The thought of living like this was horrifying and unfair, too. None of my friends suffered like me.
I had to take days off school each month. People thought I was faking – I wish I had been.
Then, at 16, I was rushed to hospital bleeding heavily. The pain was on a whole new level.
Finally, in September 2002, we got a name for the agony you caused…
‘You have endometriosis,’ my consultant said – it’s when tissue similar to the womb lining grows in other places, like the ovaries or abdominal organs.
I was relieved – now I had something to fight. But it wasn’t that simple. No single op could cure this, it wasn’t like having your tonsils out!
This was just the beginning of the battle – and endometriosis would make it hard to conceive.
‘You’ll have to think about babies soon,’ my consultant said.
Babies! I was still a kid myself!
I’d just turned 18, yet I had to decide about mini-mes?
And I thought my A levels were stressful, I fretted.
I went on the Pill to avoid my periods whenever possible. Other than that, I just had to learn to live with it.
‘But there’s no way I’m letting my private parts define me,’
I told mates.
Over the years, I had nine ops, to scrape out the growing tissue. I took hormones and painkillers.
It was tough. I decided not to have kids at that time – I was still young, I’d cross that bridge later.
Of course my relationships were affected but, mostly everyone’s been really understanding. But I know it could be overwhelming.
In spite of everything, I graduated from uni, got great jobs as an actor, guest starring on Absolutely Fabulous and in various other roles on TV, as well as performing a solo show at Edinburgh Fringe in 2013.
Then, in 2017, I decided to write a book about you. An honest account of the realities of living with endometriosis.I poured all our secrets into it and, this July, Private Parts was published. It’s part memoir, part survival guide.
Endometriosis affects 1.6m women in the UK alone. I want them to know they’re not the only ones whose lady gardens wreak havoc on their lives.
We’ve had some dark, painful times over the last two decades.
But now I – and all the other women battling endometriosis – are tackling the havoc you can cause, darling privates.
You don’t rule, define or embarrass us.
And most of all, you will not ruin our lives.
Eleanor Thom, 34, Brixton
“Eleanor writes as fearlessly as she has fought this disease; with heart, honesty and a humour that is rarely afforded to subjects as serious as this. Your head will explode with what you’ll learn and your heart will explode with the courage of this author. She’s truly extraordinary.” – Phoebe Waller-Bridge