Bindi Irwin, the daughter of the late celebrity zookeeper Steve Irwin, has issued an emotional statement on social media following a shock diagnosis.
Early on Wednesday morning, the 24-year-old took to Instagram to share a photo of her smiling from a hospital bed, accompanied with a lengthy statement addressed to her 5.1 million followers.
In the caption, she candidly admitted she has suffered with pain, nausea and "insurmountable" fatigue for over a decade, saying the last 10 years have been peppered with numerous tests, scans and appointments.
"I battled for a long time wondering if I should share this journey with you in such a public space. It came down to the responsibility I feel to share my story for other women who need help," the conservationist wrote.
The 24-year-old revealed she is among the roughly one in 10 women who suffer from the incapacitating condition endometriosis, in which the tissue that typically lines the uterus grows outside of the womb. It can envelop the ovaries and fallopian tubes, as well as affect nearby organs such as the bowel and bladder.
Due to the nature of the condition, many women feel they can't speak openly about their symptoms or are too embarrassed to seek medical advice. In most cases, endometriosis is characterised by symptoms including chronic period pain, pelvic pain and sub-fertility or infertility, according to Endometriosis New Zealand, however some women do not have any.
The condition is also notoriously difficult to determine, as the symptoms overlap with a range of other disorders: this means many women with endometriosis may suffer for years before they're given a diagnosis. Research suggests there's still misconceptions surrounding endometriosis within the medical community which prevent people getting the help they need, and as reported by Forbes, studies have shown that sufferers wait an average of seven and a half years before getting answers and a diagnosis from clinicians. Additionally, the cause of endometriosis remains largely unknown.
"A doctor told me it was simply something you deal with as a woman & I gave up entirely, trying to function through the pain. I didn't find answers until a friend @lesliemosier [Leslie Mosier] helped set me on a path of regaining my life," Irwin continued.
"I decided to undergo surgery for endometriosis. Going in for surgery was scary but I knew I couldn't live like I was. Every part of my life was getting torn apart because of the pain.
"To cut a long story short, they found 37 lesions, some very deep & difficult to remove, & a chocolate cyst. @seckinmd's [her doctor, from the Seckin Endometriosis Center in New York] first words to me when I was in recovery were, 'How did you live with this much pain?' Validation for years of pain is indescribable.
"My family & friends who have been on this journey with me for 10+ yrs - THANK YOU, for encouraging me to find answers when I thought I'd never climb out. Thank you to the doctors & nurses who believed my pain.
"To those questioning the cancelled plans, unanswered messages & absence - I had been pouring every ounce of the energy I had left into our daughter & family."
Endometriosis is diagnosed through a laparoscopy, otherwise known as keyhole surgery or minimally invasive surgery, where a camera is sent into the pelvic region through a small incision.
"Things may look fine on the outside looking in through the window of someone's life, however, that is not always the case. Please be gentle & pause before asking me (or any woman) when we'll be having more children. After all that my body has gone through, I feel tremendously grateful that we have our gorgeous daughter. She feels like our family's miracle," Irwin went on.
"I'm aware of millions of women struggling with a similar story. There's stigma around this awful disease. I'm sharing my story for anyone who reads this & is quietly dealing with pain & no answers. Let this be your validation that your pain is real & you deserve help. Keep searching for answers."
Irwin has one child, a one-year-old daughter named Grace Warrior Irwin Powell, with her husband Chandler Powell. She and Powell wed in 2020.
Irwin's heartfelt admission has been met with a wave of support, with fans and friends alike expressing their admiration for the mum-of-one. In a comment, her husband wrote: "You are the strongest, toughest person I know. I love you and I'm so excited for this new chapter of life."
Her brother, television personality, conservationist and wildlife photographer Robert Irwin, 19, also commented: "You are amazing. Not only for your strength battling through this physical and mental turmoil, but also for having the bravery to share your journey with the world to help other women who are suffering. You're me hero, Bindi!"
"Thank you for sharing!" comedian Amy Schumer added, while author, activist and media personality Padma Lakshmi wrote: "So glad you finally received the treatment you need and deserve. I know how hard it is. All the best in your recovery."
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a common inflammatory disease estimated to affect 176 million individuals worldwide in their reproductive years, and 120,000 in New Zealand. This means roughly one in 10 girls, women and those assigned female at birth in New Zealand will have endometriosis.
In most cases, there can be symptoms including chronic and debilitating pain and sub-fertility or infertility. In other cases, there may be no obvious symptoms and the diagnosis is made during the course of medical procedures for other reasons, according to Endometriosis New Zealand.
Endometriosis is often classified as minimal, mild, moderate or severe or recorded in surgical notes as stage I - IV.
The cause of endometriosis is not fully understood. Extensive research around genetics, immunological and environmental factors continue and further research exploring a range of potential causes and contributing factors is being investigated.
Symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Pain with periods (dysmenorrhoea). Often the most common symptom
- Bowel problems like bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, pain with bowel movements, painful wind (sometimes diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
- Painful sexual intercourse (dyspareunia)
- Sub-fertility or infertility
- Tiredness and low energy
- Pain in other places such as the lower back
- Pain at other times e.g. with ovulation or intermittently throughout the month
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). This might make you feel moody, emotional or irritable
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding
- Bladder troubles like interstitial cystitis (IC).