Sandy Springs-April 3, 2017
With a high school diploma by age 15, an Associate’s degree by age 17, a Bachelor’s degree by age 19 and a Master’s degree by age 20, Sandy Springs resident, Riana Fonseca, was ready to take on the world when she received a life-changing diagnosis. A struggle with extensive bleeding and excruciating menstrual pains led to being put on birth control at age 14. She was told obesity was contributing to her symptoms and after several misdiagnoses, Fonseca’s seven-year battle had finally been given a name-Endometriosis.
According to Northside Hospital, endometriosis, also known as endo, is a female health disorder that occurs when cells from the lining of the womb (uterus) grow in other areas of the body. An estimated 176 million women worldwide and one in 10 women and girls in the United States suffer from endometriosis. Two years ago, Fonseca was officially added to that number.
Because, according to Fonseca, “bleeding can last anywhere from 14 to 138 days,” and pain can make one “lie in bed for hours in a fetal position,” an endometriosis diagnosis can seem like a lengthy prison sentence. It “put a pause on my life; I had to restructure everything,” Fonseca says. “I don’t have much of a social life or love life.” She visited over 50 doctors in 2016 and finds herself using an average of 15 tampons per day. When endometriosis is at its worse and the bleeding is beyond control, diapers may have to be relied upon for protection. “I am 22 and have to wear diapers!”
Foncesa’s disorder has not only affected her physically but has taken a financial and emotional toll on her. She is currently on disability and can no longer work due to her condition. As a result, she lost her company insurance in November. She now pays $330 a month in insurance with a $6,600 deductible. Each doctor’s visit can range from $100 to $200. An emergency visit can cost upwards of $2,000, testing $5,000, and a surgery can set her back $30,000. Her condition derailed her aspirations of pursuing a career in entertainment after she was crowned 2013 Miss Atlanta Plus. Having to change tampons after every runway pass, put a damper on dreams of becoming the next top international plus size model. Despite “try[ing] to keep a brave face in public,” and constant support from her family and friends, Foncesa has found herself battling depression, and at one point was even suicidal because she did not know how to cope with the effects of endometriosis.
Currently there is no cure for endometriosis; however, doctors may recommend pregnancy or a hysterectomy to manage the ailment. Even with these solutions, endometriosis may reoccur in a patient. For Foncesa, being a 22-year-old, unemployed, single woman with mounting medical bills, pregnancy is not a plausible option. She also knows a hysterectomy can leave her “grieving the loss of [her] uterus.”
With hard work, counseling, and acceptance, she has learned to view her affliction as a personal platform. Foncesa continues to wear a beautiful smile and when asked why she decided to share her story with others and disclose her illness, she bravely replied: “I didn’t think twice about it.” As an endometriosis awareness advocate, she encourages women across the world, to let them know they are not alone in this fight. She frequently shares stories and information about endometriosis through social media. Foncesa wants women to know: “If you have crazy pelvic pains or crazy periods, go to a doctor and ask questions. Find out what is going on, it may be endometriosis.”
For more information about Riana Foncesa and her work with endometriosis, please follow her on Instagram @endogyal or on Facebook @riana.fonseca.