“Did anyone ever tell you that you have fibroids?” I was laying on the exam table at my first gynecology appointment as my OB/GYN pressed down on my uterus. I wasn’t surprised to hear that I had fibroids. They were something that plagued the women in my family for generations, and as a Black woman I am four times more likely to be diagnosed with fibroids than my white counterparts. However, I was surprised that they had started developing at such a young age. At the time, I was only 23. My doctor assured me that they were small and if I had no issues with them then we should leave them. She recommended a vaginal ultrasound just to check, and the test revealed I had a couple of very small fibroids. Fast forward seven years later, and I would have a fibroid 10 centimeters large distorting my uterus, pressing down on my bladder, and obstructing my colon.
Seventy percent of ALL women will get fibroids in their lifetime. They are the most common non-cancerous tumors that grow in our body, and modern science has no idea why. For millions of women they cause debilitating monthly pain, infertility issues, heavy periods, and fatigue. And I am one of them. Over the past two years, my period has changed from body-numbing cramps to a period that is so heavy, I’m scared to leave my house on the second day.
July is Fibroid Awareness Month, and my diagnosis in 2019, has led me to try and find more holistic methods to treating my fibroids as well as finding ways to feel supported. If you or someone you know, was just recently diagnosed with fibroids, I want to offer some tips that I wish I had during this process.
- Feel all the feels: In 2019, my gyno told me that the size of my fibroids would probably impact my ability to maintain a pregnancy because there wasn’t enough room for both a baby and the fibroids in my uterus. I was devastated. I’ve been single for years and am no closer to being in a relationship and starting a family than I was in 2019. And while there have been times that I doubted if I wanted children, I wanted to make that decision. Not to have it taken from me. There are times that I’m angry with my body for acting this way. I feel self-conscious because my uterus is distended. I feel many feelings depending on the day and the time of the month, and they are all valid. Your feelings are your own.
- Do you research; if necessary find another opinion:In 2019, my doctor recommended that I get another vaginal ultrasound, an MRI, and to see a doctor that specializes in myomectomies, which is the removal of fibroids while leaving the uterus in place. My MRI showed that I had one very large fibroid and two smaller fibroids. When I went in for the consultation for the myomectomy, I was told that in the procedure they would be cut out, then my uterus sewn back together to fix the holes, and any subsequent pregnancies would result in C-sections because it would be a risk to push and possible tearing of the incision and scar tissue. I said I would follow-up if I wanted to schedule and I never did. I wanted to find doctors that could give me other options. I am still searching and will hopefully find someone that can help me make the best decision for where I am now.
- There are changes you can make right now:Doctors do not know what causes fibroids which means that even if you remove them they often grow back. I am not comfortable with removing the problem without finding the root cause. Many doctors believe it’s a hormonal imbalance due to estrogen dominance and there are also some believed links to lifestyle choices such as diet and lack of exercise. Eastern medicine believes that it’s a blockage of energy and that acupuncture can help to move the stagnant blood within the body. I started acupuncture and taking Chinese herbs in 2019 and noticed a huge change in my period. I stopped having cramps, but my fibroids were causing my period to be very heavy which led to anemia which many women with fibroids suffer from. My doctor advised me to take iron supplements which I do, as well as try and eat more iron before and during my period. I decreased my intake of meat to no more than twice per week and switched to mostly fish and veggies as my source of protein. I would also advise anyone recently diagnosed with fibroids to try and adjust their lifestyle now to prevent further growth. Fibroids grow at a rate of about 0.7 centimeters a year. Some grow faster or some don’t grow at all. Even if you have a small fibroid now, as I did they can grow and become an issue down the line.
- You are more than your diagnosis:When I left my gyno appointment in 2019, I was in tears. I called my mom and texted my friends and told them that I was worried because who would want to marry someone who has these reproductive issues. They told me that they are very common, and the right one would love me through it and there are many options to have a child. They are right, but as women we are still taught to believe that our worth is in our ability to procreate and if we don’t or can’t then somehow, we are less. But we’re not. We all more than whatever ails us. As a woman, my worth is in who I am not in whether I can have kids. I know that it can be scary to hear the words “you have fibroids”, but you are not alone. Share your diagnosis with your family and friends, find a support group if you need to, and together we can work to end the silence around fibroids.