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Hormonal imbalance scarred me and scared me, until other women shared their pain

By BROOKE VILLANUEVA Published Apr 01, 2021 1:47 pm

In 2011, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS. 

I was in second year high school at the time, and since the only risk that caught my attention was infertility, I didn’t really mind it. I was young and I wanted to enjoy life without worries. Besides, I found joy in not having to deal with that icky feeling most females get during their red days.

But what began as a disease I completely shrugged off eventually turned into something more complicated and troublesome.

PCOS and endometriosis are two problems that are common among women of reproductive age.

During the pandemic, I struggled to get my period for eight months straight, which triggered weight gain, low moods, and breakouts, along with a stress-related condition that causes me to scratch my skin to the point of bleeding and pain.

Out of desperation (and, well, loathing for my situation), I posted about it in my Instagram stories. What’s so wonderful about it is how many of my girl friends replied to me—some with messages of hope about how they have learned to manage the challenges that come with it, some with messages of honesty about how much of a pain in the ass it can be, others with messages of empathy about how they can relate to me as warriors of endometriosis, which may pose similar risks and symptoms.

Instagram: @itsbrookevillanueva

PCOS and endometriosis are two problems that are common among women of reproductive age. Both conditions, according to my obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Shierly May Dy-del Rosario at Capitol Medical Center, “can cause menstrual problems, irregular and heavy periods, infertility, as well as excess hair growth and pain in the lower abdominal or pelvic region.”

In search of hope, I spoke to four women whose PCOS and/or endometriosis stories are complex and inspiring in their own ways: My high school batchmate, who has been dealing with PCOS since she was a teenager, is now helping others become the best version of themselves as a wellness coach; my college friend, whose hormonal disorder made her feel “ugly” and “sick” of her face, is happily sharing her raw, post-workout selfies on IG again; a former actress, who quit showbiz to focus on treating her PCOS and getting pregnant with her husband, is now living her best life as a mom-of-two; and then there’s this PCOS and endometriosis patient who found contentment in singleness after striving to make her past relationship last and trying for a baby with her then boyfriend for years.

Yes, PCOS and endometriosis aren’t fatal, but they’re definitely more than just a hormonal condition. 

Chloe Aquino has tried different fad diets to treat her obesity and improve her PCOS, but to no avail.

“I ballooned back to my old body or to an even bigger body in the end,” my high school batchmate, who has been a PCOS warrior since her teenage years, recalled. “It was hard. Those were the times PCOS made me feel so down and made me feel like such a failure.”

It was only in November 2020 that she mustered up the courage to try again—with no regrets this time. Chloe finally came across a program that worked wonders not only for her physical health but also her mental health, making her realize the importance of trusting the process and understanding the uniqueness of her body. 

“For me, the way to go is to try your best to live healthier through a realistic approach. You can’t do it all at once,” she said, adding that it’s totally fine to have a little treat every once in a while. “That’s part of normal living. Just make sure to try to integrate health into your life one day at a time.” With this strategy, she’s able to consistently achieve her weekly weight loss goals without depriving herself of her favorite dishes. 

From the overall well-being she has thus far achieved, she had an epiphany of who she wanted to be. Chloe gave up her high-paying corporate job to become a wellness coach. “I love helping people improve their lives—not changing who they are but helping them see that they can be better, that they are worthy of becoming better,” she shared.

Most importantly, my job, or the way I choose to make a living, does not put my health at risk. In fact, it puts it at the very forefront.

“I’m not sure where this will take me or if this job is sustainable, but I know I’m fulfilled. I know masaya ako. Most importantly, my job, or the way I choose to make a living, does not put my health at risk. In fact, it puts it at the very forefront,” added Chloe.

Due to endometriosis that brought about “the worst acne breakout of my life” late last year, PR practitioner Marga Tulaylay got real about how her self-esteem immediately went down the drain. “I can’t look at myself in the mirror because it’s really bad. The acne bumps just keep on multiplying,” she shared, opening up about one of her lowest points where she cried, felt so “ugly” and “sick” of her face that she deleted her photos and archived her posts on the ‘gram. “I also didn’t take pictures of myself for months. Sobrang lala ng insecurities ko and I had zero confidence all of a sudden. I didn’t feel good about myself.” 

