Today is the last day of September, PCOS Awareness month, so I thought I would share my story with you. Aside from my family, I've kept my story mostly to myself, largely because it's not exactly something that comes up in conversation. As I begin the next phase of my life and face the hand I have been dealt, I am opening up in hopes of connecting with other women going through a similar struggle with PCOS. You are not alone.
When I was about 8 years old, my body began to change. I developed breasts, acne, abnormal hair growth, and I had excessive oil production on my face and scalp. By 10 years old, I had my first menstrual period and my acne became severe - I had it everywhere - my face, neck, chest and back. My pediatrician assured my mom that my symptoms were normal and I was simply an Italian girl going through an early puberty. I was referred to a dermatologist and for years I tried every available prescription medication for my acne. Not a single medication worked.
"Where there is no struggle, there is no strength" - Oprah Winfrey
At school, I stuck out like a sore thumb. No one my age had so much as a single pimple, and when children see things they don’t understand, they can be brutal. I was made fun of relentlessly on the school bus by boys who noticed my hair growth, acne and breasts. I was called a pizza-face, told I looked like a boy, and my breasts were the talk of every bouncy bus ride. Even my friends would innocently point out my differences. I remember one girl on the playground staring at my blackheads and telling everyone to come see how cool my “see-through freckles” looked. In many ways, I felt robbed of my innocence and my childhood. I began feeling resentful toward my classmates who didn't even know what blackheads were, who weren't ashamed to be in a bathing suit at a pool party, who didn’t feel anxiety and fear every morning they stepped on the school bus, who could attend a sleepover without having to worry about it being “that time of the month.” My self-esteem and confidence crumbled, I began to shut down and I fell into a deep depression for years.
It wasn’t until 1998 that we could confirm something more than a rough puberty was going on. After two rounds of the controversial drug Accutane did nothing to clear my skin, my mom, who tirelessly worked to help me find a cure for my symptoms, read a small blurb in a magazine about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). She had a sneaking suspicion that something was off with my hormones, and immediately called my pediatrician, who had never heard of the disease. I was referred to an endocrinologist at the local children’s hospital and finally I had some answers! Blood tests confirmed that my hormone levels were out of whack and at 13 years old, I was diagnosed with PCOS and prescribed birth control and spironolactone, medications that helped control my symptoms. (Little was discussed back then about long term issues, more about this in a later post).
I was able to begin high school with clear skin, a slim figure, and no physical signs of what I had suffered with for so long. Internally, I didn’t heal quite so fast. During high school, I began to date my now-husband Mike who loved me unconditionally and allowed me to open up and share my fears and struggles. With his love and support, I began to understand that I did not need to look perfect in order to be accepted by those around me and I am lucky enough to be reminded of that every day with him. There are days I still struggle with self-esteem issues, days I just don’t want to leave the house, I’m not perfect but I am stronger today because of my struggle. We have been married for almost two years and together this year we have begun to face the infertility issues associated with PCOS. Issues I will continue to blog about as we try for a child of our own.