Elsa Cavazos is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Cosmopolitan Mexico, Bustle, Pop Sugar, and Teen Vogue. She also blogs at her site, “Millennials and Mimosas.” For our “Real Talk” series, we spoke with Elsa about her experience with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

You’ve shared that your journey to a PCOS diagnosis began with acne and body hair. Having seemingly common symptoms can make it hard to find a diagnosis. How did you ultimately get a PCOS diagnosis, and how did you know what you were experiencing was more than common teenage acne?

When I was a teenager, I started noticing facial hair around the age of 15. It was fair but still, it was under my chin and seemed odd. I didn’t mind it but then I started to notice hair on my stomach and areolas. I knew something was wrong because the hair was dark and thick; it did not seem normal to me. I figured maybe I was just hairy but I started to research online and found out about PCOS. I was not sure if I had it or not and I had heard from a few friends of mine they would also struggle with cysts. However, their problems were based on irregular periods and I’d never had that problem. It wasn’t until my dad took me to a dermatologist in Mexico to treat my acne that I was diagnosed. The doctor took one look at my face and asked me if I had ever had an ultrasound done for PCOS. She instructed me to have one done but the first doctor said I didn’t have any cysts. I had a second opinion and second ultrasound with a different doctor and there they were. Finally, I had found an answer to my questions. 

Elsa Cavazos
Image courtesy of Elsa Cavazos

We get a lot of readers who are struggling with PCOS and share how difficult it is to find medical help and guidance. Do you have any advice or tips from your own experience?

My main advice is to research every single symptom that seems odd. Whenever something did not look normal to me I would google it. Every time something seemed unusual, such as my difficulty to lose weight, my back acne, my sleep apnea, I researched it. Another thing is to research PCOS and try to find a good gynecologist and endocrinologist. Especially one that makes you feel secure and comfortable. This disease can easily make you feel sad or lower your self esteem. It is important to get a therapist as well, everyone helping you on this journey should be someone you want to share your feelings with, along with every detail about your health—both physical and mental. 

Has PCOS changed any of your perceptions around femininity or beauty?

PCOS has definitely made me change my perceptions around femininity and beauty. One of my biggest insecurities is the hair around my face and stomach. It made me feel less of a woman and at times made me feel as if I am not beautiful. After years of trying to work with my self image and self esteem, I’ve learned it does not matter whether or not I have hair, that does not define me or my value. However, since it is something that does bother me, I decided to get laser hair removal so I don’t have to worry about it. Regardless, whenever I start feeling not beautiful enough or feminine enough, I think about the things I do like about my body and personality.

Image courtesy of Elsa Cavazos

You’ve also discussed the emotional toll of PCOS—what advice do you have for others who are struggling with the condition? 

Having PCOS can mess up your emotions from day one. The symptoms can make you feel ugly at times, lower your self-esteem, and bring you down. Because it is worrisome PCOS will have you feeling blue, it is extremely important to let your feelings out and have a good support system. People who are there for you to listen when you need to vent, a good therapist, or friend. Your doctors should be people you feel comfortable talking to about your emotional burdens. If you keep these feelings to yourself, repressing them will only make it worse. It is difficult to learn or know how to manage these emotions but by simply trying these steps I believe there will be improvement. You have to work at it day by day and with the work you put into, it will get better slowly but surely. 

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