When Cian Elyse White arrived on set for the second season of 800 Words, her castmates would never have guessed she'd just returned from a stint in hospital. She was her usual happy, chatty and energetic self.
But Kiwi actress Cian, 29, was well-versed in hiding a secret medical battle that had gripped her for over a decade. And her latest visit to A&E was only one of many caused by the painful disorder endometriosis.
"It's such an all-consuming disease," Cian confesses to Woman's Day, opening up about her fight for the very first time. "One of the worst episodes happened two weeks before filming 800 Words. I had to be rushed to hospital.
"There were a lot of late nights at the hospital and I would usually be on my own. I was quite private about it. I was very anxious that it would impact my career – that it would become a liability."
Cian believes her battle with endometriosis, a condition in which the tissue that usually lines the inside of the uterus grows outside on other organs, causing incredibly painful periods, started as soon as her first cycle arrived.
She initially believed the excruciating pain each month was merely period cramps, like so many teens talked about. But with each passing year, the pain would ramp up, becoming more and more excruciating until at the age of 20, she was rushed to hospital with suspected appendicitis.
"I was doing a show in Wellington at The Opera House and I had to be taken to A&E," she recalls.
"They thought it was appendicitis, so they put me under to take it out. Then when I woke up, they said I had endometriosis. I'd never even heard of it."
Over the next five years as she jumped from specialist to specialist, each struggling to get her endometriosis under control despite five surgeries, Cian's career exploded.
She not only graced our screens on many TV shows, including playing Hannah on TVNZ 1's 800 Words, but in 2011, Cian co-created the play Hear to See, which won Most Original Production at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards.
However, instead of truly enjoying her success, Cian's biggest fear was that she'd have a "terrible episode" during filming. And in 2016, just before her return to 800 Words, Cian was rushed to hospital with a cyst that had grown to the size of a six-month-old foetus. She was in so much pain that doctors later told her it would be on the same level, if not higher, than childbirth.
"Performing is my life and the arts is what I believe I was brought here to do, so I knew I had to find a way to get it under control," Cian explains. "I just didn't want it to own my life any more."
The young actress was finally referred to her first female specialist, Dr Fiona Connell, who works out of Auckland's North Shore Hospital.
"She was the first surgeon who was brave enough to come up with a plan to get it under control," tells Cian. "Being in my 20s, a lot of surgeons were too scared to touch it. They didn't really want to be touching my womb when I hadn't had children yet."
During the operation, Dr Connell burnt away the endometriosis around the body, piercing the many cysts before removing them. She also fitted the hormone-releasing IUD Mirena, which suppresses ovulation, preventing any further endometriosis.
"That was two years ago and since then, I've had no pain and I've lost eight kilos as my hormones are now balanced," says Cian, who has recently appeared in Prime's The Brokenwood Mysteries this week and has a project, Meke, set to run at Show Me Shorts Film Festivals this year.
"And I have been told that my ovarian function is really good for when I want to try and have children."
Just months after having the life-changing surgery, the star fell madly in love with a local from her hometown of Rotorua, who she shyly refers to only as "Will".
"It's been the most blissful two years," she says with a huge smile. "I'm no longer dreading each month. And without the pain, I have clarity. No-one should go through that in secret. We need to open up the dialogue as there are lots of women out there also suffering."
✦Endometriosis is a common inflammatory disease that affects one in 10 Kiwi women and 176 million women around the world.
✦The disease can cause severe period and pelvic pain, along with fertility issues. But sometimes, there are no symptoms at all.
✦Endometriosis can only be definitively diagnosed by viewing the pelvic cavity with laparoscopy (keyhole surgery).
✦For more information about endometriosis, go to Endometriosis New Zealand (nzendo.org.nz) or talk to your GP.
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