U.S. tennis star Danielle Collins will play in the Australian Open women’s singles final on Saturday — a remarkable comeback after endometriosis pain left her barely able to compete at this time last year.
The 28-year-old from Florida underwent emergency surgery for the condition in April 2021 after years of suffering agonizing periods.
“I had so many doctors tell me that painful periods were normal. This progressively got worse and worse,” Collins said in an interview with the Women’s Tennis Association.
“The agony that I experienced from my menstrual cycles and from the endometriosis is some of the worst pain I’ve ever had. It was scary at times.”
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis happens when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of the womb, leading to benign growths on the ovaries, fallopian tubes and other parts of the lower abdomen or pelvis, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health.
These patches of tissue may swell and bleed during a woman’s period, causing pain because they grow in places in the body where they don’t belong. Trapped blood in the ovaries can form cysts.
Endometriosis affects more than 11% of American women between the ages of 15 and 44 and may make it harder to get pregnant. Pain is the most common symptom and can show up as cramps, in the lower back and pelvis, during or after sex, in the intestines or in the form of painful bowel movements.
There is no cure, but pain medicine, hormonal treatment and surgery can provide relief.
It takes seven to 10 years to be diagnosed, on average, according to the Endometriosis Foundation of America. Surgery is the only way to know for sure a woman has endometriosis, so she may spend those years in pain and unsure what's wrong.
'I just couldn’t keep living my life like that'
Collins recalled falling over on a court at last year’s Australian Open and having to have a doctor rush out to help her because of the “contraction-like cramping” she experienced in her low pelvis and abdominal muscles.
As she traveled from tournament to tournament, Collins said she tried to ignore the pain and take anti-inflammatories to alleviate it, but got to the point where they no longer worked.
Her symptoms became more physically debilitating, including stabbing pain throughout her spine, leading to so much agony that it was impossible to play matches, she noted.
In the spring of 2021, the terrible back pain led Collins to call her orthopedic doctor, who said her spine looked fine and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. But when she mentioned her period pain, he referred her to a gynecologist. Collins underwent the emergency surgery four days later.
“I got to the point where I could no longer manage without it. Had I not had the surgery, I just couldn’t keep living my life like that,” she told the WTA.
The operation involved incisions through her abdominal wall in four different spots. Surgeons removed a “cyst the size of a tennis ball” from her ovary, which had displaced her uterus and left it pressing on a spinal nerve, Collins told The Telegraph. That’s what was causing the back pain.
Doctors also removed tissue from her bowel and bladder.
The rehab process was long, but Collins gradually started competing again last year, winning two WTA titles. She’s had a spectacular run at the Australian Open this month, where she hopes to win her first Grand Slam tournament on Saturday.
Collins urged other women experiencing painful menstrual cycles to keep seeking answers.
“My biggest advice is that painful periods are not normal, and that if you’re being told that your pain is caused by something else, it never hurts to seek a second opinion,” she told The Telegraph.
“That’s something I wish I had done earlier. When I found out what it was, I was shocked — but also hopeful, because I was at rock bottom with the physical agony, and I didn’t know how I was going to keep playing tennis.”