Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Estrogen Warrior: On Fighting Fibroids

I've posted in a private discussion forum, on Craig's List, about my experience with fibroid tumors and the surgery I underwent in 2005 to remove them. The responses I received tell me I need to post this information in a place more readily accessible, so it won't get buried after a few weeks.

I worked very hard at the time to research Fibroids, their physical and emotional symptoms, and various treatment options. If what I learned can help other women, then this space will be well-spent:

Any kind of change in your cycle as noticeable as follows calls for a gyno visit:

How old are you? Any spotting between periods?

When I had fibroids, particularly one that broke through my uterine wall, my periods were heavier and lasted 10 days, with spotting in between.

I experienced RAGE and feelings of clinical depression. When I got my period, the hormone spikes would KNOCK ME ON MY ASS. At times I got so spazzed out and hyper-stimulated, speedy-feeling, I felt like I would have a heart attack. I was lashing out at people twice my size, but I did not care.

Like that one day when this big oaf of a guy insisted on pushing his way into my subway car before I could get out: I'm sure he has no idea what a miracle it was that I did not stab him through the heart with my umbrella.

I asked my general practitioner and my surgeon about hormones and their effect on my emotions and sense of well-being. They pretty much threw up their hands...but not first without offering to put me on The Pill. When in doubt, write a script. No one could explain to me why the hormones were affecting me or even how the hormones worked. The literature said that hormonal tests were not reliable because hormones can fluctuate so much during the course of a woman's menstrual cycle.

Thanks for nothing, assholes!

Well, almost nothing. Once I got SURGERY -- not therapy, not anti-depressants, not prescription hormones, just straight up surgery to remove the offending fibroid -- my hormones went back to normal and the insane mood rushes and RAGE disappeared.

Poof! Happy again.

It blew my mind to see how a treatment that was purely physical (surgery) could have such a dramatic effect on my emotional state.

Now, I'm 44, back to totally normal 5-day cycles, and happy as a lark. Go figure.

Fibroid tumors are very common in women aged 30-55. If you have some combination of the symptoms described above or notice any change in your normal menstrual cycle, get it checked, poopsie.

Gitchyer Scalpel the Hell Off My Uterus: Alternatives to Hysterectomy

Oh HELL YES, I Kept My Uterus! And it should not be exceptional. Until recently, however, doctors would routinely remove uteruses, reckoning that once a woman had had children, the uterus was merely occupying space -- useful only to the odd roving cancer, seeking a place to take hold.

That's right ladies, according to traditional practitioners of patriarchal medical science, once your uterus stops making babies, it becomes either excess baggage or a ticking time bomb -- regardless of your family history or personal risk of developing cancer.


As soon as I was diagnosed with fibroids, I researched the hell out of treatments for it, and I learned that there are several techniques for removing fibroids that leave your uterus and ovaries intact.

I had a vaginal myomectomy. That is, the gynecological surgeon went in through the vagina and dilated my cervix to gain access to the inside of my uterus and removed the offending fibroid from there. The surgery was performed under general (maaaan, that was sweet -- pure oxygen ROCKS), and I went home the same day.

This is a COMMON procedure. I got a surgeon who had performed MANY of these surgeries, so she was very experienced with it.

There is also a procedure where they go in, surgically, through a small incision in your abdomen. Also a common and uncomplicated procedure.

A couple weeks before surgery I was given a hormone that shrinks the fibroids, making it easier to remove them.

I was hellbent on keeping my reproductive organs and my fertility intact, so *I* could decide whether and when I would have children.

My Uterus Is Not Excess Baggage, TYVM!

1) My surgery was totally covered under my Health Insurance. (Aetna, at the time.) I had the procedure done at NYU Medical Center by Dr. Maria Betancourt. She was AWESOME.

2) I was extremely proactive about researching fibroids and remedies for them and for their symptoms -- medical, natural/nutritional and surgical treatments.

3) I learned that women who undergo hysterectomy are 300% more likely to develop *heart disease.* That little stat blew my mind right out. You are also more likely to develop problems with controlling urination and other health issues. The uterus is a powerful muscle that helps to keep your other abdominal organs in place. So patriarchal doctors' assumption that the uterus is just excess baggage after child-bearing is HORSE HOCKEY!!!

4) I learned that the state of women's health research and doctors' understanding of women's reproductive organs and of hormones and their roles/effect on our mental and physical health is woefully deficient. So we owe it to ourselves to learn as much as possible about our health, to research issues like crazy, and to ASK QUESTIONS. I was HELL-BENT on keeping my reproductive organs and fertility and not letting anybody cut into me unless they could convince me that it was absolutely necessary and the LEAST INVASIVE METHOD POSSIBLE.

