Five years ago today I woke up bright and early, headed to Bankstown Hospital. I waited in a small room with an elderly couple until the nurse called my name. I am tagged, weighed and dressed in a beautiful white gown, socks that didn’t cover my toes and what I can only describe as a cotton, blue shower cap. I confirmed by details and hopped into bed. I had been told not to take any painkillers when I woke up, so they checked my details a second time and gave me some IV-Panadol. Not long after they wanted to be really sure they had the right person and checked my details yet again before rolling me into the pre-op room.
Enter Gyno, “so, Alexandra, I see we are doing a cystectomy today.”
“Uh, no. The cyst resolved itself; you said you were doing an exploratory laparoscopy.”
He giggles “Oh, okay then,” as he looks up from his notes.
They confirm my identity one more time before the anaesthetist gently squeezes my hand, gives me the mask and asks me to count slowly down from ten.
10… 9… 8…
I woke myself up with my own screaming a few hours later. “Did they find anything?”
It turns out, they did. Here Annie will show you what the inside of my pelvis looked like before the Gyno removed the Endometriosis (versus a healthy one).
As I left the hospital a few hours later, walking in the hunched posture my body had become accustomed, a nurse said, “walk straight, you’re all fixed now.” I believed her.
Even though the surgery wasn’t a cure and it didn’t take away the pain, I was finally validated. I was no longer mystically causing myself physical pain with my mind. There was a reason. There was a disease. It was my diagnosis day.
Today marks my 5 year anniversary since I was diagnosed and look how far I have come since! Praise God!
So it with a healthy mix of sarcasm, cynicism, gratitude and hope that I say…
Annie is pretty stoked that the internet has finally been connected in Sunnybank #netflixtime! I got my nerd on and I managed to work my way through all the modem’s manual settings to get it going! #yourewelcome @cats_pyjamas_ & @millyvanillie. #computerwizkid #annietheuterus #uterus #ovaries #distraction #painmanagement (at Sunnybank, Queensland, Australia)
These words are often avoided. They’re not ‘kosher’ and they make people cringe. Slipping them into a conversation causes tension and awkward-turtles, but if I keep my mouth shut and stay silent, society remains ignorant.
For me, these ‘uncomfortable’ words are normal topics of conversation. Conversations that cost hundreds of dollars and occur during painful, exposing, vulnerable, demoralising and uncomfortable ‘internal examinations’ that make a pap smear feel like a stroll in the park. Conversations with a plethora of in-depth questions about the most intimate details of my life – sex, bowel movements, urination, contraception, pregnancy, PMS, weight, fractured relationships and mental illness… Oh, did I mention these ‘chats’ are with complete strangers? Unfortunately, when you’re chronically ill, second, third and even twelfth opinions are often necessary.
Ironically, I have found conversations about Jesus, faith, religion and politics are easier than talking about a disease that affects the reproductive organs of 1 in 10 females worldwide.
Stage 1: Faking it
Courtesy of PCOS, acne sprouted when I was 11 and once puberty kicked in, my face resembled a pepperoni pizza. At 15 I started taking Roaccutane – a potent pharmaceutical to treat cystic acne. Falling pregnant while taking Roaccutane guarantees a deformed foetus, so the dermatologist refused to prescribe it unless I also took the pill (which never made sense as I wasn’t sexually active).
Within a few months, the chronic abdominal pain started. The result: x-rays, ultrasounds, specialists, painkillers, frequent school absences and a colonoscopy. Diagnosis: psycho-sematic pain. It was all in my head. Treatment: psychology and cease taking Roaccutane. I was a perfectionist with anxiety falling behind at school and an extrovert isolated from the world. Rumour was that Alex was “faking it” and it wasn’t long before I started to spiral into a dark, damp hole I couldn’t escape. I was in pain all the time and there was no physiological cause. I never finished the course of Roaccutane and I stopped taking the pill. A few months later the pain resolved, but ovulation and menstruation had became hell. No one suspected a gynaecological condition or that ‘the pill’ was the culprit.
Stage 2: Diagnostic Conundrum
Fast-forward 5 years: the pain returned less than three months after my wedding (and four months of hormonal contraception). I took over three months sick leave and deferred my third semester at college. Again: scans, ultrasounds, blood tests, specialists, painkillers, weight gain, isolation. Again: no answers. I was a ‘diagnostic conundrum.’
