“It’s so hard because you feel like it’s inescapable,” the 'Crikey! It's The Irwins' star tells PEOPLE of her excruciating endometriosis symptoms
It took a decade of pain before Bindi Irwin finally got answers to what was going on in her body.
The Crikey! It's The Irwins star, 25, had long suffered from excruciating fatigue, pain and nausea, seeing doctors and undergoing countless tests and scans in search of answers. Calling it a "very difficult time" as her symptoms worsened, she recalls how medical professionals brushed off her health concerns because they couldn’t figure out the cause.
“I was tested for everything,” Irwin tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Every tropical disease, Lyme disease, cancer, you name it. I had every blood test and scan imaginable.”
“It’s so hard because you feel like it’s inescapable,” she says. “You don’t know what’s wrong with you, and then when people tell you ‘It’s all in your head’ or ‘you’re hormonal’ or ‘just have a cup of tea, lay down,’ you end up feeling so desperately alone because there’s no answers.”
In August 2022, Irwin was trying to climb up a "tiny hill" with her daughter Grace in her arms when sudden and severe pain forced her to the ground and into a fetal position. At that point, she knew she needed to do something.
Irwin’s close friend, who had endometriosis, urged her to undergo a laparoscopy — a minimally invasive method for the diagnosis and treatment of intra-abdominal diseases.
“I was so scared that they wouldn’t find anything because we had run out of everything else to test for,” she recalls. “After years of doctors and various people telling you there’s nothing, you really start to believe it. You wind up in this strange space of self-doubt, fear and insecurity. That’s hard to overcome.”
However, after she nearly gave up hope, the procedure confirmed Irwin had endometriosis, the reproductive condition in which uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus, causing cramping and chronic pain.
“Looking back, it was always endometriosis,” she says after receiving validation that her pain stemmed from the condition. “My symptoms line up perfectly. I wish so much I could have had this surgery years ago. My pain was in the driver’s seat, and everything else took a back seat. But I believe everything happens for a reason and that I had the surgery at the exact right time.”
During the laparoscopy, Irwin says they found 37 lesions and a cyst on her ovary, which she eventually had removed via surgery.
“It’s not like a light switch, but every week I feel like I’m able to do a little bit more,” she says of her gradual and life-altering recovery. “Now I wake up in the morning, and I don’t have to take anti-nausea medicine or have my heat pack. Being able to go for a walk with my daughter and not feeling like I have to throw up in the bushes is just wild to me.”
“I feel like I have a second chance at life,” she adds. “I feel brand new.”
In March, Irwin shared her diagnosis and surgery on Instagram, sending a message to any women going through a similar journey that “your pain is real & you deserve help.”
“I was overwhelmed with this feeling of responsibility to share my journey,” she tells PEOPLE, noting that she has the support of her family, including husband Chandler Powell. “Even though I had my beautiful family around me, and I’m so thankful, it’s still a very, very lonely disease.”
The Animal Planet star hopes her experience can “inspire others to keep fighting for the answers that they deserve. At the core of it all, you really need someone to be able to say, ‘It’s not in your head, and do not give up on yourself.’ ”
After celebrating her 25th birthday last month, Irwin reflected on how far she’s come and how good she feels compared to previous birthdays.
“This one feels different because I feel different,” she admits. In the past, “I was always happy, but being in so much pain all the time, you put on a brave face, because I didn’t want everyone to know I felt so bad. This is the first time since I was a kid that I genuinely wanted to celebrate. It was just our little family, which is all I wanted. To dwell on how happy I am to finally feel good and actually mean it when I say it.”
For the full story on Bindi Irwin, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.
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