Donna Fraser-Simmons lives with a condition that causes her to be bedridden for up to 20 days out of the month. It's forced her to leave her job, making it difficult to pay for the $7,000 of medications she needs to treat the condition each year.
The condition is not life-threatening and it's not even rare. Fraser-Simmons suffers from migraines.
"I get nausea, sensitivity to light and sound and feel like I'm going to pass out. It's awful when it hits," she says of the debilitating pain she experiences when a migraine strikes. Though her medications help reduce the frequency of the migraines and can provide limited relief when one hits, she hasn't found a cure for her condition.
"It's hard, really hard, and people don't really understand."
Fraser-Simmons is not alone. In fact, as many as three million Canadians, or one in 11, suffer from migraines, according to Valerie South of Headache Network Canada. Of those three million, 40 per cent will never see a doctor about their condition.
"They get complacent because they think there's nothing to be done," South explained, adding the condition is often genetic.
"They think, 'my mother had this. My aunt had this. It's just my cross to bear,' but nothing could be further from the truth."
Those suffering from migraines in the Hamilton area can find information and comfort at a group session Wednesday night. St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton is hosting a free educational session on migraines at 6:30 p.m. in the Frank Charles Miller Amphitheatre at the hospital’s Charlton Campus, including information on the latest treatments available.
Part of the reason migraines are so prevalant is because of the stigma associated with the condition. Many people who have never experienced a migraine assume it is just a nasty headache, causing those who suffer from it to feel alone and uncertain about seeking treatment, South said.
"Half of the people suffering from migraines who were surveyed had to stop normal activities. A third of them were confined to bed," she said.
"This is not a 'take an Advil and come to the party anyway' kind of problem."
Fraser-Simmons first experienced migraines in her early teens. Over the years, the number, frequency and intensity of the pain varied but 10 years ago became too great to bear and she had to leave her job. Her husband passed away from lung cancer two years ago and both her children are studying at university, so it can be frightening when a migraine hits.
"I can't even go get groceries," she said. "The impact is huge. I feel isolated from my friends. It's not just a basic bad headache. It's so much more."
The migraine information session takes place Wednesday, May 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the Frank Charles Miller Amphitheatre at St. Joseph's Charlton Campus, 50 Charlton Ave. E., Hamilton.