Alicia Vitarelli has had three laparoscopic surgeries for endometriosis, her most recent one just eight weeks ago. Yet the anchor and reporter for 6abc Action News in Philadelphia will travel to Los Angeles next week to cover the Oscars, and to New York City on March 20 to co-host EndoFound’s 11th Annual Blossom Ball.
“I’m absolutely over the moon to be part of this with EndoFound,” said Vitarelli, who will be the master of ceremony with actress and musician Folake Olowofoyeku. “We are going to get everyone in the room to come together—people who want to make change—and do something fabulous.”
Vitarelli has spoken openly for years about her endometriosis journey, specifically regarding having a child when all hope appeared to be lost.
“I got my first cycle just before I turned 11 and was sick immediately,” she said. “It got worse as the years went on with pain, heavy cycles, and headaches. When I got to high school, I was lying on the cold ceramic floor of the nurse’s office, writhing in pain and missing classes. I did everything high school kids do—academics, theatre, sports—but I was suffering.”
Her first OBGYN told her that her experience was normal for women. Vitarelli then went to another doctor, who suggested she go on the pill to regulate her cycle, and it controlled her symptoms significantly. She stayed on it until she married at 29 and wanted to have children, but the symptoms flared for the next six years. She couldn’t get pregnant.
“I wasn’t getting answers,” she said. “They were throwing a lot of typical fixes at me, like fertility drugs and IVF, but I was really sick. One doctor finally told me, ‘I’m sure this is endometriosis.’ I’d heard the word before, but because the pill was such a good bandage, it wasn’t something we’d ever explored.”
She had her first laparoscopy in 2013, which revealed Stage 4 endometriosis. Three weeks after the surgery, she was pregnant.
“It was successful,” Vitarelli said. “Our daughter just turned nine. She was our miracle child.”
When symptoms returned in 2015, Vitarelli had a second laparoscopy, which revealed more endometriosis and adenomyosis. Her relief from that surgery lasted until about 2019.
“I became sick with stabbing pains, hemorrhaging, nausea, vomiting, migraines—it was a complete quality of life drain,” Vitarelli said. “I would say I spent 30 to 40 percent of each month suffering and worked through all of it. I would be hosting a parade, wondering if I could stand up. I’d show up for an assignment and throw up, and people would say, ‘Oh, crazy night last night?’ I’d say, ‘No. You have no idea.’”
She and her husband wanted another child, but after years of trying, they realized in 2022 that likely would not happen.
“I said, ‘Well, then I need my life back. I don’t want to fear every month.” Her six-hour surgery in January included a hysterectomy. “It was a big decision, a period at the end of the sentence. But even though it was the end, I mentally told myself it was the beginning.”
Part of that beginning for Vitarelli was getting involved with EndoFound and using her experiences and platform to normalize the conversation about endometriosis.
“So many people suffer in silence and don’t know where to go. It is a very lonely, dark place,” Vitarelli said. “So when we speak up about it, it’s like we’re giving life to it.”
Vitarelli had such a conversation with a teenage patient she met in their endometriosis specialist’s waiting room in January. The teen was a straight-A AP student who had to be homeschooled part of the time because of her symptoms. She’d just had surgery and was hoping it would enable her to go away to college.
“She reminded me of myself, and the most important thing I wanted her to know was that she wasn’t alone,” Vitarelli said. “I told her, ‘I think this will be great for you. It’s going to be the first step toward your forever.’ Hopefully, she won’t have pain anymore and can live like everybody else and one day start a family if she wants. I pray that for her.”
The 11th Annual Blossom Ball will be at 6 P.M. on March 20 at Cipriani 42nd Street in Manhattan. Tickets are available at www.endofound.org/blossomball.