Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer opened up publicly for the first time Thursday about her decade-plus struggle with endometriosis and how she wants to use her voice as a U.S. representative to elevate awareness of the disease and increase federal resources to combat it.
Finkenauer, 31, told USA Today how she recently was bent over in pain and “googling hysterectomies” as a possible avenue to be rid of the incurable condition.
Thursday afternoon on the House floor, the 1st District congresswoman said she was fortunate to be diagnosed with endometriosis at 18, given that many women face pushback when they describe the debilitating abdominal pain.
Honored & grateful to share voices of millions of women across the U.S. on the House floor. I was diagnosed when I was 18 & it took me years to feel comfortable enough to do this. I asked Congress & now I'm asking you to join our movement & #UpEndo #IA01https://t.co/nY6oatbkBE
— Abby Finkenauer (@RepFinkenauer) March 5, 2020
“It was a pain familiar to me, stabbing in my lower left abdomen, a tight pain like two fists clenched together in a vice grip in my lower back,” Finkenauer said, describing a recent bout with the disease.
According to the Endometriosis Foundation of America, about one in 10 women in the U.S. live with endometriosis and it affects an estimated 200 million women worldwide. The disease occurs when tissue grows outside the uterus and causes inflammation at the time of a woman’s menstrual cycle.
The foundation estimates women suffer seven to 10 years before receiving an accurate diagnosis. For women ages 30 to 34, endometriosis is the leading cause of hysterectomy.
Finkenauer said she already has undergone two surgeries to remove the abnormal tissue, but those measures are only temporary.
“It shouldn’t be this hard,” Finkenauer said. “It should be more well-known and there should more options for treatment.”
The frustration she felt while searching the internet led her to find that endometriosis is “one of least funded diseases and conditions in Congress by the National Institute of Health.”
In response, Finkenauer has formed the first House Endometriosis Caucus to seek more federal research funding to find new treatments and potential cures.
Republican Congresswoman Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico will co-chair the new caucus.
“Women with this diagnosis frequently experience severe symptoms due to inflammation and pelvic pain, which requires frequent medical attention and at times surgery,” said Gonzalez-Colon, in a statement. “Therefore, it is important to highlight the importance of regular medical attention and research.”
In all, the bipartisan caucus is comprised of 28 members, including fellow Iowa Congresswoman Cindy Axne.
Grateful to my friend & colleague @RepFinkenauer for sharing her story of struggling with endometriosis and being a voice for the 6.5 million affected U.S. women.
Proud to join her on the Congressional Endometriosis Caucus to help increase awareness.https://t.co/caozKwWMXG
— Rep. Cindy Axne (@RepCindyAxne) March 5, 2020
Though Finkenauer dealt with the condition throughout her time in the Iowa Legislature and now in Congress, she used to be hesitant about speaking up for fear it would diminish her abilities in the eyes of others.
“I, to be honest with you, didn’t say anything for years because I was afraid that people would think I was weak, that I couldn’t do my job,” Finkenauer said. “But that’s not true. I show up everyday. I’ve done it for the last decade. I’ve represented my state and my district well, and it’s not weak to talk about it. In fact, the women who are living with it everyday, they are strong as heck.”
By Elizabeth Meyer