My first memory of my cramps was when I was just 14 years old. I was on vacation with my family in Florida at my Grandmother’s house. We were there for a fun family vacation. However, my cramps were so bad that my mother insisted that I do a shot of brandy to warm my insides up. I was only 14! That is how my period started and it has continued to affect my life on a constant basis.
It is now 24 years later. I have debilitating cramps twice a month, once for my menstrual cycle and once during my ovulation. When I get my period I am in bed for the majority of the day. If it is a work day I tend to go in late because of how much pain I am in. I have to wait until the heating pad and the mix of drugs I take to control the pain kick in. I lay and cry every month wondering why me. Even writing about it, I can feel how blinding the pain feels. It is like a wave of pain coming over me. I can tell when it is about to start with little pangs of something inside saying “get ready, I’m coming”… And it does, usually with a vengeance and always worse than the previous month.
I never met anyone who had cramps like I did. I remember going to so many OBGYN’s over the years and never having a connection with any of them. I would ask for something to stop the pain. All I would get was to take 2 Advil. The best was when I asked one of the doctors if birth control would help and she looked at me and said “if you wanted this you could have asked for it right away”, as if I was making up the reason as to why I wanted pills in the first place. I was totally disgusted and felt I would never get any help. The fact is these doctors I went to had never thought about listening to me and looked at me as if I was faking as if I just wanted pills or something other than to be pain free.
Finally in October 2006 my mother said, “I know you like a woman OBGYN, but maybe you should really try mine. He is very nice and caring”. So, off I went to my mother’s OBGYN. Well, he was a miracle worker from my first appointment. We sat in his office and talked for a few minutes before anything. He tilted his head at me saying he understood. That was a first! He did a little exam and said I believe you have endometriosis. He said he would like to do a little procedure called a laparoscopy as soon as possible. Within 6 weeks I had my first lap procedure in December 2006. It went well except one of my arteries snapped mid procedure and he had to do a little extra cutting to sew the artery. I stayed in the hospital to be looked at over for the night. However, it was confirmed I was riddled with endometriosis lesions and scar tissue everywhere. My recovery took a bit longer due to the mishap. I was relieved when I did get my first period it was nowhere near the pain of my past one.
I soon went on Lupron and had every side effect that is listed with the use of this medication. Hot flashes were awful; it would almost feel as if I had bugs crawling on me when one was coming on. Depo seemed to work the best for my pain and keeping the endo symptoms at bay.
Unfortunately my miracle doctor retired but lucky enough for me his replacement was a young, gentle nurturing old soul type of woman. She listened. I remember my first meeting with her where she hopped up on the counter in the examination room and just let me vent and chatted with me for almost an hour.
I was married in September 2009. My husband Rey and I were talking about having kids in the future and we started talking about coming off of everything for my body to adjust. We didn’t need to chat about it too long.
In October 2009 I took myself to the emergency room because I could not even walk. I thought I was having appendicitis! I had a few tests run and sure enough it was a mass endometrioma that was the size of a grapefruit causing severe pain and the fear of losing the functionality of one of my ovaries. The ER OBGYN was so concerned he said “if you do not have this removed within 48 hours I will personally operate on you myself”. He was serious and yet had such a great bedside manner and I felt comfortable with him and understood the severity of the issue. This immediately put fear into me and made me realize how severe my disease actually was.
The next day I made arrangements with my OBGYN for surgery and I was on the operating table within 36 hours. Within that time my endometrioma grew to the size of a volleyball! Luckily it was not attached to anything and was just a mass sitting happy behind my uterus and ovaries. Once again, that same day surgery turned into 3 days in the hospital this time due to a low white blood cell count. After surgery I started on Nuvaring. Oh boy, was that an experience and one that I do not want to talk about. I was only on that until January of 2010 because we were going to start to have a family.
Also in January 2010 my insurance changed and my doctor who I loved was no longer covered under my plan. Feeling anxious about finding another OBGYN that I felt comfortable with, I reached out to the OBGYN I had met in the emergency room and wouldn’t you know it he was in my plan!
