SURVIVOR: Tammy Sondlo with her daughter, Nathi.
The stomach pain Tammy Sondlo experiences before menstruation is almost indescribable. The 30-year-old dreads menstruating because it is so painful.

At the age of 22, Sondlo was diagnosed with endometriosis. She considers herself lucky to be the mother of a 22-month-old daughter, Nathi, as she was cautioned by doctors that she could be infertile - one of the common symptoms of endometriosis.

While she was growing up, the Joburg-based media specialist thought it was normal to have excruciating period pain, but when she had to miss out on important events such as exams and meetings and would be incapacitated for days, she knew something was wrong.

One day, when the pain became unbearable while she was at work, her manager insisted that she see a gynaecologist. The gynaecologist diagnosed endometriosis and booked her for immediate surgery.

Today, the world will observe World Endometriosis Day, a day declared by various international support groups as a time to raise awareness about this medical condition.

Doctor Peter de Jong, a gynaecologist, said endometriosis is a common condition that results in a huge amount of suffering in many thousands of young women every month. He explained that endeometriosis is a condition which causes the lining of the womb (endometrium) to be displaced outside the uterine cavity.

Tammy Sondlo with her daughter, Nathi, and, left, with her husband, Khayalethu Madi, and Nathi. Pictures: Facebook

The endometriotic deposits which are usually flushed out during a woman’s menstruation, end up on the inside of her pelvis and the endometrios, resulting in spotting and period pains.

De Jong said the most common symptoms of endometriosis are painful sex and infertility. The condition can be treated, though.

“Under rare circumstances the endometriosis may fall on the bowel, causing painful defecation symptoms. It’s a very difficult disease to treat, and so it is advisable that endometriosis is treated by a specialist who commonly manages this condition.

“It’s a condition of modern living because thousands of years ago women did not menstruate every month, but nowadays, of course, women have many cycles throughout their reproductive life,” said De Jong.

Sondlo saw a number of doctors to try to find out what was wrong with her, but they were unable to diagnose her condition.

“Some said there was something wrong with my womb but never confirmed what it was,” she said.

Because she wasn’t on a medical aid while she was growing up, it took a long time before she was able to consult a specialist who could give the correct diagnosis.

Sondlo said the fact that gynaecologists fees are expensive prevents women with the condition from getting the help they need. “Sometimes I would be in pain for days before my periods, which would only last two or three days. The pain would go on for four to six days. In total I had three surgeries to manage the pain,” Sondlo said.

Living with the condition compelled Sondlo to make lifestyle changes and to drastically change her diet, including cutting back on dairy products and red meat.

While she gets a lot of support from her husband, Sondlo joined the Endometriosis SA support group to help her to understand the medical condition better and to get support from fellow sufferers.

“It helps to know that I’m not alone. This disease can be very tricky because it kills you from inside. Sometimes people think you are faking it, and it’s hard to always complain about pain or explain why you couldn’t go to work. Its not normal to be sick every month. But I have learnt to live with this disease,” said Sondlo.

After her third surgical procedure, the doctors advised Sondlo to try to have a child, as more procedures could minimise her chances of conception.

“It was not easy at all. At some point, I must admit I didn’t think it was going to happen. I had to take folic acid and vitamins while trying to change my diet and keep active. It was a journey, but after a year or two of trying, we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl.

“Most people don’t know about my pain or struggle because of the strength my God gives me to handle this journey,” said Sondlo.

Rechelle Heldsinger, founder and CEO of EndoWarriors, said not everyone understands what women with endometriosis go through.

“It is vitally important to have a support structure. Among other difficulties, infertility on its own is very difficult, but you should never ever just give up hope,” she said.