A woman in agonising pain caused by a chronic condition was told by "it's just part of being a woman" by doctors.
Anna Cooper from Wrexham, North Wales has undergone 12 operations over the last nine years because of endometriosis.
Endometriosis a condition where cells similar to ones in the lining of the womb are found elsewhere in the body.
Unlike those cells in the womb that leave the body as a period, this blood can't escape – causing chronic and sometimes debilitating pain, as well as affecting fertility and other parts of the body such as the bowel or bladder, according to Wales Online.
Despite going back and forth to the doctors she was given a variety of reasons for her pain. It all started when her periods began when she was 11 years old but it took seven years for her to be diagnosed with the condition.
According to Endometriosis UK, the average time to diagnose the condition in Wales is 8.5 years. Anna, 27, said: "It was my 11th birthday when I started my period and my mum hadn’t prepared me for it, I didn’t know what was going on.
"I struggled with really painful, really heavy, erratic periods. I’d be bleeding for like two months at a time."
She went on: "I'd be back and forth to the doctors and they’d say 'It’s growing pains, you’re growing up, it’s just part of being a woman'. I was told so many times, especially in school and things like that, it’s just your period, you need to get on with it.
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"I missed so much school because of hospital appointments and being generally unwell. It really isolates you as a teenager. I had to grow up very quickly because no-one else seemed to understand."
Referred to a paediatrician aged 15 after recurring swelling under her ribs, the problem was put down to an ovarian cyst. But during an emergency operation to remove her appendix endometriosis cells were found.
Her gynaecologist disagreed with the findings so Anna got a private consultation with an endometriosis specialist, thanks to her dad's health insurance.
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She added: "He took me into surgery and I was riddled with it. He had to take me out of surgery and take me back in two weeks later, it took him five hours to remove it all."
Anna spent her 18th birthday party with her stomach bandaged up after surgery and watched everyone else enjoy her party. She said: "Everyone was just having the time of their life because they were 18 and carefree and I just had so much more to worry about."
She didn't go to university because of constant pain. She was in and out of hospital for check-ups and investigations and had endometriosis removed from her ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and her bowel.
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While still a teenager, specialists in Liverpool gave her two stark options – get pregnant now or have a hysterectomy.
"I was 18 when they gave me that [option]. If I’d have listened to that I wouldn’t have had my daughter," said Anna.
After meeting her now-husband at 19 years old she now has a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter Grace. She discovered she was pregnant two weeks before she was due to start IVF treatment.
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Anna plans to have a total hysterectomy, following a difficult pregnancy and the damage caused to her body after giving birth to Grace.
She said: "It’s constantly affecting every aspect of my life and it all stems from my period which is why I feel so strongly about it. I’m in pain every day, some days are better than others. I’ve had 12 surgeries for it now, one which has left me with (an ileostomy) bag.
"I was told when Grace was 18 months old not to have any more children as it was detrimental to my health. I had always wanted to have two children and I thought I had age on my side.
"Because we’d had one we count ourselves as incredibly lucky. But it’s not easy. When people say 'At least you’ve got one child' it doesn’t make it any easier to digest because everyone has an idea in their head."
Anna is now campaigning for menstrual wellbeing to become a mandatory part of the curriculum in Welsh schools to teach pupils not only what periods are but signs to look out for if something isn’t right.
Guidance for the new subject of health education in England confirms all pupils – regardless of their gender – will be taught the facts about menstrual wellbeing. But this is not yet the case in Wales.
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