Blood, sweat and tears: A personal look at women’s health

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Uterine fibroids are a condition that affects hundreds of thousands of women, especially African-American women.

I’m one of them.

You may have noticed my six-week absence back in February.

That’s when I decided, after years of suffering from excruciating pain —literally blood, sweat and tears — to have major surgery to help ease some of the complications associated with my fibroids.

Before I get to my story, let’s learn exactly what fibroids are and why Keaira Lewis, a local nurse, reached out to share her story.

“I was at work one day, and I had some nausea, vomiting, pain, not knowing what it was,” said Lewis. “I went downstairs to the emergency department (and) found out I had ovarian cysts and fibroids”

Nurse Keaira Lewis said her life changed that day.

After an ultrasound, doctors found at least seven fibroids in her uterus and with them several complications that lasted for years, especially when it’s time for her monthly period.

“If you think about it, you take a week for the cycle, then the week before — it’s like half of your life you’re dealing with this pain, this situation, this drama,” Lewis said.

Lewis is not alone. The Office on Women’s Health estimates that up to 80 percent of women will develop fibroids by age 50.

The growths develop from the muscle tissue of the uterus.

Despite it affecting such a huge chunk of the female population, many women don’t know the first thing about fibroids.

When I shared my story in a Facebook live post before my surgery, dozens of women, including Lewis, reached out to ask me questions.

Fibroids run in Lewis’ family.

“It caught my attention by it being something that I can relate to,” said Lewis. “My mother, my sister, several other women, other African-American women; a lot of people just don’t talk about it.”

A lack of awareness is an issue Dr. Marie Rowe with Greenville Women’s Clinic sees all the time.

“I have seen many a women come in complaining of other symptoms,” said Rowe. “The most common presentation for women with fibroids is that they don’t come in saying, ‘I have fibroids. What do I do?’ They come in telling me that they’re tired, that their period is heavy and a lot of women chalk it up to, ‘That’s just the way my body is.’”

Rowe said fibroids can be as small as a pea or as large as a watermelon. Symptoms can include:

  • heavy bleeding (which can be heavy enough to cause anemia) or painful periods
  • feeling of fullness in the pelvic area (lower stomach area)
  • enlargement of the lower abdomen
  • frequent urination
  • pain during sex
  • lower back pain
  • complications during pregnancy and labor
  • reproductive problems, such as infertility

The symptoms and complications they cause can depend on the number, size and location.

While they are often called tumors, it’s important to know almost all fibroids are benign.

“We don’t know why they develop, but it can be a genetic predisposition,” said Rowe. “It runs in families. It can be that it just happens. We do know there’s a racial disparity with fibroids; that we see more fibroids in African-American women, and they tend to grow more aggressively.”

Rowe explains most women with fibroids don’t have any symptoms. But at least 30 percent of those affected will have severe complications.

“When fibroids become a problem for women, depending on what physical ailments she has, it can wear on her just like any chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain syndrome like fibromyalgia,” said Rowe. “It wears on our mood and psyche because we know how we feel, yet we don’t want to feel that way. But the sense of control is lost until we seek treatment.”

There are several treatment options available.

“Treatment is dependent on your personality,” said Rowe. “It’s depending on your life stage, whether you desire fertility of future childbearing or not.”

While some drugs can temporarily shrink the fibroids, birth control pills, help to control bleeding issues but don’t treat the actual fibroids,

Then there are surgical options, some more invasive than others, depending on your exact diagnosis. All of the options do come with their own set of risks.

“For a woman that has multiple fibroids, robotic surgery is an option if the fibroids are deeply invasive in the muscle,” said Rowe. “It comes with a big risk of blood loss.

In fact, fibroids are the leading cause for hysterectomies.

“The main thing I focus on is quality of life,” said Rowe. “How, what can we do to make you feel better? And there’s never a wrong answer in what you do, and there’s never one treatment that’s best for all women.”

Uterine fibroids are also hormone dependent, which becomes a huge issue for women of childbearing age.

Lewis’ symptoms are now managed with the use of birth control pills.

“It does make me wonder about are they growing? ” said Lewis. “How will it affect me when it comes time to have children.”

While having children is not a priority, the 31-year-old said her clock is ticking because she recently got married.

“My OBGYN told me when I get ready to have a child, the surgery may be an option for me,” said Lewis.

“It makes me feel like it’s going to be very, very painful, and then there’s the risk of miscarriage, which is painful on another level, those are the fears that I have,” Lewis said.

That fear is something that’s all too real for me and my fiancé after we suffered a miscarriage due in part to my fibroids.

Coming up tomorrow at 5:30, I’ll explain how that actually intensified the growth of my fibroids and take you along on the emotional journey to improve my quality of life.

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