Stage 3: Diagnosis
An ovarian cyst eventually showed up on an ultrasound, so I booked in for a cystectomy. After six months on the surgical waiting list the cyst resolved itself. Instead, I had a diagnostic laparoscopy (keyhole surgery of the pelvis) where the gyno found endometriosis, a tissue similar to the lining of the uterus found outside the womb. Turns out I also have PCOS. Unfortunately, treatment did not stop the pain, but I had a name! Oh, the relief and closure. A diagnosis meant I wasn’t crazy!
There were legitimate medical reasons for the constant pain, chronic fatigue, cramping, nausea and bloating. I finally understood why I had persistent acne, headaches, heavy periods, skin tags, difficulty losing weight, erratic mood swings, a dodgy immune system and pain during urination, bowel movements and sex.
Stage 4: Grief
What followed was a three-year process of watching all I deeply valued in this world fall away. I lost control of body; my nervous system was overworked and my mind was dulled with painkillers. The depression worsened and my financial security vanished. I had to leave my amazing job and eventually my marriage completely dissolved. I left the life I had built in the city to return to my hometown, move into my Aunt’s granny flat and share a bed with my mum. (I actually have no idea how I would have survived without such an amazing family!)
I ceased being an independent adult. I was 24, divorced, obese, unemployed, severely depressed, unable to exercise or even stand for more than a few minutes, incapable of doing my own laundry (and most other housework), living on frozen meals, dropping and breaking my valuables, constantly losing stuff and sharing a bedroom with my mother. I was like a dependant child, living in a dark, damp pit with no exit plan. I had such regular appointment, my GP became like a best friend.
By society’s standards I was a complete failure, Darwinism says I should have died years ago. I spent five years grieving the death of my dreams, goals and hopes I had for my life because there is no cure for endometriosis.
Stage 5: Acceptance and Healing
I never stopped fighting for my health. After ten years of symptoms and five and a half years of non-stop pain, by the grace of God, the severity of my symptoms decreased.
permission and space to grieve,
thousands of dollars in (conventional and alternative) specialist fee’s,
a willingness and determination to try almost any treatment options
improving my mental health,
forming emotional and medical support teams,
being active in the endometriosis community and sisterhood,
taking the opportunity to participate in the documentary “Endo & Us,”
100% dedication to an intensive chronic pain program,
taking the initiative,ignoring ignorance, never giving up,
and finding faith, hope and acceptance to finally be ‘okay.’
Sure, I still feel uncomfortable, bloated and nauseous. I cramp regularly and remain tired and in pain 99% of the time. But my flare-ups are shorter, less intense and not as frequent because I no longer react emotionally to the symptoms. Acceptance has led to spiritual, emotional and physical healing. I can now do basic housework, cook, socialise and exercise. I have a fulfilling part-time job, started losing weight, travelled, stood in the middle of a mosh pit and started my Masters degree.
I smile and laugh now because through the pain, the fight, the sleepless nights, the isolation and rejection, the lies, the heartbreak and the suffering my faith has developed. God never ceases to sustain, challenge and strengthen me as I eagerly wait for my restored, New Creation body that will no longer be plagued by endometriosis, PCOS or depression. Chronic pain has helped me find tangible hope and now my faith is solely in God, His holy and never-changing character and His perfect plan.
It saddens me that ten years from the onset of symptoms to a diagnosis and recovery is common but it will only change when we ‘end the silence.’
So for the sake of 178 million women around the world, I will fight, advocate and educate for increases awareness, research and a cure. I will continue to engage in awkward conversations on behalf of other adolescent girls and adult women who are being told the same thing in 2016 – “there is nothing wrong with you. It’s all in your head.”
So, this is me – Alex. I have endometriosis, it doesn’t define me, but it has changed me and taught me to be bold. I had endo removed from my rectum and cervix. My uterus aches, my ovaries have cysts, my cervix cramps, urinating hurts and my period sucks.
Now your turn – go on! Say it, just once. I dare you. ‘yoo-ter-uhs’…
…see, it’s not that scary 😉
Side Note: Through all these stages, I’ve always been extremely grateful to have such a wonderful and supportive family, both earthly and spiritual. I praise God every day for Jesus sacrifice, the Fathers love and the Holy Spirit’s power to transform my heart and heal my body. I give thanks for some tangible hope as I eagerly await the perfect and restored body I’ll have in the New Creation.
When you finally get to see the docco you were part of and get to meet Endo Ambassador @melgreigradio at the #endomarchaust! Thank you #endoaustralia for hosting! #1in10 #allthefeels #endo #endthesilence #endometriosis (at Mercure Gold Coast Resort)