Conquering Chronic Pain

For years, Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi was bedridden for a week every month and didn’t know why. At last, she got the right diagnosis and reclaimed her life. 

By
Ellen Byron

Top Chef host and judge Padma Lakshmi has built an impressive career as a cookbook author, reality star and epicurean entrepreneur. Amazingly, she’s done all this while spending much of her life in crippling pain. Padma suffers from endometriosis, a condition in which the lining of a woman’s uterus grows on the ovaries, bowel, bladder or other areas of the pelvis, causing scarring and pain. “I was bedridden for a week every month,” recalls Padma, 42. “I had heavy flow, cramping and pelvic aches.”

Monthly misery
When Padma was in college, she blamed herself for not being able to tough out her monthly pain like the other girls. “When your roommate gets her period and just pops two ibuprofen…then skips off to hockey practice, you wonder, What’s wrong with me? Am I a sissy? Am I complaining too much?” says Padma, who hid her pain from others. Later, the condition took a toll on her modeling career. “I can’t tell you how many jobs I had to cancel,” she recalls.

Padma didn’t know what was causing her symptoms. Her mother, who suffered the same way, simply told her, “There’s nothing you can do about it; it’s just our lot in life.”

Then, in October 2006, Padma suddenly started bleeding heavily in the midst of a photo shoot for her cookbook, Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet: A World of Recipes for Every Day (Weinstein Books, 2007). She was terrified. Her internist sent her to Tamer Seckin, MD, a New York laparoscopic surgeon. After a thorough examination, he diagnosed her with endometriosis and said, “I think you’ve been in pain for so many years you think it’s normal.”

“I’ll never forget the tears rolling down my face because somebody had finally described to me what was happening,” recalls Padma. “It turns out that I wasn’t a drama queen [after all].” Padma’s relief was tempered with anger that her condition hadn’t been diagnosed sooner. “Think of all the dates I could have gone on, all the jobs I wouldn’t have missed, all the family moments I could have been present for,” she says. It took three intensive surgeries to extricate the tissue that had rooted itself in Padma’s body.

Spreading the word
Determined to spare other women the misery she endured, Padma teamed up with Dr. Seckin in 2009 to create the Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA). The foundation raises awareness of the condition and funds research. It helped launch the nation’s first endometriosis research center—the MIT Center for Gynepathology Research in Boston. Padma is especially proud of the poster EFA created to educate men and women about the condition. “We want to see it in every gym, in every girl’s locker room, in women’s bathrooms,” she says.

A few months after she started the EFA, Padma got pregnant with her daughter, Krishna, now 2. “I believe it was my good karma for starting the foundation,” she says. And now that she’s pain-free, she’s enjoying her life more fully. The 10th season of the Emmy Award-winning Top Chef has wrapped up, and she’s determined to teach her daughter and other girls and young women how to advocate for themselves. “Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is not right,” she says. “[If you’re in pain], tell somebody so you can be comfortable.” 

 

Published
July 2013