Excitement ensued when I read this month’s issue of Essence. On the cover was a special health report which addressed the issue I’ve been dealing with over the past year. Since my surgery, I battled with telling how this very issue affected my quality of life. After reading the article, I knew it was time.
The article, Fighting Fibroids, tells the story of Tasha Mitchell. When she decided at 26 to stop taking her birth control pills, it unleashed a multitude of health problems. I was just like Tasha. Starting at a young age, I suffered from painful menstrual cramps and seriously heavy periods that no medication in the world could cure. After years of taking the pill, I took a stand. I wanted to feel like myself again.
For a while, everything was fine. I dealt with the pain every month and I thought I got my life back. But one day I felt the worst lower abdominal pain ever. The world began to shatter like I was in some alternate universe. After a series of tests and two emergency room visits, I was diagnosed with having uterine fibroids. At that very moment, my fight began.
In the Essence article, I read about a Mayo Clinic study of women ages 29-59 with fibroids. Elizabeth Stewart M.D., the study’s lead author explained, “The study also suggests that Black women have a harder time getting a diagnosis, good information about treatment alternatives and a solution.”
I was 23. After multiple trips to the doctor, it seemed I couldn’t get any valid information about my fibroids. Forget a solution. I was only given a pamphlet about my newfound condition and possible treatment options. Since I wanted to have children, there were only a few options available. My actions and my feelings were reduced to this pamphlet. Any symptoms I had, if it was not in the pamphlet, didn’t exist at all. I often found myself questioning if the pain and the significant blood loss was real. Just a few weeks earlier, my doctor told me the reason he chose to become a physician was to help women with fibroids. I lost confidence in him.
Soon after, I began to feel worse. An ultrasound revealed I had an ovarian cyst on my right ovary – a complete let down. One cyst turned into several on both of my ovaries and small activities such as walking became a challenge.
As time passed, the pain became relentless. My fibroids drained any life I had and I didn’t know why. When I looked in the mirror, I started to become unrecognizable. After weeks of confusion and more tests, one of my cysts ruptured. The ER doctors sent me home after yet another frustrating night. There is nothing more devastating than a doctor telling you he is out of options. I thought I was going to die.
My only solution was to undergo hormone therapy and stop my reproductive system all together. I went through a medical menopause. I had night sweats, hot flashes and debilitating migraines. The series of injections caused serious adverse effects aside from the usual side effects and it affected my brain function. Not to mention taking more medication to cure the side effects. I went from just getting by to being completely broken. At one point, I could no longer feel. I was numb to my situation. A spinal tap and a blood patch later, I said enough was enough.
I sought a second opinion and was also referred to some infertility specialists. The first one denied my case. She said she couldn’t help me. I appreciated her honesty. By the time I talked to the second one, I stopped all medications. He recommended surgery to remove the fibroid, and to see if I had endometriosis. I was diagnosed with a moderate form of endometriosis after the surgery.
The misunderstanding about my experience was the lack of information available about the cause of these conditions and preventative measures. I wanted to be proactive, but didn’t know how. What can I eat? What can I do? I was left with nothing. The only way I knew how to deal with it was just as the women who came before me did. You get the surgery and move on, because life doesn’t stop.
A few people told me all women get fibroids at some point in their lives. It was just a way of ushering me into womanhood like some rite of passage. And because so many of us get diagnosed, these health issues become acceptable. We carefully wrap our issues, put them away, and fiercely protect them. We fail to talk about it, because it’s too painful. I was amazed at the amount of women dealing with these complex issues. I had no idea until it was my turn.
I hoped, prayed and wished; and wished, hoped and prayed; and prayed, wished and hoped for answers. I never got them. All I could do was try to take control of my health. But in order to take control I had to recognize my worth. I was conditioned to put everyone else before me just like my mother and my grandmother. They took care of everyone and everything until it was nothing left for them. I had to realize I was enough. I had to know that I mattered too.
Now at six months after surgery, my life is full of the unknown. Am I confident that I will be able to have children one day? No. Am I confident that my fibroids, cysts and endometriosis won’t grow back? No. But that’s the beauty of walking by faith. I’m more than overjoyed that Essence decided to continue the conversation. It gives me hope.
Seven ER visits, two biopsies, countless doctor visits, ultrasounds, surgery and an extended hospital stay can sum up my story. It’s not a testament to how I got over, but it’s a story about God’s power working through me. If He can fix me, He can fix you too. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.