FORRESTFIELD university student Brooke Pearce looks like your average, perfectly healthy 21-year-old, but the truth is she, like 700,000 other Australian women, is battling an illness with no clear treatment and no cure.
Ms Pearce suffers from endometriosis, a chronic menstrual health disorder that is often misunderstood, even by health professionals.
Earlier this month, Hasluck MHR Ken Wyatt announced the Turnbull government had released Australia’s first National Action Plan for the disorder, investing $4.7 million dollars to both streamline treatment and increase awareness of the disorder.
That money couldn’t come soon enough for Ms Pearce, who started having symptoms 10 years ago.
“When I was 11 I got my first period, it was really heavy and it went for 10 days, which isn’t normal by any standard,” she said.
“I just accepted that it was normal, I didn’t think anything of it.
“When I was 16, almost 17 I went into hospital and they thought I had appendicitis…they opened me up and found cysts that had burst and were toxic, it was a bit of a shock.”
The most disturbing part of Ms Pearce’s struggle is the disregard many doctors have shown towards the disorder.
“I’ve had doctors who have put me on birth control and essentially said suck it up, it’s fine.
“I’ve been on hormone replacement therapy, I’ve had five surgeries, I’ve been on so many hormones and painkillers that I’m not allergic or sensitive to the majority of the Schedule 8 drugs [strong painkillers], surgeries take a long time to organise because there’s only a handful of drugs I can take.
“People look at me and I don’t look sick.
“I’ve been kicked out of hospitals because I don’t look sick visibly.
“It’s hard to explain to people how much pain I’m in, almost constantly.”
For Ms Pearce, the most important part of the Turnbull government’s plan is the awareness campaign, aimed at both school girls and doctors.
“Doctors are meant to know what it is and I’ve certainly had experiences where they haven’t, or they’ve disregarded it, so that extra education is really important.
“Also the sessions in schools, I know so many girls that have had to take days off and they think it’s normal, but it’s not normal.”
As for the future, there is no clear-cut solution for Ms Pearce, no drug that will magically cure the disorder.
“I had an implant put in and I bled for 14 months straight,” she said.
“I’m having another surgery in a couple of weeks.
“Some people find that surgery helps, some people get pregnant and the hormone fluctuation clears it out, some people have a full or partial hysterectomy and it goes away but for some people it persists.
“I was told when I was 18 that I’d need a hysterectomy, and some doctors have actually suggested that I just get pregnant, no thank you.
“I’ll probably struggle with this for the foreseeable future but hopefully this funding will reveal some better options for me and for girls who are just starting to experience this.”