True Stories: Seven women on how they deal with PCOS

When I turned 20, I was under so much pressure from school and family that I started missing my periods. I thought it was normal to miss a period or two when you experience a drastic lifestyle change so I didn’t pay much attention until it had already been three months. Worried, I finally went to the doctor to have myself checked and found out that I had been experiencing something I hadn't even heard of before: PCOS.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a common endocrine system disorder in women. It’s so common that 6 out of 10 women have experienced PCOS. In spite of its name, there aren’t any actual cysts involved but fluid-filled sacs surround the eggs inside the ovaries and cause hormonal levels to be way off balance. As a result, it can cause problems like excessive facial or body hair, acne, obesity, as well as the irregularity in periods that I had been experiencing. Doctors still don’t know what causes the condition and there is currently no cure for it. The most that women like me can do is to manage the symptoms as well as we can. 

I talked to seven women I knew to share their own stories of living with PCOS in the hopes that it can inspire others who face the same struggle!

Maureen Arcellana, 27

Dealing with PCOS is like dealing with a frenemy. The only good thing about it is you have rest months. No menstruation! Yay! No dysmenorrhea! That is it. I have been dealing with hirsutism, a deep voice, and acne since 6th grade. It was truly horrifying for me to see all of my classmates blooming into lovely ladies, while I was growing a ton of hair on my legs and a moustache thicker my brother's. And the voice? I sounded like my male professor. I also had to endure facials at an early age to help deal with all the acne. I’ve never fallen into depression though, probably because I have always been too busy with my studies and now with work.

There is no treatment for PCOS. Not even hormonal therapy can cure it so I try to manage the symptoms as best as I can. I drink a lot of water and stay away from sweets. I stay active by playing badminton, walking, and running. I just make sure that I sweat, which is particularly important now that I am living in London. I have to follow these “rules” to make my hormones act normal and hopefully allow me to menstruate monthly, which will in turn prevent the androgenic-symptoms of PCOS.

For skin care, I use non-comedogenic products and never anything harsh on my skin. If ever I break out, I spot-treat using my favorite Mario Badescu Drying Lotion. At the moment, I am loving masks and serums as they have really helped with my pimple marks. With my current skincare routine, 15 months of no-facial or derma-visit is nothing to fret about anymore.

I’m a little scared about possibly never getting pregnant but I also know of many women who had PCOS but still manage to have a child. Sometimes, the symptoms of PCOS even went away after they got pregnant so the key for me is to not get bothered by it. As long as you visit your gynecologist, you are not a hopeless case.

J.D., 27

It all started about five years ago. I didn't really notice anything unusual with my monthly periods except that I would have excruciating lower abdominal pain a whole week before it arrived. The pain was so intense that I often woke up crying, with the pain seeming to radiate from my lower abdomen down to my left leg. I lived on painkillers and sleeping aids for a year before I finally decided to visit an OB-GYN. I was diagnosed with PCOS and was given the option to take birth control pills for it. My mom advised that I don't resort to pills yet so I decided to try the other option the doctor gave me: losing weight.

Two years later, after losing about 40 lbs., I continued to experience the same week-long pain month after month. I paid another OB-GYN a visit as I couldn't live with the abdominal pain anymore. The OB-GYN prescribed Yaz, a brand of birth control pills, which I religiously take up to now.

Three years of taking Yaz has taken its toll on me: I gained all of the weight that I had lost, feel depressed a lot, sweat excessively, and have the worst mood swings. I feel like I am no longer the person that I was three years ago. Still, I couldn't get off Yaz because I don't want to go back to experiencing week-long pains.

Apart from the side effects that I am getting from the pills, I do not feel like PCOS has any direct effect on my life right now. I guess I just learned to live with it. I was initially hesitant to tell my boyfriend about my condition though because I know that he dreams of having kids. I am lucky, though, that I got a guy who understands my situation and loves me more than his dreams. He is open to adoption in case PCOS really makes it impossible for me to have a baby.

Carissa Rodis, 26

I'm a med student and part of that means diagnosing yourself constantly. When I first heard of PCOS, I was alerted since the symptoms seemed to fit me. When the test confirmed my suspicions, I actually felt kind of happy and vindicated because I had been correct. I was also relieved because I finally understood why I felt the way I did.

I just manage my symptoms and try to prevent complications. I won't describe them because I don't want people to do what I do, just because it works for me. Each person is different and I don't want someone with PCOS to do what I did just because the internet said so. I’m not on any special diet but eat everything in moderation, and I make sure to monitor my weight.

I'm not interested in having a baby right now, so I don’t worry about it that much. Also, not all women with PCOS have difficulties conceiving, and modern medicine is a wonderful thing so I'm not very worried. A lot more women have PCOS but haven’t yet been diagnosed. I think more people should be aware that it exists, but those who have it should not have their lives ruled by it.

