Like many women, my younger life was pretty uneventful as far as my health was concerned. Then, everything changed in 2001 when I got pregnant at age 35. As my pregnancy progressed, the doctor became concerned that I had a growing fibroid. It was near the exit area where the baby is delivered, so I was monitored with monthly ultrasounds to determine if it was best for me to have a C-section. By the time I was ready to give birth, the fibroid was the size of a baseball. Nevertheless, I did have a vaginal birth, and during the following months, my fibroid shrank. So clearly there was a hormonal connection to how the fibroid developed.
I began having terrible backaches on my lower left side. As time passed, I noticed my backaches were worse the week before my period. My new gynecologist told me there was a fibroid on my left side. The same one that grew when I was pregnant returned to haunt me. She suggested I try physical therapy (PT) to strengthen my pelvic floor.
Well, long story short, ibuprofen gave me more relief than PT. But as the year progressed, the pain worsened. The pain was so bad that one day I had to leave work because I just couldn’t concentrate, and the pain relievers weren’t helping.
My doctor said that since I was 50 and no longer interested in having children, a laparoscopic hysterectomy was an option. But she added that she couldn’t promise that the surgery would provide the relief I was looking for; she was just making an education guess that it might. Of course, there are other ways to remove a fibroid, but I didn’t like the sound of them—especially ones that would send me into menopause. I just wasn’t ready.
I decided that the best non-invasive treatment for me was a Mirena IUD, which includes hormones. The theory was the IUD would reduce my natural hormone levels, thus reducing the pain from the fibroid.
The year went by, my period was lighter, but I still had backaches.
This year was a rollercoaster. Some months were okay; others, the back pain was intolerable. Sometimes my period was light. Sometimes heavy. Sometimes there was spotting in between. Sometimes the blood was very dark and thick.
I wasn’t getting any better. Unfortunately, I had an unrelated surgery in June. But I told myself once I recovered, I’d contact the doctor about the hysterectomy. I just couldn’t take living with pain and inconsistent periods anymore.
Then things took a turn…
I had my usual mammogram, but this time, I was called back for more tests. Long story short, I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ or DCIS. DCIS is the presence of abnormal cells inside one of the milk ducts. I had no idea what this diagnosis meant.
The nurse assured me DCIS wasn’t invasive.
So I thought, no problem! Yet I was still scheduled to meet with a surgeon.
The surgeon told me DCIS comes in different grades, and mine was a Grade 3 … the most aggressive. In other words, I could potentially develop invasive breast cancer. The DCIS had to be removed.
“You can choose to have a lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy,” the surgeon said.
Wait…mastectomy? Seriously?! I was not ready.
Then, I met with a plastic surgeon, “If you have a lumpectomy, with radiation, it will be very difficult to reconstruct the breast,” she said.
So, I had to weigh my options.
All I could think about was my younger sister who passed away from breast cancer in 2016. I figured I was probably likely to get breast cancer, too, especially if it ran in our family.
My doctor ordered a genetic test to see if I had the breast cancer genes, and thankfully I did not. But I still decided to get the mastectomy with immediate reconstruction because I just couldn’t live with knowing the DCIS may reoccur and potentially be just as aggressive, or worse!
The surgery went well, and the DCIS cells were examined at the lab, similar to how breast cancer cells are examined for hormone receptors. It was determined that my DCIS was progesterone positive and estrogen negative, which the surgeon said was unusual.
The doctor’s use of the word unusual felt odd. Why would my DCIS be receptive to progesterone and not estrogen? I wondered if the IUD with hormones was the culprit. I mean I did receive this diagnosis just two years after it was inserted. Coincidence?
Both the surgeon and my gynecologist assured me that hormones from an IUD are localized to the region where it’s implanted, and therefore, do not circulate throughout the rest of the body. But I was still skeptical.
We know what a crazy year this was. Getting a doctor’s appointment was near impossible. But I soon needed one, bad!
I started having heavy bleeding. This went on for four days straight. I applied an ice pack to my abdomen, and it seemed to help a little, but the bleeding was relentless. And it worsened.
I would insert a super tampon, and then half an hour later, I would pull it out full of blood, with more blood gushing out. It was only for a second, but it was enough to scare me. Thank God I was home during this time!
After a week of this nightmare, the bleeding did stop, but I’m sure it would have started again with the same intensity, if not worse the following month.
A couple days into this episode, I called my gynecologist and she said I could have a hysterectomy during these COVID days because it was medically necessary. My surgery date was delayed two weeks out. She also ordered a blood test to make sure I was not anemic. I was not, but just barely!
The day finally arrived! With a negative COVID test and mask in place, I got my laparoscopic hysterectomy, with removal of just one ovary since I still wasn’t ready for menopause. My doctor was specialized in performing this kind of surgery, and she did a great job!
I feel great. Once in a while I’ll still feel a little sensation in my lower back where I had the pain before. I’m guessing it’s because I’m still ovulating with my one remaining ovary, but it’s nothing close to the pain I had before! Had I known this in 2017, I would have had the hysterectomy instead of the IUD. But at least the worse is over now. It’s weird to think of how different my body is now, but I’m healthy, I feel great, and that’s all that matters.
Deb is a recovering graphic designer who blogs for her creative outlet and mental therapy. Follow her blog Nuts and Crackers. Her “real” job is transitioning into healthcare, but what remains the same is the love she has for her husband and college-aged daughter.