PCOS: My struggles, my journey

PCOS: My struggles, my journey
I could feel people staring around me. I knew why, but I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable.
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I intentionally avoided going to the market on market-days when the market place is filled to the brim. I wanted less of the stares.

Some of the looks were looks of pity while some were curious looks. I was sure some of them would be wondering what sort of skin disease I was suffering from.

One of the market women beckoned on me. On the table right in front of her were displayed food products ranging from fruits to vegetables. Flies from the butcher’s table beside her were hovering around. I thought she was beckoning on me to come and buy from her.

“Young lady, what happened to your face? These pimples are too much. What have you been using for it?”

She didn’t even wait for me to give a response to her questions before she went further…

“See what you would do. My daughter had large pimples just like your own. Here is what she did to clear hers; she blended turmeric and mixed with baking powder and was always using it to scrub her face…Do this every day for two weeks, and you will see the result. I’m certain you will come back to thank me”.

I nodded and thanked her while I made my way out of her makeshift shop. They always do that; give unsolicited advice. People in my country hardly mind their business. Your business is everyone’s business. While I knew some were only trying to help, I must confess I wasn’t quite enjoying it.

If I had listened to everyone’s advice on what I should use with my face, which was almost disfigured by acne, I would have probably damaged my skin.

Is it hard to believe that another stranger advised that I rub my menstrual blood on my face as a treatment option for the acne? Oh yes, that was one of the ridiculous pieces of advice I got from people.

I was seventeen when I was diagnosed with PCOS. I just finished high school, about to enter university. The first time I heard of PCOS was when I went to see a doctor because my periods were irregular.

“When was the first time you saw your period?” the young pretty female doctor asked me. I liked her the first time I stepped into the office.

Maybe because I aspired to study Medicine, I envisioned myself like her- sitting in a well-furnished office and attending to patients.

“When I was like fifteen, sixteen years”, I replied.

I could remember my friends had all seen their first periods almost around age thirteen. When I was yet to see mine two years later, I was a little worried. I had to speak to my mom about it.

She told me not to fret. She saw hers late too. So, I held my peace and stopped thinking about it. I don’t remember my mom teaching me anything regarding puberty and the menstrual cycle. I guess I must have heard about it from my elder sisters, friends, and then from what we were taught in Biology.

I was excited the first day it came out. I felt what seemed like warm liquid trickle out of my vagina. I rushed to the toilet, and then I felt blood. I finally felt normal.

Now, I can talk about my experiences, talk about the cramps, nausea and other related body changes that came with the menstrual cycle just like my friends, I thought.

It flowed for about three days, then stopped. However, to my surprise, I didn’t feel any much pain, no nausea, but I noticed I had that strong urge to use the toilet (to poo) all through the first day.

The next two months, the periods came. I had learnt how to count my cycle, so, I knew when to start expecting the next one. On the third month, I missed it, the fourth month, still nothing. I didn’t understand; my friends saw theirs every month.

I told my mum.

“Have you done anything with any boy?” I shook my head side to side, indicating a no answer.

“Did any man touch you?” she probed further giving me that quizzical look that seems to pierce through your soul.

“Nobody touched me!” I nearly shouted. She heaved a sigh of relief. Okay, let’s watch it next month, if the period doesn’t come, we see a doctor.

Then in the fifth month, it reappeared. I was happy to have it back. The good thing was that my periods don’t usually come with as much pain as my friends so, while I looked forward to my next cycle, my friends were somehow wishing they would be missing some cycles.

The appearing and disappearing of the periods became regular - more like a pattern. I could see my period for two months, and they would be absent for the next two months.

My mum decided it was time we visit the hospital. That was the first visit I made to the hospital regarding this issue before I later saw the lady doctor when it didn’t resolve.

The first doctor I saw said it was nothing to worry about at the moment. According to him, periods are not always regular the first times they appear. Sometimes, it could take up to a year for the cycles to regularize.

One year later, it even seemed to get worse. My mum took me to another doctor this time in a bigger hospital.

The lady doctor asked me different questions regarding my age, when I first saw my period, when I saw it last, how regular it was etc. Finally, she recommended some tests (hormonal tests), which I carried out.

