How Life Away From Home Killed My Period

As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, we present eight inspiring stories that will touch your heart and kindle your soul. This is story number eight.

Supriya Surendran is a technology journalist, writer and outspoken advocate of women’s health. A mom of a daughter and a son, she describes how her period became an infrequent visitor when she moved to the other end of the world for college. Her experience has helped shape her lifestyle today and she hopes she can use it to be a positive influence for her children. Supriya has been using OurHealthMate since 2016.

When I moved to Chicago in 1974, I wasn’t prepared for the freewheeling lifestyle that would come my way. I came from a middle-class South Indian family where plans were premeditated, boys were off-limits and alcohol was strictly taboo. Curfews were a serious thing, and although house rules were unspoken, you could hear them loud and clear. When I got an engineering scholarship at the University of Chicago, my parents were ecstatic. I would be the first in the family to pursue an education abroad, and my parents wore my move to America like a badge of honor.

Life in Chicago was a tumultuous change from life in Chennai. Without rules tying me down, my life tipped fluidly between day and night, coursework and cocktails, group design projects and luaus by dusk. I was very aware that I couldn’t overstep the line, and I made sure that I indulged myself only where and when I saw fit. I’d made up my mind before leaving India that I wouldn’t burden my parents financially any more than I needed to, so I clinched a job at the cash register of a local store to make a little extra. Juggling school, assignments and work, my life became a busy hive of activity. I was living life in the fast lane, and I couldn’t take my foot off the gas.

It was in the fall of 1975 that I missed my first period. Until then, Aunt Flo had never really been a discussion point in my life; and so, I didn’t make much of my missed visitor. Then, I went another month without a period. I was three months into my dry spell when I decided to meet a doctor to rule out the unknown. After a swift ultrasound, the doctor pronounced a diagnosis. PCOS it is, she deemed. She went on to explain that polycystic ovarian syndrome was a common hormonal condition that stemmed from the abnormal development of cysts on the ovaries. It was sometimes a precursor to diabetes. The condition could manifest in various ways, including excessive facial and body hair, weight gain and cessation of menstruation. I hadn’t noticed anything apart from the break in my period, but I took comfort in knowing that my situation had a name. I was prescribed birth control and metformin to stimulate my menstrual cycle and to regulate my blood sugar. I continued taking medication for the next four years, until a chance consultation in the summer of 1979 that debunked my diagnosis.

When I graduated from school in Chicago, I landed a job at IBM that allowed me to stay on in the Windy City. I had a one-month window before I had to begin, so I made a visit to Chennai to enjoy one last vacation with family before I was saddled with the pressures of corporate life. A few days after I arrived, my mother asked me to accompany her on a routine gynecological check-up. After finishing her consultation, she casually asked the doctor her view on my diagnosis. It’s a benign condition, assured the doctor, but let’s do some tests to assess the progress. After being directed to the pathology lab and having an ultrasound and blood tests taken, I was sent home and told to come back in three days for the test results and a follow-up with the doctor.

My test results revealed zero evidence of PCOS. There were no cysts and no hormonal imbalances. The reports were normal. The doctor went on to inform me that PCOS was one of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions for absent or irregular periods. Back in 1979, PCOS didn’t hold as much of a spotlight as it does today. Not many people knew about it, and it had become a buzzword in medical circles, flung around to pigeonhole an assortment of menstrual disorders. On closer evaluation, my condition was attributed to an erratic lifestyle, inadequate sleep and poor nutrition. I was immediately taken off birth control and metformin and after a few months and a lifestyle overhaul, my period began to settle into a monthly rhythm. I still don’t know how much damage the four-year-long medication course did to my body, but I hold heart in knowing that I’m healthy today.

Today, as the mother of a daughter and a son, I work hard to set a positive example in healthy eating and regular exercise. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman; the implications of your disregard for your body can have long-term effects. It’s amazing how much a good lifestyle can turn your world around. Who knew it was that simple?

Why wait until it’s too late? Be proactive and manage preventive health assessments for yourself and family members overseas. With preemptive measures, you can seek timely and accurate diagnoses for you and your loved ones. Change your fate with OurHealthMate.


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