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Breaking taboos around women’s health

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Dealing with unique health challenges is one of the many hurdles that women face in the modern workplace. Endometriosis is just one complaint that can have a huge impact on day-to-day life, but one which employers rarely recognise or provide adequate support for. However, some companies are leading the way.

In May, TransPennine Express (TPE) announced it had signed up to become an Endometriosis Friendly Employer, helping to drive positive change in the workplace.

By joining this scheme, the train operator pledged its commitment to colleagues with endometriosis, promising to raise awareness and break taboos surrounding women’s health issues.

“We are proud to now be a certified endometriosis friendly employer and demonstrate our commitment to creating a workplace in which everybody can thrive,” said Deborah Easby, occupational health & wellbeing manager at TPE. “Endometriosis and other women’s health issues affect many of our colleagues, and we are dedicated to educating and removing stigma around these conversations.”

What is Endometriosis?

One in 10 women suffer from endometriosis, a painful and debilitating condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places. This abnormal tissue growth can occur on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, outer surface of the uterus, and other pelvic organs. In rare cases, it can spread beyond the pelvic region.

Endometriosis can significantly affect quality of life, causing chronic pain and fertility issues. Early diagnosis and effective management are crucial in minimizing its impact. Treatment plans are often tailored to the individual’s symptoms, severity of the condition, and whether they are seeking to conceive.

While there is no cure for endometriosis, several treatments can help manage the symptoms including medications and surgical options. Lifestyle changes and home remedies can also help to relieve symptoms.

Guidance and support

The Friendly Employer scheme, which is led by the charity Endometriosis UK, provides guidance on how to support employees with endometriosis, with employers committing to providing those with the condition the necessary support to thrive at work.

TPE has launched this scheme by appointing several ‘Endometriosis Champions’ who will help raise awareness, signpost to further information, and provide a listening ear to anyone experiencing issues at work because of endometriosis.

Emma Cox, CEO of Endometriosis UK said: “I’m delighted to welcome TransPennine Express to the diverse range of organisations tackling taboos around menstrual health and endometriosis through the Endometriosis Friendly Employer scheme. By showing their employees they are valued and can expect support and reasonable adjustments to help those with endometriosis and menstrual conditions succeed at work, they will be increasing engagement across the whole of their workforce, ultimately making the organisation more successful.”

Shannon’s story

Shannon Cassidy is a Liverpool Lime Street based train driver for TransPennine Express who lives with endometriosis. She understands first-hand the challenges that come with managing endometriosis and the effects it can have on your personal and work life.

When did you first join TPE?
I joined TPE in 2019 as a qualified conductor. After around two years I applied to become a trainee driver and have since qualified as a driver in July 2023.

How were you diagnosed with endometriosis?
I first started experiencing severe period-like pains when I was 15 years old. Initially, my doctor diagnosed me with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and suggested dietary changes. Despite years of altering my diet and trying various medications, my symptoms persisted. After nine years, I received a referral to gynaecology, where menopause was considered as a possibility. However, blood tests and scans ruled this out.

The doctor then suggested that, in the absence of physical evidence, my symptoms might be psychological and recommended a psychiatric assessment or counselling. No further action was deemed necessary from the gynaecology department, and I was discharged back to my doctor. After three more years of persistent doctor appointments, I insisted on further testing and a referral to the Liverpool Women’s Hospital’s gynaecology department.

In my first appointment there, we reviewed all previous tests and concluded that laparoscopic surgery was the last option to investigate further. After another year of waiting, I finally underwent the surgery and woke up to the news that I had endometriosis.

How did it feel to finally get the diagnosis?
When I woke up from surgery and the doctors told me I had endometriosis, I cried with relief to finally have some answers to what I had been going through for so long. It took me 12 years in total to get a diagnosis and feel like I was being heard by doctors. It also confirmed to me that you know your own body better than anyone else and if you think something isn’t right, you should advocate for yourself and push for more tests.

How does it feel working in a front-line role whilst dealing with endometriosis?
I am very proud to be a train driver and be in a role that I worked so hard to get to. I try to not let the endometriosis affect my focus but on the days that it does get too much, I know I can reach out and approach my line manager to express my concerns without feeling embarrassed. I’m determined to not let endometriosis affect my career.

How important is it to you that TPE has signed up to become an Endometriosis Friendly Employer?
TPE has taken a compassionate and thoughtful approach to raise awareness of endometriosis which will help other women in my position to feel like they can reach out for help and open up to colleagues within the company. It’s a huge relief that I feel able to talk about my condition without the fear of being judged and I feel very lucky to have the support system that I do within TPE.

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