“You have a condition called PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome”, she told me during our next consultation.

I didn’t quite understand everything she told me about the condition. But I picked up the part where she said hormonal fluctuations caused the irregular periods.

She said the condition could affect my ability to give birth.

“You will soon be eighteen years. If you meet a man that wants to marry you even if you are young, go ahead and get married. I would advise that you marry at a young age, so you get a higher chance at conception,” she told me.

She went further to prescribe drugs for me. She prescribed Glucophage for me. I was to be taking a pill every day until it corrects the irregular periods.

I took the drug for a while but couldn’t continue because I noticed it was always making me nauseous. My irregular periods didn’t correct either. Or maybe I didn’t take the drug long enough for it to resolve the issue.

When I reported that the drug always made me nauseous, my doctor recommended another drug. This time, it was an oral contraceptive.

“It helps manage the condition. When you are ready to get pregnant, you will stop using it”, she told me.

My PCOS journey just started. Mine was really a smooth face. I never had acne issues all through High School, never did I know it would haunt me in a few years to come.

The acnes started appearing in my second year in University. At first, it was small spots here and there, and then they turned to big bumps dispersed on my face.

I started trying out various products- homemade, organic products in a bid to restore my face to its initial state. I tried natural remedies like honey, turmeric, cucumber, egg yolk etc. all to avail.

After my second year, I went home for the vacation, and my mom took me to a pharmacist who gave me two drugs. I won’t forget the names of the drugs; Tarivid and prednisolone.

The facial acne worsened. I later found out from a gynaecologist that the drugs I took were steroids and must have been what triggered the appearance of more pimples on my face.

That period was one of the most difficult times in my life. I would wake up in the morning, look my face in the mirror, and hate what I saw. I dreaded going out because I received stares and unsolicited advice from people each time I stepped out of my room.

But I tried. Some days I force myself not to fall into a depressed state. On days when I found the courage to so, I would leave my room, go out to my friends. My friend told me one day, “Joyce, you are really strong. If I were in your shoes, I know I would never find the courage to leave my room”.

Did I add that all these while I was also attending lectures? Of course, I was. No matter how much I avoid going out, I couldn’t afford missing out on lectures.

One day, I entered the class, one of my course mates gaped. I saw her. She almost shouted and held herself back. She later approached me to apologize; it wasn’t an intentional act, and I totally understood her. My face was that bad.

Some nights I cried myself to sleep. I wanted those monsters to leave my face alone. I had literally tried everything I could. I made sure to keep my face clean always, started eating more fruits and vegetables, was taking lots of water, yet the acne didn’t stop.

I managed to finish my exams that semester and immediately booked an appointment with a dermatologist.

After the first consultation, it was obvious the acnes were as a result of my medical condition. Because it has to do with the female reproductive health as well, the dermatologist also referred me to a gynaecologist.

So, I was seeing a dermatologist and a gynaecologist at the same time. I ran lots of tests and bought medications that cost me a considerable sum of money.

I must say that this time, I saw positive results. It took a long while as the acne nearly damaged my face, but slowly, the products prescribed by the dermatologist worked some little magic.

Among the facial products, she prescribed salicylic acid for washing my face, Benzoyl peroxide and Retin-A topical cream. My face never went back to what it was, but it healed to some extent and got much better. It has been a constant battle, I still battle with it, but I'm still hopeful.

It's been a rough ride for me. Some days I have to deal with mood swings, but in all, I'm at least grateful that this isn't a life-threatening condition. I also had to work on my self-esteem such that I had to start caring less about how people react to the acne scars on my face.

There is; however, one thing still hovering over my head. Just beginning of this year, I had a fight with my mom over the phone.

"When are you getting married? It's a new year, and you are not getting any younger!” she had asked.

Just so you know, I am 24. I'm not even 25 yet. This isn't the first time she would be bringing up the issue. I understand she is concerned about me because of the doctor's advice, and she wants to carry her grandchildren as well. But, what I certainly don't need is someone putting me under pressure.

I don't even know if I'm ready for marriage yet, but I certainly know that I want to have kids. Acne aside, this is a new issue for me.

I hope I would be able to write in the future to tell the story of how I got pregnant, have my own kids despite my medical condition.

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