Knowing how unpleasant her condition has made her feel, I honestly expected Marga to say no to sharing her story and selfies with us. But this girl never fails to surprise. Just a few months after her diagnosis, she happily shared she has come to terms with the idea that she’s so much bigger than her acne and scars. “I realized it’s okay to have acne. I’m still me, but with acne, and I’m still beautiful,” she declared. “I’ve decided to see the situation in a different light—maybe this is a way for me to take better care of myself.”

Photo courtesy of Marga Tulaylay

And that, she’s doing now. Apart from having regular check-ups, she also tries to stay active as much as she can. “I run every now and then, I do boxing sometimes, and lift weights,” she shared. “I also try to eat less sweets—it’s been really hard because I love sweets so much, but I'm working on it.” 

Remember Cindy Kurleto? The former host-actress quit showbiz and left the Philippines in 2007 without really saying much. She only started talking publicly about her main reason in quitting the limelight in 2018: her PCOS diagnosis.

“When I had it, I had four to five simultaneous jobs. My dress size went up by three sizes, and because I was working in front of the camera, many people noticed. I lost jobs because of my exterior,” she revealed. “I gave up my other jobs because I realized my hormones were influenced by my stress levels. It was a big stop moment for my life and career.”

Several doctors from different countries told her she can no longer experience a natural pregnancy and it didn’t sit well with her. “I took it seriously because I had just lost my mother then. I don’t have any siblings, so I felt all alone in this world,” she mused. Keeping in mind her “big wish” to become a mother, she started family planning and made lifestyle changes. Among these were following the Atkins diet (low carb diet), working out twice a day, and seeking opinions from other experts like endocrinologists and dermatologists.

After navigating PCOS in my own life, I felt I had so much more things to share.

Thankfully, her hard work didn’t go in vain—she’s now a happy and healthy mom-of-two who uses her platform to inspire other PCOS patients to keep going despite its varying effects on the body. “After navigating PCOS in my own life, I felt I had so much more things to share,” said Cindy.

“Since I published those videos, I’ve been receiving messages from other women with PCOS and I try to, as much as I can, be in contact with them over direct messaging and encourage them.” 

“PCOS is not the same for every woman. There are different levels and it affects every woman differently,” she added. “I think just knowing you’re not alone in this is already a big help.”

PCOS is not the same for every woman. There are different levels and it affects every woman differently. I think just knowing you’re not alone in this is already a big help.

Meanwhile, financial analyst Aria Viduya found new purpose in singleness and redefined self-love after trying for a baby for a long time. “When my doctor told me about my PCOS in 2013, she said I have to produce a baby so I can heal the natural way,” she recalled. “I was in a six-year relationship then, so I decided it was worth a shot for my health. But I really had a hard time.”

After experiencing irregular bleeding and unexplained weight loss, she underwent major surgery three years later. The doctors found endometrial cysts in her body, which all the more decreased her chances of getting pregnant. “Every time I get my period, nagkaka-lesion yung uterus and mas lalong mahirap magka-baby kapag mas matanda na,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Aria Viduya

The MBA student’s PCOS and endometriosis diagnosis had a huge impact on her. It made her try so hard to keep her romantic relationship for her “future baby,” until she realized she “needed a man in my life for all the wrong, selfish reasons." 

“I did not end up with my boyfriend then so I’m actually more grateful now that we did not have a child together,” she admitted. “I’ve decided to get married first before trying again—so that I would know my baby is made out of love and not just need.” 

Photo courtesy of Aria Viduya

While Aria remains hopeful about having a baby at the right time, she has learned to cultivate a contented heart. “For now, I’m just happy to be able to be active in charity work rather than worrying if I’ll be a mom someday. Being single, after all, makes me more useful to the people who need me,” she concluded.