When I got my first period at the age of 11, I had no idea that my menstrual cycle would end up ruling my life.
When I was young, my cramps were so bad I had to stay home from school. At 16, my doctor recommended I go on birth control pills to alleviate the pain. I stayed on them until I got married and gave birth to my daughter. A few years later, I was still struggling with heavy, crampy periods. I had read about endometriosis and brought it up to my doctor. She said there was no test for it; they would have to do a laparotomy (re: cut me open) to see if I had it. I declined; time passed and I took a lot of ibuprofen. My endometriosis finally caught up to me in 2006 when I was 32 years old.
It seemed like a normal period. Ridiculous pain, mood swings, heavy bleeding, passing clots. But this wasn’t ordinary. I curled in the fetal position, howling and crying with pain. It felt like a sword thrower was aiming sharp blades directly at my female organs. I took Tylenol and Motrin together to try and get relief. The pain became so unbearable that I ended up at the Emergency Room. After an MRI, the doctors determined I had a cyst on my ovary, and I needed surgery. I relented; anything to make the pain go away.
When I came out of the fog of anesthesia, my doctor told me that he had removed the cyst, which was infected, along with my left ovary and fallopian tube, which were covered with endometriosis. He said my case was one of the most severe he’d seen. He took my appendix, too, which was blanketed with endo. As he explained to me what endometriosis was, I imagined it as a long, creeping vine covering all my organs. Endometriosis is an overgrowth of tissue. The tissue gets out of control, and covers your uterus, ovaries, tubes, and can even crawl up to your other organs. It makes periods painful, and for some women, sometimes means infertility.
The doctor told me that at some point I would need a hysterectomy. He told me that I would be unable to conceive again. I started to cry. I had been busy raising my daughter and earning my bachelor’s degree, and hadn’t thought much about a baby, but suddenly, upon hearing I couldn’t have another one, realized I wanted another one desperately.
Well, the doctor was wrong. Sort of. I do have endometriosis. I probably have for a long time. But after the laparotomy, I was able to conceive again. The doctor explained that after he cleaned out my endo, it left a perfectly clear path for me to get lucky…I conceived my son with one tube and one ovary; a true miracle.
I’m planning to have a hysterectomy when I turn 40. In the meantime, things have gotten worse. The doctor said my tissue would grow back immediately, and it’s been six years since I last had surgery. My cramps are terrible, and I have to stay home two days a month due to heavy bleeding. Periods last about 1-2 weeks, and I am usually in a bad mood and fatigued. The bleeding has left me anemic, and though I take iron daily, I still feel tired all the time.
For pain management, ibuprofen helps. The doctor told me to start taking it a few days before my period and it reduces inflammation and helps pain. A heating pad has been my savior more than once. I always carry a change of clothes with me, because I soak six pads an hour on bad days. I have even had to go on Prozac (which is commonly given to women to treat PMS) to try and level out my moods…my hormones are all over the place!
However, these are stop-gap measures; a hysterectomy is ultimately the only real treatment for endometriosis. Going into early menopause sounds scary, but it has to be better than permanent PMS, fatigue, and cramps.