Girl Talk: I’ve Got Endometriosis

Annika Harris | October 30, 2008 - 3:30 pm

Earlier today, we told you two “Dancing with the Stars” cast members were diagnosed with endometriosis within days of one another. In fact, it’s a health problem that’s a lot more common than you’d think. My story, after the jump …

There was the risk my doctor wouldn’t be able to remove the cysts without taking out a piece or all of my ovaries. Although I didn’t want a child as a teenager, I knew motherhood was something I wanted to experience later in life.

The summer before I went to college, a friend asked me to go with her to Planned Parenthood for a routine exam, and I ended up making an appointment for myself, too. After the exam, the doctor asked the routine questions.

“When was your last period?”

“The end of May.”

“Tell me again?”

“Uh, the end of May.”

He turned to the nurse: “Do you believe this story?”

Then he told me I was three months pregnant. To say I was dumbfounded doesn’t even begin to describe my mental state. I’d always used condoms and knew without a doubt I wasn’t ready for a child. How the hell am I going to tell my mother? I wondered.

My mom had always been open with me about sex and contraception. I high-tailed it out of there and called her from the nearest pay phone. She was as cool as any mom can be — after finding out her teen daughter might be pregnant. We decided I should see her gynecologist on Monday. Needless to say, I was a wreck.

When Monday finally came, I learned what the Planned Parenthood doctor thought was a fetus was actually a number of cysts on my ovaries caused by endometriosis.

In this situation, tissue that looks and acts like the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. Most cases of endometriosis are found on or under the ovaries, behind the uterus, on the tissues that hold the uterus in place, or on the bowels or bladder. It can also grow in the lungs or other parts of the body. It can cause pain, heavy periods, and infertility.

Before, I’d experienced extremely painful, heavy periods, but I was only prescribed Naproxen by an emergency room doctor. (The pain was so bad I had to go to the emergency room one month.) I’d thought my symptoms were normal.

After a few diagnostic tests, my new doctor told me the cyst on my right ovary was three inches wide and the one on my left was one inch wide. I thought I needed to do more crunches; it turned out, my cysts were poking out. The best option would be surgery to remove both cysts. Since I was starting college, I decided to wait until the following summer to have the surgery, and I managed the pain with the Naproxen.

When the day of my surgery arrived, I was nervous, and so was my mother.

There was the risk my doctor wouldn’t be able to remove the cysts without taking out a piece or all of my ovaries. Although I didn’t want a child as a teenager, I knew motherhood was something I wanted to experience later in life.

I was worried about scarring, too, but the doctor pacified my fears by promising to make the smallest and lowest bikini-line scar possible. And she kept her promise.

I don’t remember much about the surgery except counting backwards as the anesthesia took effect. When I awoke, the first thing I muttered was, “Can I still have children?” To which the doctor responded, “Yes.”

I stayed in the hospital for a week, although I was only supposed to be there a few days. When I got home, I was on bed rest for six months. I didn’t have to stay in bed all day, every day, but I couldn’t have somewhere to go every day, and that meant no school and no work. I was anxious to get my life started.

In order to manage the endometriosis and prevent new cysts from forming, my doctor suggested a medication that would send me into early menopause. I had one dose; then my mom did some research and decided she didn’t like the potential side effects. So my doctor prescribed birth control pills, which I was to take without a week off, so I wouldn’t get my period at all. This was the best news ever, especially considering the pain I’d had before with Aunt Flow.

It’s been a little more than nine years since my surgery. I’m still on the pill, but now I take it for nine weeks continuously, with a week off for my period. Not having a period every month has been the best part of this entire situation. New cysts have grown on my ovaries, but they’re only centimeters big, so my doctor doesn’t think another surgery is necessary for now. My periods aren’t as painful as before, and I’ve learned a cocktail of Naproxen and ibuprofen can do wonders. Sometimes, I wonder, “What if I’m infertile?” But I’ve decided not to worry until I’m actually trying to conceive.