I am from the Adams County, Gettysburg Area, where I am the mayor (yes, not kidding). I’m the director of Student Development and Multicultural Programs at the HACC-Gettysburg Campus, where I’m also an academic advisor and instructor. I have a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.A. in Humanities from Penn State.

I like a lot of things—traveling, learning new things about new cultures, knowing a lot about apples, dressing up for Halloween for trick-or-treat in my town (and I get really into it!), buying way too much makeup, staying active, hanging out with my dogs, going out to “foodie” restaurants with my husband, hunting with my dad, and going to the Hershey Spa with my mom. Seriously, I am a weirdo—you’d never know I hunt because I like to be fancy! Most of all, I love my family and my community.

I also have Stage II and III endometriosis. Before I came to Penn State Hershey Women’s Health, I had seen a myriad of doctors who couldn’t quite figure out what was “wrong” with me. I undergone hormone therapy, and a dizzying amount of tests and diagnostics, but still had no answers. When I came to Dr. Harkins in 2012, I had suffered for two years. I cried in my first appointment with him. He did something no other doctor did: He said, “Jessica, what do you want to do?” I said, “Let’s start over again.”

Since then, Dr. Harkins and the staff at Penn State Hershey Women’s Health have cared for me and made me feel like a rock star. I get the utmost care and professionalism in each visit. They call me back. I can email staff and expect a response. I feel like the staff cares about me, not just as a patient, but as a person. When I have to stay overnight after surgery, the nurses are informed, kind, hardworking, and personable. I have never felt unimportant there, and it makes me feel like I MATTER.

I will always be at a level of treatment/therapy, as there is no cure for endometriosis. This means I have to find a way to be social, to be active, to be an engaged member of the community, to be a dependable worker. I started with finding ways to feel better about feeling sick. For example, instead of feeling defeated all day if I woke up with pain and taking off a full day, I worked out a plan with my boss where I could come in later and leave later, so that I can WORK a full day! My situation inspires me to try to help others find their way out of the dark and scary days of having an illness that can take away your social and professional life, if you let it. I find that if you’re going to live with a disease, you need to find ways to LIVE. Giving up is not an option.

I credit my parents with helping instill me with a high sense of self-worth and esteem. They’ve inspired me to be the best person I can be in everything I commit to. With Dr. Harkins’ encouragement, I’ve started an online support group called the “Central PA Endometriosis Support Network,” and we have grown our membership to almost 200 women and family members who have or support someone with endometriosis. In March of 2015, Dr. Harkins and I did an awareness TV spot on Fox 43 News. We are in the midst of planning more events and awareness programs for patients and family members. It’s very important for me to advocate for those whom I care for—whether it be townspeople, the LGBT community, my “endo sisters,” or my family. If I care about you, I CARE. I believe you have to use the time you have to be the best “ME” that you can be.

If I could say anything to others who are experiencing health crises or personal hardships, I would say, “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I feel for you.” Empathy can go a long way. I never tell someone I know “exactly what you’re going through,” because I don’t. But knowing that YOU ARE NOT ALONE can be the most healing, inspiring words that you can hear when you feel so isolated, so down. It’s actually in the Central PA Endo Support mission statement: “You are not alone.”

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