This is why I make a point of posting openly about this stuff. If anyone has any questions, they can ask me about it. The women's movement has made a big difference in improving our health options and forcing more attention and research on women's health, but they still have a looooooooong way to go, and we have to keep the pressure ON.

Woman = Camel; Fibroid = IUD

Here's my theory on the fibroids ability to trigger hormone-rushes and hormone-caused mood swings...

I think the fibroids, particularly those that embed in the uterus, function the same way an IUD does. And IUD fools your body into thinking it's pregnant. It's very common in pregnancy to get hormone rushes that make your moods swing like crazy.

I read a long time ago that the idea for the IUD traces back to the Bedouin tribes, who would push stones up into the uteruses of female camels to keep them from getting pregnant.

So a fibroid is like a little stone that fools your body into thinking it's pregnant, and your body, thinking it's pregnant, starts producing estrogen out the wazoo and goes hormonally bonkers, resulting in mood swings, from deep depression to intense rage.

Also, having a fibroid embedded in your uterine wall will make you incapable of actually getting pregnant, because it will prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the inside of your uterus.

I researched fibroids by Googling "Fibroid" or "Fibroid Tumor" or "Fibroid Surgery." Unfortunately, I had my surgery in 2005 and have since gotten a new computer, so I don't have all the web sites I saved.

Before I started spotting between periods -- which is what got me to go to the doctor -- my periods started getting heavier. They were noticeably heavier for about 2 years...and yeah, they got clotty too.

If you're having these would urge you to go to the gyno. Get a "transvaginal ultrasound" and see what it says. If you have fibroids (which are very very common in women 30-55), then do your Google search. There's lots of stuff out there, some of it conflicting, so read as much as you can...and sift out the crap by paternalist doctors (the authoritarian, arrogant a$$holes) and look for woman-centered, woman-positive materials, things that treat you as an individual with dignity and a brain -- not a potential guinea pig who can be drugged up and cut up in the Name of Science.

I'm Hormonal: Get Over It.

We need to talk more about PMS and hormonal issues -- not as an excuse for bad behavior but to demand that more resources be allocated towards medical research into female cycles and hormones and their effects on that there can be SAFE, non-cancer-causing treatments for hormonal irregularities.

The state of medical understanding about hormones and their function and effects on women is so deficient, it would BLOW YOUR MIND.

As late as the 1990s, doctors were prescribing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to women to counteract menopause-related symptoms. In one series of studies on HRT, the evidence that HRT CAUSED breast cancer was *so strong,* the researches had to cancel the studies because they could not ethically continue them.

When I was having fibroid-related hormone rushes and spikes, I regulated the swings very effectively by eating soy products (a mild estrogen substitute that *reduced* the effects of estrogen rushes on me and also progesterone cream derived from yams.

The estrogen in pharmaceutical HRT is derived from HORSE PISS. It was named "Premarin."

Get it -- Pre-MARE-in. Unreal what Big Pharm subjects us to. And too many doctors buy into drugs uncritically cuz the sales reps give them gifts and kiss the doctors' butts. It's a real racket, and we've got to protect ourselves from it by arming ourselves with as much knowledge as possible.

Fighting Fibroid Symptoms With Diet & Natural Treatments

In the time leading up to my fibroid removal surgery, I had very little energy. Just a trip shopping or to the Botanic Gardens with mom would leave me very tired and cranky. In the last couple months before surgery, I felt very weak. Just one drink of alcohol would WIPE ME OUT.

I didn't realize how weak and sick I felt until after the surgery, when I went back to feeling normal again. I had totally forgotten what normal felt like.

It creeps up on you over time, so it can really fool you. I was probably anemic and should have been taking an iron supplement to make up for the blood loss.

I did make some changes in my diet and started taking certain vitamins:

Diet change was the "No white carbs diet." Low fat, nothing fried, no sugary sodas, no fruit juice, nothing with high fructose corn syrup.

Lots of fruits and veggies. Dried fruits, preserves, honey and molasses were all fine. No white flour or wheat gluten. Subbed instead with Wasa Bread, rice wafers, brown rice, and that cool German bread that has no wheat gluten in it.

At least one dose of something with soy in it every day -- Soy yogurt, edamame, tofu, etc. That controls estrogen naturally by occupying estrogen receptors in your bod. Fools your body into not producing so much estrogen.

Evening primrose oil
Vitamin E & C (combined in one pill)
Vitamin B Complex
Calcium & Magnesium (combined in one pill)
Flax Seed Oil (Omega 6 & 3)
Should have included an iron supplement.

I'd take them at breakfast, lunch and dinner, which also assured me of getting plenty of hydration.

I also used Progesterone cream (derived from Sweet Potatoes); you can get this at any Health Food Store.

All the above was recommended in a book Susan M. Lark, MD, who specializes in fibroids, endometriosis and other hormonally-related maladies.