C.dM., 34

I only found out about my PCOS this year, and it was entirely by accident. I was undergoing my first follicle monitoring for my pregnancy work up as I had just gotten married. While my OB was checking my ovaries, she casually asked me if I knew that I have PCOS. I was shocked. Since it was not the perfect time to tell if what she saw were eggs cells or cysts, she just told me that there’s was a possibility. After few days when I had my follicle monitoring again, she confirmed that I had PCOS.

I was so surprised and disappointed at the same time, and I guess my husband felt the same way, too. I didn’t understand how it could be possible: I have a regular menstruation cycle, don’t experience acne, and I’m not overweight. For the past three years, I had actually been trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Then I remembered that since I was a teenager, my face has been so oily and I have difficulty in losing or maintaining my weight.

Good thing, my OB had a very optimistic spirit. She kept on reassuring and comforting me that my case was just OK and that I shouldn’t think much about it. It comforted me but there are still times when I remember the stories that I’ve heard from my friends about their fertility struggles due to PCOS. Some took more than seven years to have a child while some were still waiting and struggling to have a baby or their second baby up to now.

I prayed and asked God to give me a baby within a year of trying and to make a miracle in my womb. After seven months of trying, I got pregnant! And I discovered it just a few days after learning about my PCOS so I didn’t have to worry for too long. My OB just reminded me to be careful with what I eat because pregnant women with PCOS are at risk of high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. Even before I knew I had PCOS, I’ve been very conscious about what I eat so I didn’t need any major adjustments. My PCOS experience became an opportunity for me to stretch my faith more and to believe that my God is powerful and He can make miracles in my life.

Regine Imperial, 27

I discovered I have PCOS because I had frequent breakouts and amenorrhea during my teenage years. I also had a dermoid cyst that I had surgically removed when I was 18. My doctor advised that we observe it through annual ultrasounds. Discovering I had PCOS made me worry but my doctor told me that I shouldn't be. I researched about it and felt more at peace when I read that a lot of women experience it and may not even be aware of it.

To manage my PCOS, I try to eliminate or lessen stress, eat healthy, and exercise. My doctor tells me to take hormonal medicine. I try to avoid too much sweets and carbohydrates, and make sure that my meals are well-balanced. It's also my personal choice not to eat pork and to avoid food with a lot of preservatives like canned goods and junk food.

With the limitations that PCOS may present,I still believe that if the Lord wants me to have a baby, He will fulfill it so I have nothing to worry about. Sometimes, my menstruation only comes every two months, and I’ve also experienced continuous bleeding for 28 days. But through it, I was always reminded of what Jesus said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I’m blessed to have PCOS because it made me grateful for a lot of things that others might just consider as "normal" such as being able to have their period.

A.M., 21

I didn't know I had PCOS even when I had irregular periods that came only every six months. I wasn't really bothered but my mom was, so I went to an OB-GYN. I was diagnosed with PCOS four years ago, and I didn't really mind at that time to be honest. I didn't think it was a serious condition until I became older and learned more about pregnancy and menstrual cycle disorders. I have been to a lot of OB-GYNs in the past years and they all prescribed birth control pills. I had to stop taking them due to side effects so recently, my new OB-GYN prescribed progesterone.

I try to exercise but I'm too lazy. I don't really follow strict diet regimens because when I tried to do it before, I felt weak and easily annoyed due to hunger. Instead of totally cutting rice off my meals, I try to lessen the portions or switch to brown rice. Sweets like chocolates were never a problem for me since I don't like them. I also don't drink carbonated beverages.

The chance of not having a baby is probably the worst part of having PCOS for me. Personally, I love babies and I want to have my own someday. It's heart-breaking to think that there's a big probability of not being able to conceive a child because of my condition. It's difficult to be positive but I know that it is not the end. I’m just trying to be happy and to live a healthy and normal life.

C.T., 24

Back when I was in middle school, my friends would talk about their periods and how they would get it on the same day every month. It made me wonder why I would skip days to months before getting mine. I asked my mom about it and she took me to an OB-GYN who diagnosed and explained my condition.

I haven’t really tried any medical interventions because my OB is very conservative and doesn’t believe in the use of pills to regulate menstruation. Instead, she encourages me to exercise daily and to have a healthy diet which consists mostly of fiber but I tend to just eat what I want, in moderation.

I already know about the complications of PCOS as my OB talked to me about it. I felt helpless and even useless when I thought about how I could have a family on my own. I mean, would any guy be willing to take that risk? It saddens me, really. Having PCOS wasn’t in my plans; it’s just a medical condition that can either hinder me or motivate me to change for the better. And it’s never too late, maybe one day there could be a permanent solution to this, and maybe I can be the one to initiate that.

For women who have PCOS, it’s a constant struggle to accept what cannot be changed and to change that which we can. There may be no cure but it doesn’t mean that PCOS is in control of us. If you have PCOS as well, I hope these stories help you with your own struggles and encourage you to do all that you can to keep yourself healthy!