A lengthy preamble:
The following post spans five years. It touches on how I first learned about my fibroids five years ago, what happened next, and my decision to not do the surgery. It concludes with this year and my decision to have them removed, including my preparation for surgery.
I’m writing about my experience in hopes that others can benefit. I’m not a medical expert, this is not to advise you to have a myomectomy. Our bodies are different and it should be a personal decision made with medical consultation on how to treat/remove fibroids.
Additionally, I hope that anyone who feels like you are alone in your experience, will realize that you are not, and perhaps someone in your acquaintance has silently undergone the same thing. Don’t let anyone judge you for your decision. Also, if you are reading this, I hope you’re not squeamish.
Read time: 8 minutes.
“Oh, you have fibroids” my doctor said nonchalantly, the moment she touched my abdomen. I had no ideas what that meant. She launched into an explanation; it’s typically benign growth, a high percent of African American women have them (I’m biracial), the cause is generally unknown, though some people believe there is a link to estrogen production and fibroid growth. She cautioned me about Googling because of the amount of misinformation that I might find, then counseled me about treatment. It would have to be a myomectomy, it’s like a c-section, but without the baby, I would certainly need to do it before I tried to get pregnant.
Of course I Googled and she was correct. There were blog posts on holistic solutions that maybe worked in some, but definitely did not work in others. There were different types of treatments that might affect fertility, or might not. It became pretty obvious to me that there was not a lot of concrete evidence and research out there, which seemed shocking as this was so common.
A transvaginal ultrasound was performed to assess size and location, the lab results showed three large fibroids – 3cm (green olive), 5cm (apricot or lime) and 7cm (plumb) – however, my doctor confirmed that while those were the large ones, there were more.
I had no symptoms, maybe I had a slightly heavier flow than normal on the first two days of mensuration, but it was hard to decide whether that amount of blood flow was a result of the fibroid growth over time, or whether it was normal for my body. I am lucky to rarely experience cramping, and I had no other issues or pain, so I decided to leave them alone.
four years later
In the summer of 2017 the muscles in my lower back seized and stiffened (almost rod-like according to my doctor). I did a few treatments to get them looser and spent over a month trying to manage the pain. During that time, I began to wonder whether the back issues started because of the fibroids – were they now big and hitting some nerve? I knew that back issues could be one symptom, but I didn’t think mine were in a position to affect my back. Over the next few months I started paying closer attention to my body and found that I could feel more growth – especially near my bellybutton – instead of just the one large one that I usually felt in my lower right abdomen. I started noticing subtle changes, like the fact that, towards the end of 2017, my abdomen was protruding more than it usually does and I was having issues bending over without it getting in the way.
I knew that I had to do the surgery soon, and I knew summer would be the best time (given my workload), so in February I posted on Facebook asking anyone who did the surgery to tell me about their experience. I received an overwhelming amount of responses. Women of all ages, races and geographical locations told me about their (or a friend’s) experience. Some did the surgery for fibroids, others for other issues. Some did it robotically, some open, and others laparoscopically. There were so many stories.
I thought I had enough when a friend of a friend messaged me and told me his wife did a similar thing, and if it was okay for her to contact me about it. At that point, I thought I had more than enough, but decided to go ahead and hear her story as well.
She told me what she went though – it was similar to the procedure I had to undergo – and gave me her doctor’s information, because she felt extremely comfortable with her doctor as her surgeon. As chance would have it, my original doctor was no longer covered under my health insurance, so I decided to research her doctor. Her doctor was covered under my insurance, so my next step was to make an appointment. After dragging my feet around for a few months, I finally made an appointment at the end of May for the first week in June.
My appointment with my new OB-GYN was set for the first week of June. I felt at ease, almost immediately, when talking to her. During the exam I didn’t feel as though I was being pushed to surgery, but once she felt my abdomen she knew that the fibroids were pretty large and wanted to investigate further. I had to do another ultrasound, and while I could have set it up right away, I ended up dragging my feet again until I finally gave in and made an appointment early morning on the last Monday in June.
Monday June 25: A very emotionally drained person showed up to the ultrasound on Monday. The technician was caring and put me at ease, the procedure took almost an hour and when I left the clinic I was pretty much ready to put this all behind me. That evening, my doctor called and left a message, my uterus had expanded to about the size of an eight month pregnancy, and she was concerned that, event though I wasn’t in pain, the fibroids might be pressing on other organs in the same area. And while we are built for our uterus stretching to accommodate a child, in the longterm it would not be good for my other organs.
Tuesday June 26th: I finally spoke to my doctor on the phone, and I decided to go ahead with the recommendation of surgery. The operation date was set for July 6th (10 days away), but I had to do a few things in preparation. Between getting my backups up to speed at work, and getting all my leave requests in place, I had to schedule a pre-op exam to sign some papers and do some tests.
Wednesday June 27th: I went in for my pre-op exam after work. There was some paperwork to sign, including acknowledging that they will be taking photos (which I have copies of) and that they can recycle any blood I lose back to me (which was pretty fascinating) as there will be blood loss during the surgery. Additionally we had some other exams to run, including a screening for which my doctor needed to take a sampling of my uterus wall. Here, we ran into a snag because a fibroid was blocking the path through the cervix and there was no way to get into my uterus that day. I laugh at this now, it was almost as if the fibroids were saying, “sorry tools, closed for business today. Enough probing”. However, words can’t begin to describe the feeling I experienced, lying on that table, emotionally drained, and physically exhausted.
The doctor explained that I would need an MRI, and where I would need to go for the surgery. “Great,” I replied, “Because my mom wanted to come with me.” To which she replied, “Of course! We expect someone to come with you, this is a major surgery.”
I don’t know exactly what caused it, but tears started forming, mostly because I was hoping to show up to the surgery alone if possible, but also because, with those two words, “major surgery” the weight of what I was about to do finally became real.
Thursday June 28th: I set up my MRI appointment for early on Sunday.
Sunday, July 1st: This was my second MRI for the year (and ever), it was a pelvic MRI, so they had me lie on my stomach and I went in feet first. The lying on the stomach thing was very uncomfortable because of the fibroids.
Since the room was cold, the tech placed a blanket on my legs, which seemed a good idea at the time, but as the tests continued I started overheating (normal for me when I’m under a blanket) and I started feeling extremely hot, but I had to keep my lower half still for the tests. Thankfully, the exam concluded not long after. The next step was to wait for my call with the specific time I needed to make it to the hospital for the surgery.
Thursday, July 5th: I received a call early afternoon, the surgery was set for 10:30am the next day. In preparation, I had to remove all jewelry, not eat anything after midnight the day of the surgery and not drink anything two hours before the surgery. I had to remove all nail polish, apply no makeup, take a shower (this one made me laugh) and sign some more forms. I packed my bag – it was an inpatient surgery – with a few books and my downloaded some movies on my iPad. I was ready.