West Yorkshire Police Chief Inspector Helen Brear whose endometriosis went undiagnosed for 22 years speaks of suffering in bid to raise vital awareness

A leading Yorkshire police officer whose endometriosis went undiagnosed for more than two decades has spoken publicly of her suffering for the first time in a bid to raise vital awareness of the condition.

West Yorkshire Police Chief Inspector Helen Brear started suffering with extreme pelvic pain, fatigue and heavy periods, when she was just 15-years-old, but despite years of pain and numerous trips to the doctors and a struggle to conceive, it took a staggering 22 years for her to be given an endometriosis diagnosis.

"It was really challenging in terms of symptoms because quite frequently I would go to my GP and I would just get labelled off as having cysts or needing medication for IBS," she explains.

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Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places. It affects 176 million women worldwide and takes, on average, seven and a half years to be diagnosed.

West Yorkshire Police Chief Inspector Helen Brear who was finally diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 37 after a 22-year struggle.

Chief Inspector Brear's symptoms not only started to affect her personal life, but her policing career - which started in 1996 as an officer in Bradford - was made so much more difficult by the daily physical symptoms she was experiencing.

"It's been challenging for me as a person to manage, but also as a police officer as well," the Chief Inspector said. "I have to say that there are certain occupations out there where there is a lack of understanding and awareness. The nature of this job as well made it quite difficult, particularly with the shift work, the excessive bleeding and feeling sick and fatigue."

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"I have been a public order commander for the last 19 years, she said. "When you are in public order situations and suffering from, for example excessive bleeding, toilets were not easily accessible and also it was a very taboo subject that wasn't easy to bring up."

West Yorkshire Police Chief Inspector Helen Brear who was finally diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 37 after a 22-year struggle.

There was also her heartbreaking struggle to have children.

"I had significant issues around trying to fall pregnant and, of course, the pressure it puts on not only yourself but your partner as well," Chief Inspector Brear said.

"You think that you as the woman that you are in essence to blame for not being able to fall pregnant, but unbeknown to me I had endometriosis and that was a significant factor in not falling pregnant," she said.

The suffering also affected her mentally.

Chief Inspector Helen Brear with her husband Richard and twins Isabelle and Alexander.

"Eventually it does take its toll on you and from a mental perspective as well as physical."

It wasn't until Mrs Brear had some cancer cells removed at the age of 37, that she finally received her endometriosis diagnosis.

"It was during this time we talked about my symptoms and so forth, but again I got pushed from pillar to post on the NHS. I didn't realise until I got a greater understanding of endometriosis, but ovarian cancer does occur at a higher than expected in those with endometriosis."

Chief Inspector Helen Brear with her husband Richard and twins Isabelle and Alexander.

"Eventually, when I was 37, I paid to go private and that's how I got my official diagnosis from a consultant.

"I feel very sad that I had to get diagnosed through the private sector and it worries me significantly, because there are those that are undiagnosed within the community who don't have the means in which to go and pay for a private consultation so, I think, not only do we need to raise awareness within organisations whether they are private or the public sector, but we also need to raise awareness in the NHS at a government level as well."

About eight weeks later she began to feel really sick and she assumed that this could potentially have something to do with the cancer cells she had removed.

"I was worrying and thinking the worst, but actually it was a blessing in disguise as I was actually pregnant with my twins Isabella and Alexander, who were conceived naturally."

She is now under the care of Dr Jacqueline Tay, a consultant gynaecologist and receiving regular treatment to keep her symptoms under control

"I have had three operations now and I have got the medication to reduce the pain. The medical therapy now prevents the symptomatic disease from reoccurring so I feel like I have it under control now more than ever."

Chief Inspector Brear is committed to ensuring women with endometriosis do not suffer and she has the support from her police force.

West Yorkshire Police has signed up to be an Endometriosis Friendly Employee and three months ago Chief Inspector Brear became the force's lead for endometriosis.

She said: "I am absolutely astounded at the moment in terms of the response I have had from the force.

"The key principles around that are about leadership and management support and it is vital that we ensure that the organisation is committed to becoming an endometriosis-friendly employee and change will happen.

"We are providing managers with information and guidance and flexibility as well.

"It is also about tackling stigma and changing culture. We will be appointing endometriosis champions within our districts and they will be there for people to go to for support.

"I want every single person to have the confidence and faith that they can go to the line manager, or go to a champion within our force and have those conversations and get rid of those taboo subject areas and for people to have supportive interventions in place and to feel confident.

"We as an organisation talk about diversity, equality and inclusivity and it's really important everybody can bring their whole self to work to feel listened and valued."

Chief Inspector Brear would also like to hear from any other organisations interested in becoming an Endometriosis Friendly Employee. She can be contacted via Twitter and the username @WYP_HBREAR