Under his guidance I started getting tested for any potential fertility issues. My first test was the horrid HSG where I found out that I had a blocked fallopian tube. This was hard to hear because I was 32 at the time and knew my window of becoming pregnant was closing every year. My husband and I chatted with my doctor and discussed what we were going to do. We were told to try naturally for the next few months. We tried and we got nowhere with conceiving. I also had ultrasounds every 3 months to be sure of no more growths.
We went back to my doctor in June 2011 to discuss one of my follow up ultrasounds. Unfortunately, he was away on vacation and we had to discuss this with his covering doctor, who, like many others before, had no idea what I was going through. It was the first time my husband understood how cruel some doctors could be. She said “Well I guess you should start fertility treatments”.
In July 2011, after almost 1 ½ years of us trying to conceive naturally and having to deal with my periods getting worse and worse every month, we started going to a fertility clinic. We sat with the doctor and he explained that with endometriosis it is almost a waste of time to try to do IUI. Of course our insurance plan covers IUI and not IVF.
Our first try with IUI was in September of 2011. My husband and I had fun with the whole thing. It was something we had to go through and we made the best of it. The chlomid was awful and I once again started getting those awful hot flashes. We kept focusing on the end result. A positive pregnancy test. However, we did not get a positive test but a big fat negative. It is amazing how all the hype you have instantly turns to the greatest fall ever with one phone call. We waited a cycle and tried it again in November of 2011 with the same phone call with the result of a negative. It was the holidays and my husband and I spoke about it and decided to not try again until after the holidays and then sit down and figure out the next step.
All of a sudden February 2012 was upon us. One morning, once again I woke up in excruciating pain and decided I could not take it anymore. I called my doctor and was so happy, even though he had moved practices, he was still in my plan. We made an appointment for that week. The reason why I love my doctor so much is how he works with his patients. I was called into his office and chatted with him about life and what had been going on. He said he was thinking about me because he just came back from a conference where the main topic was endometriosis and “Padma from Top Chef was there”. He was rambling on and on about the whole experience. I was thrilled that I had an appointment with him shortly after such a conference. He recommended another lap procedure to be done the following week. So here I was scheduling another surgery for this incurable disease. The next week we chatted before going into surgery about trying to clear my blocked tube and clean me up… Good as new!
The surgery went well. He was amazed at how bad my insides were. Everything was glued together from scar tissue and endometrioma lesions. He cleaned up all that he could and tried to unblock my fallopian tube. He also noticed that my other tube was also now blocked.
I went home to recover and waiting to go back to see him the following week for my follow-up appointment. It was then I saw the pictures, my jaw dropped at how inflamed and horrible my insides were. I am so thankful for the doctor to get me cleaned up and alleviate my pain.
Unfortunately the elephant in the room was that now I don’t have the function of either fallopian tube. The only option for us at this point was IVF. With our doctors recommendations we were off to search for the best doctor with a comfortable price since this is now all going to be out of pocket.
The fact that I am a woman and have the right to being a mother, my body created to do so and I couldn’t without the help of science didn’t matter to me. It is the lack of insurance, the lack of help for insurance is what bothers me. Why do I pay for health insurance for them to deny me, a woman, to have a baby because I don’t have working fallopian tubes? This isn’t a cosmetic procedure, but a disease.
In March 2012 my husband and I went to a few doctors and found the one we liked with a very personable staff. I feel that is almost more important that the doctor in a way. The amount of time you will spend in the doctor’s office you will want to be surrounded by staff that help guide you and can answer every question. No question off limits!
