My Battle with Fibroids, Part II: A Look at Procedures and Options

For the record, a fibroid is a benign tumor. Don’t ask me to define benign; fibroids are not benign to me. But thankfully, they were not cancerous. Fibroids can occur in many places in the body. Some are easily treatable; others are not. From what I’ve seen, these things are never pretty. I know more about benign tumors than I care to. This is because I needed to know everything I could to understand what was happening to my body so I could reclaim it. If you look at real fibroids, especially those where someone’s bloody insides are laid bare to the voyeur’s camera, you will marvel at how our bodies keep their form.  At least I did.

When I first learned that I had fibroids, it was almost five years before I had surgery. Since I didn’t have health insurance at the time, I was seeing a doctor at a free clinic in Oakland. By that point, my monthly cycle was severely effected and a lump could be seen and felt bulging through my abdomen. My heavy blood flow and uncharacteristic cramping during my menstrual cycles urged me to seek medical attention. These changes were the first warning signs for me that something was wrong. That first doctor I saw at the free clinic wanted to perform surgery right away, but frankly, I didn’t think my problem was severe enough to warrant it, and I was secretly afraid of an enormous bill following a hospitalization. I saw my parents’ big bills as a child, and I didn’t want any of those showing up at my door. At that time I was fairly broke, was attending a private graduate school with its own hefty bill, and didn’t want to add to my financial worries. The doctor, my apprehension notwithstanding, sent me for my first ever ultrasound.

At the insane (free) ultrasound clinic—it was exactly like DMV only with lots of pregnant women crowded into a large room with side corridors for more crowding and waiting—, my fibroids were measured if not weighed, and I could clearly see in the gray images on the screen, the two bulbous forms attached to my uterus. What a surprise it was to learn they were twins. Ugh…I know, poor taste. Please excuse my vulgarity, but it was that odd to see them on the very small screen filling my pelvic cavity with their grotesque form, attached to my uterus and syphoning life from the source of life. The largest one was six by five centimeters. And since, like most of us, I don’t deal in the metric system, this meant absolutely nothing to me. I thought that if I let them alone, they’d leave me alone. Ha!

Once I finished graduate school, and landed regular employment, I could make my health a real priority, which is what I did. I found a doctor at Kaiser. My fibroids were bigger if not quite big enough, at that point, that I felt the urgency to act. I was sent for another ultra sound to see what was going on. Note that by the time I had surgery, there were eleven fibroids altogether. I wish I were joking about that number, but apparently, the twins had twins. The largest two were the early ones that plagued me for years. I began in earnest to research possible treatments and to try at-home remedies. Unfortunately, none of the latter worked. I started my process by getting a deep understanding of fibroids. It’s how I process things: I intellectualize them. They became a course of study.

While the treatments vary, hysterectomy should really be a last resort unless there are some other pressing circumstances mitigating your decision. After all, it’s 2013, and there are numerous advances in medicine. Typically, treatments range from hormone therapy to full-on organ removal. I considered several options before undergoing laparoscopic myomectomy, a fabulous, minimally invasive procedure that is quite intense; I needed a month off from work to convalesce.

Before settling on this treatment option, I read blogs written by women who had tried the different procedures. I even tried hemp-seed oil therapy after watching a series of videos about its benefits. I’m sure that as an anti-inflammatory agent it does have some benefits, but I was apparently well past reaping neigh a one.  And, the oil itself is expensive. Hemp oil also gave me acne. I next turned to the fascinating research coming from Europe, such as UTE and hormone therapy.

UTE, or Uterine Fibroid Embolization sometimes referred to as Uterine Artery Embolization (UAE) was one I seriously considered. Originally used as a pre-op procedure in French hospitals to reduce bleeding during surgery, it was found than in 40% of women, the UTE alone reduced the size of the fibroids enough to eliminate the need for surgery altogether. The doctor injects an artery leading to the uterus with micro-pellets that permanently block the blood vessel, and thereby, starve the fibroid. A woman has to sign a contract saying that she will not attempt to get pregnant after this procedure. There a lots of scary things about having tiny plastic parts injected into one’s body.

We found the risks were much too high.

The more I learned about hormone therapy, the more frightened I became. From what I read, it was ostensibly chemotherapy treatment for non-cancerous growths. Our bodies are not designed to tolerate such chemicals, and I believe we do so in order to save our lives when fighting aggressive cancerous growths. To me, as miserable I was, fibroids were not life threatening. In fact, if they had been life threatening, simply removing the uterus would most likely be the most effective course of treatment. With this in mind, I read several blogs written by women who had submitted to this chemo for fibroids; they didn’t recommend it. One wrote that she had no idea what was signing up for. She advised readers to run. I did.

With the right doctor, laparoscopic myomectomy can be great solution to this devastating problem. Using four small incisions in the abdominal cavity, everything is removed through tubes after being cut into small pieces. Everything gets mapped out in advance using CAT Scan images. The result of this procedure is minimal scarring; there is also less pain and tissue trauma. Some damage can occur during surgery, such as tearing or puncturing of bladder or intestines; doctors can take precautions and repair these quickly, before one leaves the operating table. As a bonus, some women can regain normal bladder function after this procedure, depending on the cause.

Not every woman needs surgical intervention. My sister had one the size of a grapefruit during her pregnancy. It hurt, but it didn’t cause any problems. In my case, I had so many that my uterus was literally deformed. In retrospect, I wish I had undergone the treatment when there were only two fibroids. Still, the other nine might have been emboldened. We can’t know the mysteries at work in our bodies. We must simply be able to listen to its rhythm and dance its dance.

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3 thoughts on “My Battle with Fibroids, Part II: A Look at Procedures and Options

  1. I really appreciate this post because I have someone in my life who is about to have laparoscopic removal of her fibroid. I’ve forwarded it to her but I also learned a lot. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  2. Adrienne Cacitti

    Beautifully articulated Edissa–especially about “understanding our bodies” in order to reclaim them!! A thoughtful and informative blog, Karma Compass is a value to everyone!

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