Julia was diagnosed with endometriosis aged 44. She’d never heard of the condition up until this point, and had lived with the symptoms for 30 years. Left unchecked, the endometriosis had spread to organs such as her stomach, diaphragm and her lung.
Probably in the very beginning, before diagnosis, I don’t think I was coping that well… But now I swear by two things – the power of social media, and that of animals.
My Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Cesar Boo, has been by my side throughout the whole of my journey. Throughout my IVF cycles, throughout the operations, everything.
When I’m having my really bad days, he knows I’m having really bad days. So if I’m in bed then he just curls up next to me. He doesn’t move. He won’t even move to get down to have a drink or go out to the toilet – he sticks by my side. They’re so intuitive and they’re so in tune with you. He’ll kiss me and he’ll put his legs around my neck, and he gives you a bit of a cuddle.
You’ve got to walk them, but that’s helping you mentally and physically as well. You know when you’re feeling really, really rubbish and you think: ‘Oh God,’ and it’s pouring down with rain. But take him out and you always feel better when you come back in. Admittedly soaking… But you feel better. You find it’s good for your mental health.
There’s also the social aspect of meeting other dog walkers as well. I get to see people. And I get the fresh air.
It’s his constant companionship and love. I just don’t think people can understand unless you’ve been in a position where you’ve been rock bottom and that little soul is there with you constantly. He knows how to make me feel happier and he knows when I’m sad. I just think people really don’t understand the power of an animal’s love unless you’ve been in a really bad situation.
He’s been my therapy.
I was diagnosed in November 2017. I think it’s really important mentally for people to have that diagnosis.
I had my first operation in 2018, and the consultant told me about endometriosis support groups. When I linked up with those on Facebook, my outlook changed a lot because I realised that I wasn’t on my own. That’s a massive thing. Up until then, I thought it was all in my head. I thought that these symptoms were just wholly for me: the way I was feeling, and the fact that you’ve been dealt a pretty crappy hand really.
Then when you meet everybody else, you realise: ‘Do you know what? I’m not on my own.’ We are all in this together and we support each other.
I started Cesar’s Twitter page around when I first got diagnosed. Then when I had my hysterectomy last year, I was on Twitter a lot, because you’re recovering and get fed up of watching TV or reading. I found people with a love of animals, the love of dogs in particular, and it quite literally saved me mentally. Now I’ve got friends – or he’s got friends – all around the world. On his 13th birthday he had presents from South Carolina, from Australia… It really did save my life. I don’t think mentally I would have got through it without the support of people.
There’s no nastiness on Dog Twitter. There’s no bullying or trolling. It’s all very light-hearted and nice. And that’s what you want – you want to surround yourself with happy things. He’s approaching 10,000 followers now, which is fantastic.
I feel I’m trying to turn something really negative that had a high impact on my life into something really positive. The fact that I’ve opened up to this network of people. I’ve got some really great friends now, that I never would have had before.
I’ve been contacted by numerous women living with endometriosis through social profiles. And not just through support groups. Photos of Cesar at the EndoMarch prompted women to reach out, for example.
Even instances like buying the dog a yellow bowtie… The lady who set up the Etsy page where I bought the bowtie is actually an EndoWarrior herself, and she set up the page to help endometriosis sufferers.
I’m trying to stay positive so I can help people.
For me, the networking side has been a godsend. I found that, by joining groups on Facebook and so on, I can advise people. Whereas I had no one helping me, if I could save people going through what I went through during 30 years without a diagnosis, then that’s what I would do.
People can say social media is such a bad thing – which I agree sometimes it can be – but it can also be a really positive and powerful thing. Especially dealing with an illness like this, which is very isolating. You might be in a group of female friends or relatives, who are all talking about babies, about this and that, and you can’t partake in anything. It can make you feel that your future is quite negative. Whereas meeting people on social media has made my future a bit more positive. There’s good things that have come out of bad things.
Sadly, since this piece was published, Cesar Boo passed away. Julia now has a new canine companion, Frank. Baby Frank has taken over Cesar’s Twitter page and has almost 6 thousand followers. When Cesar passed away, the wonderful friends of dog Twitter raised money for his cremation and vet bills, and money left over was donated to the Senior Staffy club.