On April 10, I will have a Hysteroscopic Myomectomy — a surgical procedure that removes fibroids through the vagina.
To give you a little backstory, in December of 2016, I went in for my annual pap smear. Since I had been without insurance for almost three years, seeing a doctor was both terrifying and a relief (thank you, Obamacare). When I hit my mid-20s, I noticed something was off. I had always had a heavy cycle, but my bleeding was much heavier, and I couldn't move from my bed five days out of my seven-day cycle.
I'd just chalked it up to getting older, but since I was going in for a checkup, I wanted to ask my doctor questions.
After my pap smear was complete, the doctor asked if I had any questions. I told him that my periods were much heavier than usual and asked if there was a possibility that I may have developed fibroids since they run in my family. "Fibroids aren't genetic, and I didn't feel any during your exam," he said.
In my Google search, I read that black woman are three times more likely to develop fibroids than any other group in the US. I also stumbled upon a study that linked relaxers to uterine fibroids. There has to be reason fibroids are prominent in black women, right?
But since he was the "expert" in the room, I didn't ask any more questions fibroids. "I've heard birth control pills can help the heavy bleeding, do you have any recommendations?" I asked.
He prescribed me Levora and sent me on my way. Birth control was something I'd stayed away from because I'd heard horror stories of women becoming depressed, having prolonged cycles, and hormones fluctuating so much, it affected their physical appearance — but I was desperate. After almost nine months of taking the pill, I found myself in a Los Angeles emergency room. As I was telling the nurses why I was there, I felt like a drama queen.
Who goes to the emergency room because of their period?
After checking my blood, I was prescribed iron pills and told that if I had another cycle like this one, I would likely need a blood transfusion because I'd lost so much blood.
Since I was new to Los Angeles, the ER nurse assigned me a gynecologist for a follow-up appointment. He was known as one of the most thorough and caring doctors at Kaiser, but LA traffic caused me to miss my appointment, so I rescheduled with another doctor. When I arrived to my new doctor's office, I changed into my paper gown, laid down, put my feet in the stirrups, and stared at the fake clouds on the ceiling.
A few moments later, a black woman entered the room. I was surprised but also happy to see her walk through the door. She introduced herself and pulled up my chart. "Why were you in the emergency room?"
After giving her the details, she asked: "Do you have a history of a blood disorder?" No. "DId your doctor in Atlanta do any additional tests or an ultrasound?" No, but he did prescribe me Levora. "Yes, Levora is known to help with heavy bleeding and should have helped with your symptoms. Let's do a pelvic exam and run some tests to see what's going on."
"Do you want kids?" she asked. "Yes," I said holding back tears.
After a cervix exam, blood work, and ultrasound— I did indeed have a fibroid. Not only did I have a fibroid, but it was protruding out of my uterus, which explained why I was in so much pain and the reason my birth control wasn't helping.
Had my first doctor taken the time to listen to my concerns, I would have known my issues were not just hormonal.
After that appointment, my nurse scheduled a saline ultrasound. During a saline ultrasound, the doctor opens up the cervix, inserts a small tube into the vagina, and injects saline into the cavity. It was as painful as it sounds (I even had to sign a waiver), but after the appointment, I decided I wanted to have my fibroid surgically removed. I was given a number to call to schedule my surgery but it took nearly three weeks for me to develop enough courage to dial the number.
But when I picked up the phone to call, I started to cry. Not just cry, but ugly cry. The reality that I had to schedule surgery on my uterus set in for the first time.
I am terrified of having this surgery. I know women that have been through this and understand that millions of women have been in my shoes, but that doesn't make me any less afraid. I had to ask myself a question:
Do I put this off and continue to be in pain, or do I put my fear aside and go for the surgery?
I have a lot of things working in my favor. I have a black woman as my doctor. My family is flying out to be with me. Oh, and I won't have to send an email each month to saying, "I'm not feeling well enough to work today," or "I'm so sorry I couldn't make your event over the weekend because I have a non-cancerous tumor in my uterus that is causing me so much pain I can't stand up straight and makes me so tired that I can barely open my eyes today."
Okay, I've never written this email, but that's what I'm thinking whenever I have to send the generic "I'm not feeling well" message.
Since confirming my operation, I've been trying not to think or talk about it because I start to cry. Being vulnerable is much harder for me than being "strong." Over the last couple of weeks, I've been more open to talking to other women about their experiences, and also admitted to myself and those closest to me that I'm scared.
Acknowledging fear doesn't mean your weak, it just reminds us that we're human.
It took a move to California, an ER visit, and a new doctor to find out why my body was out of whack, but I'm on my way to getting my life back. If it were up to me, I would have taken a holistic approach. No one wants to have surgery, but the reality is that what works for one woman may not be an option for me because while our symptoms are similar, our bodies are different.
Whether that's going on the pill to help with bleeding, taking the holistic route, opting to have surgery, or doing all of the above, ultimately, we have to decide what feels right for us.
There should be no judgment, only support.
Featured image by Shutterstock