Stacey Bruss has been competing in beauty pageants since she was eight years old. While she used to enter them purely for fun, she competes today with a mission: to bring awareness to and eventually find a cure for endometriosis.
Bruss, from Erie, Michigan, won the Mrs. Michigan-America pageant this past March. She will compete at the next level in the Mrs. America pageant in Las Vegas, tentatively slated for the end of October. Her platform is “End Endo,” something she’s been advocating since she was diagnosed with stage IV endometriosis nearly 20 years ago.
“This pageant gives me a national platform about something I’m very passionate about,” Bruss said. “I want everyone to know my story, and I especially want young girls experiencing the pain to know what the disease is and to know they are not alone.”
Bruss began feeling debilitating pain in high school when she was 16 years old.
“I spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital, and in and out of the ER,” she said. “All of the doctors talked it up to me being a female, saying that I would simply have this pain during my menstrual cycle and had to learn to deal with it.”
Over the next five years, she would visit eight different physicians and be given just about every misdiagnosis possible, including appendicitis, gastrointestinal disorders, and gall bladder issues. It wasn’t until one evening in 2002, at the age of 21, when a breakthrough occurred.
“My obstetrician did an ultrasound, found a cyst the size of a baseball and admitted me for emergency surgery,” Bruss said. But the cyst was the least of her problems.
“The doctor came out after surgery and said that I had pretty intense endometriosis, and that’s what was causing the pain,” Bruss said. “She said that I was already in stage IV, and it was everywhere – on my ovaries, uterus, bowel, and bladder.”
Just as astonishing to Bruss was that she was in the midst of her senior year of nursing school, yet she had never heard the term “endometriosis.”
“It was not a word that we ever discussed in class,” said Bruss, who would graduate on time and with honors despite her struggles with the disease throughout college. “I later found one paragraph about it in one of our textbooks. I told my instructor that this had to change.”
The discovery of the disease also led Bruss to a surprising revelation within her family.
“I found out that my mom had a total hysterectomy when she was 30 years old, and I recall watching my aunt struggle for years with infertility,” Bruss said. “Neither of them had ever been told that they had endo, but now that I know it’s hereditary, I believe they both had it. If they had known, it might have helped me sooner.”
Bruss faced her own fertility issues after she and her husband Brett wanted to start a family following their marriage in 2013. When a fertility specialist told them that in vitro fertilization was their only option, Bruss, who had done her research over the years on the connection between endometriosis and infertility, asked the specialist to check if her endometriosis had returned. The specialist refused, and the subsequent IVF treatments were unsuccessful. Bruss declined to go through more treatments at the specialist’s recommendation and instead found a new physician.
“The first thing the new doctor said to me was, ‘You’re an RN and have been through this before; what do you think needs to happen?’ And at that moment I gained a lot of respect for her,” Bruss said. “No doctor had ever asked me what I thought.”
At Bruss’ request, the doctor did a laparoscopy and found more endometriosis. She cleaned it out, and just a few weeks later, Bruss was pregnant. She and Brett now have a three-year-old daughter named Brea.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got pregnant,” Bruss said. “I was so shocked, that I took two more pregnancy tests after the first one was positive just to be sure. Brea has been an absolute blessing.”
Along with being a mother, Bruss is a vice president at Elara Caring, a home-based healthcare company in which she leads a team of nurses in 15 states. She also has her own business as a health and wellness coach, volunteers to speak in schools about endometriosis and, of course, has her pageants.
Bruss has won several pageants in Michigan and Ohio throughout her career, including Mrs. Michigan International 2019 (a separate pageant circuit from Mrs. Michigan-America). Though she did not win Mrs. International, it allowed her to share her endo journey with a new audience, and it helped propel her to the Mrs. America competition.
Win or lose in Las Vegas next month, her mission will remain the same.
“I just want to get the word out about endometriosis,” Bruss said. “I want it to be something that when people hear the word, they know what it is, and I want all women and young girls to feel supported. Nobody should have to suffer from this.”