What started as cramps at age 13 got progressively worse over time. “I was bedridden for several days a month with headaches, cramping, severe dysmenorrhea, nausea, numbness, lower back pain, digestive issues, moodiness, swelling, and bloating—and when I say swelling, I mean a full cup size every month,” she says.
For years, she wondered why she couldn’t handle what other women seemed to take in stride. Maybe I’m exaggerating, she thought. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m being a sissy. “I didn’t feel like having sex, so it affected my romantic relationships. I was embarrassed to call in sick, so I wouldn’t take modeling jobs when my period was due,” she says. “It locked me out of my own life.”
On a particularly rough day in 2006, Lakshmi was doubled over in pain and rushed to the hospital. Doctors performed surgery to remove what they thought was scar tissue but was actually endometrial tissue blocking her small intestine. Though they told her she’d likely be fine, a month later her symptoms returned.
Finally, a doctor suggested seeing a specialist—and after decades of pain, Lakshmi learned she had endometriosis. “Doctor Seckin was the first one to really give it a name,” she says. “He didn’t think I was crazy—he listened to me.”
While endometriosis has no cure, treatment can ease symptoms and boost a woman’s chances of getting pregnant. Drug therapy can help with symptoms, but surgery to remove endometriosis patches is often more effective and may improve fertility.
Lakshmi had laparoscopic excision surgery in 2006—and her doctors found more than they expected. “Tissue was all over my fallopian tubes, my ovaries, everything,” she says. “I had stitches on major organs and 19 biopsies—17 came back positive for endometriosis.
CALL TO ACTION
As Lakshmi thought about how long she’d suffered, her relief morphed into anger. Why wasn’t she diagnosed sooner? Why didn’t her doctors know her pain wasn’t normal? Why wasn’t anyone speaking out about this disease?
She realized endometriosis was largely under the radar—and because of her visibility as a celebrity, she was in a unique position to do something. In 2009, she partnered with her surgeon, Tamer Seckin, to create the Endometriosis Foundation of America (EndoFound), which advocates for patients, raises awareness, and funds research.
As co-founder, she talks about endometriosis openly and extensively. She gives lectures at schools, private companies, and universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she’s now a visiting scholar and works with research scientists on understanding the interplay between diet, nutrition, and health.
“Padma remains a force of nature to motivate our team of scientists working on endometriosis,” says Linda Griffith, director of MIT’s Center for Gynepathology Research, adding that Lakshmi’s ongoing visits— she’s been doing it since 2009—have inspired many MIT students.
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