How to help a woman with endometriosis

There is no cure for endometriosis. The treatment options available often only provide short-term relief and have significant side effects. Sadly this situation is not likely to change anytime soon. While much research is going into endometriosis we are seeing little improvement in women’s* experiences of the condition. There are many factors contributing to this; one of the most significant is the baffling nature of the condition itself.

Baffling? Yes! Why is it that endometriosis is observed in many women who have no symptoms and is only found during an unrelated surgical procedure? Why is it that some women have very little disease but experience severe symptoms? Why is it that hormonal therapies (e.g. the pill) and/or surgery help some women but not others? Baffling!

Doctors have a hard time helping people when there is no treatment or cure available. It’s just not how Western medicine was designed to work. And that’s not good enough which is why there are a lot of people working to change this. As frustrating as this situation is there is still a lot we can all do to help women with endometriosis.

So how do we help these women? Well there are a lot of things but for the purpose of this post I am focusing on one: lend a helping hand! I know that sounds simplistic (hopefully not offensively so) but read on…

When I began my PhD I looked at what had been previously published on women’s experiences of endometriosis in scientific journals. It struck me that while endometriosis itself adds a huge burden to many women’s lives this isn’t the only problem. It seemed to me that for many women the people around her added to this burden and made an already difficult situation so much worse. An example:

Jane has endometriosis and experiences symptoms on a daily basis. Jane’s boss demands that she either works or quits; he does not attempt to accommodate her health needs with flexible work arrangements. Jane often comes home from work to find her partner playing video games; he does not use this time to contribute to the housework or to prepare dinner leaving her to pick up his slack or otherwise live in a mess and eat takeout. Jane friends are contacting her less and she senses they are tired of her cancelling on them all the time; her friends never offer to arrange an activity that could accommodate Jane’s illness.

Can we all agree that it’s shit enough Jane has a chronic disease without her also having to deal with a complete lack of support from almost everyone in her life? Agreed!

Just because medicine can’t yet provide women with a treatment or cure doesn’t mean they have to ‘suffer’ by themselves. With an estimated one in ten women being diagnosed with endometriosis chances are you know someone with endometriosis which means chances are you can help someone with endometriosis.**

You know what’s super helpful to someone with a chronic illness? Help with the everyday boring things! It sounds simple because it is. Here are some suggestions:
  • Leave a meal on her doorstep
  • Offer to do the school run
  • Do a load of washing
  • Offer to catch-up at her place (e.g. movie night, afternoon tea) rather than asking her to travel somewhere
  • Heat up her heat pack if you start to notice she is uncomfortable or in pain
  • Offer to babysit
  • Take her dog for a walk   

‘Tis the season of giving so give a woman with endometriosis a break!

Happy holidays and see you in the New Year!

Kate xx

*For ease of reading I’ve used the word ‘women’ but please keep in mind that this may not describe everyone who lives with endometriosis (e.g. girls, transgender, intersex, etc). Let me know if you think I should use a more inclusive term or provide further clarification.

**It’s important to note that endometriosis is experienced differently by all women. Some may not want help while others may desperately want it. When in doubt just be honest and say that you heard endometriosis was a shitty thing to live with and you would like to help them by [insert nice thing here] if they are OK with that.

Image via Death to the Stock Photo