I recently attended the volunteer induction at The Wayside Chapel, and learned of their values – one of which was “No Secrets”. I have been debating whether or not to share my story more openly… but agree, no secrets is the best policy, so here we go!
On Friday I underwent laparoscopic surgery, as a very last resort, after 15 years of a multitude of health issues.
They found ENDOMETRIOSIS.
Before I dive into my story…
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition where endometrial cells (the cells that women have lining their uterus) leave the uterus and deposit elsewhere in the body. Generally this is in the abdominal cavity, but they can also be found really anywhere – nose, knee, lungs, even reported cases in the brain!?
Because these cells are hormonally active they behave as if they WERE still inside the uterus, and therefore grow and bleed in a cyclical pattern in response to oestrogen. To really simplify it, it is like you are having your period, except that the tissue isn’t located where it should be so the blood can’t escape (unless it is your nose!) which leads to inflammation, pain, impaired function etc. depending on the location and extent of the endometriosis.
How do you get Endometriosis?
There is actually no definitive cause of endometriosis, only a lot of theories – many of which don’t seem to ring true in my situation…
- It is suggested that endometriosis is genetic – I have no known family history of endometriosis or any female repro issues for that matter
- Another theory is that it is due to retrograde menstrual flow (i.e blood flowing back the wrong way due to tampon usage or having sex while menstruating for example) – this has been more recently thought to be incorrect as most women will have some level of retrograde flow, but not all will develop endometriosis
- It has been theorised that endometrial tissue is laid down in utero, and only becomes active at puberty or when triggered by another catalyst – this feels plausible to me… how we research it? I’m not too sure, but it confirms for me again just how vital preconception care is.
- Researchers more recently are viewing endometriosis as an auto-immune condition whereby your immune system begins attacking itself. After a review of the literature it was concluded that endometriosis does in fact meet the criteria of auto-immune disease due to the presence of particular inflammatory markers and auto-antibodies
Whatever the “cause” there are many known confounding factors, including, but not limited to:
- Hormonal imbalance – particularly oestrogen
- Immune dysfunction
- Prenatal exposure to oestrogen or endocrine disruptors
- Current exposure to exogenous oestrogens and endocrine disruptors
- Gut dysbiosis and dysfunction (parasites, food intolerances, inflammation, etc)
I truly believe we must address the emotional factors as well – our physical and emotional bodies are so closely intertwined – we are far more powerful than we realise. The incredible Louise Hay discusses a probable emotional cause of endometriosis as
“Insecurity, disappointment and frustration. Replacing self-love with sugar. Blamers”
and encourages the new thought pattern…
“I am both powerful and desirable. It is wonderful to be a woman. I love myself and I am fulfilled”
It is important to note that you can’t catch endometriosis, and the current thinking is that you can’t necessarily cure it either, only manage (more on my thoughts around this to come!)
What are the symptoms of endometriosis?
Symptoms are highly varied depending on the placement of the endometriosis, and there seems to be no correlation between the extent of the lesions and the severity of the symptoms. Particularly when it comes to pain.
Commonly experienced symptoms are:
- Severe pain at the time of your period, just before, or at ovulation
- Heavy periods with clotting
- Spotting premenstrually or with intercourse
- Painful urination or defecation – particularly around menstruation
- Painful intercourse
- Abdominal bloating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chronic fatigue
- Depression and anxiety
- Muscle pain – particularly of the back, thighs and legs
- Iron deficient anaemia
- And the list goes on…
How do you diagnose endometriosis?
I sometimes find this a little frustrating – often clients come to see me and assume that they have ruled out endometriosis because they have had a pelvic or internal ultrasound, or some other sort of scan.
Endometriosis can only be detected by laparoscopy. In SOME cases you will see certain blood markers elevated, and depending on the size and location of the lesions or adhesions you may detect it through other means, but in most cases laparoscopic surgery is the only means of detection.
A little about my story…
The first time I can remember where my health didn’t feel right was in mid high school. I started complaining of bloating – it was so severe that I remember forcing myself to sleep every night on my clenched fists, lying on my tummy in an attempt to push it back inside. You can imagine what this did to fragile teenage self esteem!
I did get taken to the doctor, and remember feeling like I wasn’t being taken seriously. Maybe this is just my perception of the events, but so often over the years I felt as though practitioners looked at me and because I outwardly looked well they dismissed what I was saying as “just another teenage girl who thinks she is fat”. Eventually I was sent for an abdominal x-ray that found some pretty serious faecal loading (my polite way of saying constipation!), so I was advised to take some laxatives and that was that.
Fast forward 15 years and my tummy troubles still remain. In many ways I am grateful – it is my own health issues that have driven me to a career that I love and am so passionate about. Caroline Myss talks about the fact that sometimes illness can emerge as the answer to a prayer.
It can physically guide us onto a path of insight and learning upon which we would otherwise never have set foot. It may be a catalyst for expanding personal consciousness as well as for understanding the greater meaning of life.
Without my health issues, I could very well be sitting in an office right now, not having had the opportunity to help so many with their own health. I am inspired and grateful everyday for the privilege to hear people’s stories and to educate and evoke healing and change. But I must say it has not been an easy time. I had the realisation on my 30th birthday that for at least half of my life I haven’t had a day go by where I haven’t experienced some level of discomfort – physically, emotionally, socially – as a result of my tummy. No one should have to live like that.
I can feel this turning into an essay, so I might finish writing this in a few parts. For now I want to say…
Practitioners. If your client tells you that something doesn’t feel right then please believe them. My presenting symptoms were never pain – not to the level that you would expect in endometriosis, yet the extent of the lesions and adhesions was severe. More and more in clinic I am finding that conditions don’t always present typically. Keep an open mind, be committed to being a detective for your client, and keep digging until you get results. If something feels out of your scope then refer on, but don’t be satisfied until your client is. Everyone deserves amazing health – it isn’t a luxury, and it certainly isn’t unattainable, but having the puzzle pieces put together will make it a much easier process.
To be continued…