We decided to go for it. We were going to start all the fertility drugs in April, the following month. IVF is a science game. There are no ways to make sure it works. It still is a law of averages that you must be willing to accept. The 3 weeks leading up to the pregnancy tests were busy – doctor’s office every other day, shots everyday then multiple shots per day, procedures and pills. We did everything we had to. However, that call, that most anticipated call, was the biggest blow to us ever. I thought I would keep it together. No way! I lost it. It was the first time I have ever felt that my broken body is what is causing all of this. All the while, my husband, the kind and sweet and loving man he is, sits there, looks at me and says “You are not broken, you have a disease that is why this is happening, it isn’t you as a person”. Just a week out of that phone call, we were back in my favorite OBGYN’s office talking about what he thinks we can do. His positivity exudes from him saying it will happen. As we leave his office, we know we are ready to try it again.
And we did, in July 2012. This time we went back to our old ways of having fun with it all. We were hiding it from everyone not wanting the pressures from others. So we would run off into the bedroom for shots while company was in the other room. The best one was in the parking lot of a Furthur concert in Brooklyn, my hubby shooting me in the leg while laughing at what we are actually doing. We felt that there were probably more drugs going on in the parking lot then in our car at that moment.
The positive result of this cycle was we had 5 embryos. We implanted 2 and froze 3. That is the only positive that came from it. Well, that and the liquid lunch where we escaped our reality for a bit. I’m not really sure where we will go from here. We do have 3 frozen embryos, but not sure if I can mentally do it again.
Unfortunately, the last appointment I had with my favorite OBGYN, felt like many others I had previously, with no help in sight. That was November of 2013.
In February of 2014, I was lucky to find another OBGYN. He was very sweet and reminded me of my first experience with the doctor who got me. I was happy to have someone in my corner again.
In 2014, I went to a specialist in robotics surgery, my OBGYN referred him, not because he was an endo specialist but he was good at the surgery. I was so displeased with this Dr’s attitude and lack of empathy. I felt like he was doing me a favor for seeing me. I was literally crying in his office, he was one of those cruel people who don’t know endo and thought a hysterectomy was my only choice for a “cure”. I was in tears when I called my husband about it. By the time I reached my husband’s office, he was on the phone with Sabrina from Dr K’s office. The doctor is an endo specialist in NYC. She was so helpful of what we needed to do and how she would be in our corner as far as fighting our insurance company for coverage. I was in a much better mind frame after lunch.
That very evening, I had the honor of going to The Blossom Ball to volunteer, this event was hosted by Padma Lakshimi and her Dr, Dr Seckin. It was amazing, so many people supporting the endometriosis cause and I met a lot of fancy shcmancy people. SO with Endo girls all around me I felt empowered to do what I needed to do.
We waited until April of 2014 to make an appointment with Dr K, he does excision surgery and the initial visit, since not covered by insurance is a 100% out of pocket cost. We felt very comfortable with him and he really understood the disease and knew what needed to be done. His office administrator also knew her role in getting the surgery approved with insurance.
So here I was June 2014, getting yet another surgery, this time with a true specialist of the disease to excise ALL OF IT. I woke up from surgery and the results were very good, they removed all of it. I was diagnosed as a stage III of IV stages. Now the trick was to not get it back. I quit caffeine (which is a trigger) immediately and have not turned back to it to this day.
On my most recent follow-up with Dr K, in January 2015, I was diagnosed with adenomyosis, this is where the inner lining of your uterus breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus. Nothing you can do to fix it other than removing the entire uterus. Such is life I guess.
As of June 2015, I feel good. I am currently on birth control to control my hormones and to stop my periods from being so awful. It has helped some. I am sure I have a long road with my endometriosis, but I embrace it as there is nothing else I can do … other than help others. That is what I intend to do!
I must say that if I did not have the love and support by first of all my husband, who has been with me since before the very first surgery, I would be lost. He continually supports me and understands how bad my body feels during my cycle. My family has been so supportive and my amazing network of friends. I am happy to say I am not alone in my disease but everyone in my life is also affected by it. I thank all of them for being there as my support team and understanding what happens to me.
Thanks for reading –
Amy Montes de Oca
Please join my facebook group Our Journey With An Incurable Disease