Her lengthy, lustrous hair is the kind that makes you feel like seeing is not enough. Like you have to touch it to believe it’s real.
“So what’s the secret to this long hair?” I ask.
“Genes, my friend. I have long hair genes.”
She must be a really lucky one, this girl! I mean, she cuts her hair anytime she feels like but within no time, it’s shoulder length once again. As we sip some sugarless lemon tea, she opens up and tells me that there is actually more to her long strands than the genes. In fact, the reason we are having sugarless lemon tea is because she is trying to manage a medical condition that she has been battling for the last four years.
“Whenever a friend comments that my hair grows so fast, I feel like it's a blessing and a curse since that translates to my facial hair too.” She says.
For a moment, I feel sorry and guilty at the same time. Guilty for having been so envious of her hair and sorry because I can’t imagine myself waking up with a hairy face.
“The next time you meet me and notice a strand or a few of them on my double chin don't try to pull them out, they are my constant reminders of the battle I am fighting every day to beat PCOS.” She adds.
I don’t know whether this is a warning or a joke and so I just nod and sip the sour solution.
The genesis of PCOS
This friend, who sought anonymity tells me that she did not know that she was battling with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) until after some years of dealing with the condition.
“It manifested as weight gain and later my periods did a disappearing act. Being young and naïve, I thought this was due to the change of environment and diet since I had just relocated from Kenya to work abroad. It didn’t bother me and I thought lady luck was on my side since I didn't have to deal with painful cramps, mood swings and all the shenanigans accompanied by periods. Unfortunately, when it went missing for over 9 months I became worried and decided to consult a gynecologist. He simply said my periods were behaving that way due to hormonal imbalance, diet, and change of lifestyle. He put me on medication which was actually birth control pills and I had to swallow them daily.” She recalls.
After religiously swallowing the tablets, her period was back after 6 weeks. And again, life was back to normal. For over a year, it was all good. But this did not last.
Signs and symptoms of PCOS
“Beginning of 2017, I started to experience rapid growth of hair on my legs, hands and a face. My exercising had stalled since my weight has stabilized but it shot up from 62kgs to 73kgs in a period of three months. I attributed this to stress levels since I am one of those individuals who get stressed and it leads to weight gain. In addition to all that, there was a wave of fatigue that was continuous throughout the day even on days I was not working. It did not take long for my periods to do a disappearing act, yet again.”
“Whenever my friends with kids post pictures of their cute babies I am that person in the comment section with love emojis and "my ovaries". Here I am with all the symptoms I have pointing to polycystic ovarian syndrome and declaring my ovaries full of cysts, yet I am in the prime of my child-bearing age. I can’t explain the agony of having to shave my face, legs, and chin once every two weeks.” She goes on to narrate the struggle.
As part of managing her condition, she makes sure to avoid sugar and dairy products completely. Not even a taste of the delicious Tea Masala that her mom makes. She also consumes lots of vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and natural supplements to at least tame the condition.
To any woman battling PCOS, she says, “You've got this and you can overcome it.”
Truth about PCOS
According to a 2008 study, PCOS is the commonest endocrine disorder among women of the reproductive age and one in seven women will have the condition. 2/3 of the women with PCOS do not ovulate, meaning it’s difficult for them to conceive. Those who get pregnant may also get recurrent miscarriages.