Post-op in the hospital
5 days post-op
8 days post-op
The funny thing about plans is that we make them, with the full intention of seeing them through, but then life happens, and everything changes. I start my November blog entry with this as a way of saying, for this month I am, again, going to veer away from my ‘Tea with an ND’ concept, and discuss a health topic that is both timely and personal for me. I wanted to write about this while it was still fresh in my mind (and body)!
So, the topic this month is endometriosis – doesn’t it sound like a fun word? It must be a fun condition right? Ha – I wish.
For anyone who has endometriosis – this blog entry is for you.
I am going to focus on my own endometriosis journey, but if you are looking for more general endometriosis facts, check out the recent blog post written by my intelligent, kind and lovely naturopathic intern gal pals from wholeandwholistic.com who recently wrote about endometriosis from an objective standpoint.
Before I start my personal story, I better share a few facts…so, what is endometriosis?? It is the presence of functioning endometrial tissue in sites outside the endometrial lining of the uterus. It is a condition that occurs in females of reproductive age and the most common symptoms are painful periods, pain during intercourse, pain during bowel movements and sub-fertility.
I’ve had painful, heavy periods since I first started menstruating at age 10 (yes, 10, I know – not fair). I am now 30. This means I’ve been suffering for a good portion of 20 years. For a chunk of those years my symptoms were “controlled” well with birth control of varying sorts. In my early twenties I decided to go off of birth control and learn the fertility awareness method (which, as an aside, acted as an excellent form of natural birth control). Each month I would dread my period and then suffer for days when it arrived. I had prescription pain killers which would help with the pain, but sometimes even that wasn’t enough.
As I began my naturopathic medical education I was committed to solving my menstrual problems naturopathically. Diagnosing endometriosis can be really challenging, and the diagnostic gold standard is laparoscopic surgery, so many women (like me!) go for many years without having a diagnosis. I didn’t know for sure if I even had endometriosis, but I forged on in my healing journey.
Over the last few years I tried just about every possible naturopathic modality (and beyond!) with the aim of resolving my painful and heavy periods. I did acupuncture, hydrotherapy, supplements, nutritional changes, homeopathy, vaginal steaming, arvigo abdominal massage, botanical medicine – you name it, I tried it. With each tried and failed treatment, I thought that I was a failure. I was mad at my body for not being cured by the medicine I believed in, that I was putting my blood, sweat and tears into learning. I thought, if I can’t solve my own issues with naturopathic medicine, how am I ever going to help a patient?
Earlier this year I went and saw a gynecologist who said she thought I was a good candidate for laparoscopic surgery. This would mean surgically looking in and around my uterus and then removing any endometrial tissue that might be found. It seems like a logical decision to make, but for me, it was such a hard decision. What it signified for me was that I hadn’t been able to cure myself with naturopathic medicine. I talked it over with lots of colleagues, friends and family. In the end, I decided to opt for the surgery and now I feel that this whole opportunity has taught me some great lessons.
I realize now, more than ever, that western medicine and naturopathic medicine are both incredibly powerful, important and useful. Different conditions require different approaches. There is no way that I could have removed the endometrial tissue in my body with naturopathic medicine alone. But I can (and did) use the principles and interventions of naturopathic medicine to prep my body for surgery and ensure that the rest of my body was as healthy as possible so that I could recover quickly.
As for the surgery itself, I had it just a few weeks ago. It was a three-hour procedure done in hospital. The surgeon made four incisions in total (see pictures above!). You get to go home the same day you come in (someone has to drive you home). The first few days after surgery are pretty tough. But each day things get better and your body starts to heal. After 20 years I finally know that I have endometriosis. Now that this procedure is done, I now know that there is no endometriosis in my body! Yes, it is true that it can grow back, but now I can use many different naturopathic treatments to help keep it at bay and make sure that my body is as healthy as possible.
At the end of the day, health care decisions can be really hard. There is no one size fits all. Every treatment option has risks and benefits. I am at peace with my decision and know it doesn’t reflect my ability to help my patients heal naturopathically. If you are struggling with endometriosis or any other menstrual issue, I would be happy to talk to you about the different treatment options available.