“I’ve decided to go through with the surgery,” I told my doctor with false confidence as I sat in my paper gown on the exam table. “Good, I think you should,” he responded with real confidence. And I needed to hear that. At my last appointment a week prior, the doctor suggested undergoing a laparoscopy — a surgery that would require me being put under general anesthesia — to determine if I have endometriosis, a disorder in which the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus. It’s painful, and can result in infertility, so it’s not something to be ignored. But that didn’t stop me — or my other doctors — from ignoring it for many years. 

I’ll back up.

I vaguely remember the first time I felt cramps. A young teenager, I basically thought I was dying. I don’t know how bad they really were that time — after all, I had nothing to compare it to. I’m sure I had plenty of instances of killer cramps after that, but the next one I specifically remember happened during my senior year of college. I was in Cancun for spring break with my girlfriends and we were, naturally, having the time of our lives. Back then, we still had the stamina to go out every night, and we did. On one such night, we were standing in line at Señor Frogs, when I felt the most horrendous pangs in the general vicinity of my uterus. It was like there was a iron fist inside my body, punching me over and over again. Deal with it; it’s just cramps, I told myself.

READ MORE: Ask a Scientist: Why Am I So Tired During My Period?

The next day, though, I couldn’t ignore the pain. It was bad enough that I tore myself away from the beach to find a payphone and call my physician parents. I explained the pain, and though they assured me I didn’t need to go to the emergency room and I probably wasn’t dying, they also said the only thing I could do while out of the country was take some Advil and try to relax. I did my best, but by the time the rest of my friends were putting on makeup for that evening’s shenanigans, I was still doubled over in pain, trying to quell my misery. There was no way I could go out that night. Instead, I had to resort to FOMO and Spanish-language movies in a lonely hotel room.