It was either late 2002 or early 2003 when I learned I had a uterine fibroid. I went to the doctor about the heavy bleeding and bad cramps I suffered monthly. I remember it clearly, the doctor said, “Oh, the tumor is probably bigger.”
“What tumor?” I asked with some concern.
Instead of answering me, the doctor just looked at me with wide eyes and left the room. I then remembered having an ultrasound some years prior to the 2002/2003 visit, but I don’t remember anyone explaining to me that I had a fibroid tumor. There had been no discussion about options for management or healing.
It was at the latest appointment that the option of hysterectomy was mentioned. Given I was tired, physically and emotionally… that various family members had had hysterectomies… and that I was over 40 with a child who was 17… I shrugged and planned for surgery. With no upcoming plans for my uterus, my main concerns were how long would I be off work and how I would pay my bills. Once those issues were squared away, the surgery was set for late March 2003.
On the day of the surgery, my grandmother, sister, daughter, and cousin Melva were at the hospital to support me. I was shaking off the effects of the anesthesia, when Melva announced, “They had to take one of your ovaries. The fibroid was so big it was fused to it.” I recall something about a grapefruit, but I can’t remember which ovary they took.
Even now the language of “taking” the uterus and ovary causes me to feel some kind of way. Had I known earlier about the fibroid, could I have done something differently to shrink the tumor or at least delay the surgery? Not knowing about the fibroid somehow denied me a choice. While I fully understand the decision to “take” the ovary, there is a feeling of loss. Again, a loss of choice and a loss of knowing.
Since my daughter was diagnosed with a fibroid in 2017, I’ve read that several women are dealing with the condition. Thankfully, assisting these women are more physicians offering options other than hysterectomy. It’s the options for me!
Fibroids and Mental Health
Living with poor health has been known to cause emotional responses of anger and frustration as well. In addition to the physical pain fibroids cause, the related emotions can range from grief to anxiety and depression. Experiencing heavy bleeding and possibly an unpredictable menstrual cycle can deplete you of the energy needed for a social life, leading to feeling isolated and alone. If the fibroid is noticeable, a woman may have low confidence and self-esteem, or a skewed body image. Work and school attendance too can be impacted due to the pain or the desire to avoid any embarrassment associated with the heavy bleeding.
When it comes to assessing the emotional responses of women and families dealing with a fibroid diagnosis, having options is key. One’s mental health could depend on where a woman is on her childbearing journey. Is she coupled and hoping for children? Is she happily single with no plans to have children? Or like me, is she past the normal age for having children? These are some of the factors a woman/family will consider before deciding the best solution to their fibroid concerns.
Options and Coping
Making decisions about our physical health is greatly impacted by our mental health and vice versa. Usually, we resolve to alleviate the dis-ease related to both the physical and emotional problems. Being sick and tired of being sick and tired can cause even the strongest person to make a quick choice. Attending to your mental health when dealing with a physical ailment such as fibroids, it’s best to remember:
- You are not your diagnosis. You are an individual with likes, dislikes, talents, and gifts. Do your best to stay engaged in activities you enjoy and are passionate about. Take classes. Begin a hobby. Do what is needed to get your mind off the fibroid diagnosis and thrive.
- Allow yourself to fully experience all your emotions. Sadness, confusion, or, if you’re like me and have already had a hysterectomy; relief and grief… Experience them all! If you need to, find a trusted professional to help you process those feelings.
- Remember to rest. Uterine fibroids impact the body, and the body heals best when it is rested. Say “no” when it is appropriate and in your best interest physically and emotionally. Develop a consistent bedtime.
- Take care of yourself. It is believed that the modern diet has a lot to do with the increase in fibroid diagnoses. Like it is with other ailments, exercise too has been seen as a benefit and helps to reduce symptoms associated with fibroids.
- Get a second opinion. A third even. Do your research and do your best to connect with a medical professional that understands your goals and needs. Oh, and ask LOTS of questions!
Even when dealing with a diagnosis of uterine fibroids, the goal is to experience wholeness. Seeing ourselves as whole individuals is a process… a worthwhile process!