Striking a balance
As a woman, there are certain symptoms that the medical community will tell you are “normal.” We are brought up to believe that monthly menstrual pain and the other less than comfortable and emotional “joys” that go along with it, are simply a fact of life if you are a woman. There’s even a biblical fable taught to children in religious school to justify it. When I first got my period as a teenager, I was not prepared for the severe cramping, back and leg pain and nausea that would greet me every month. I recall the alarmed look on my mom’s face when the pain became so severe that I was unable to get up off the floor. I also distinctly recall my doctor explaining to my mother, who herself had never actually experienced monthly cramping or other such symptoms, and to me, that this is simply what happens with some girls. “It’s normal,” she said, and then promptly wrote out a prescription for the birth control pill – artificial hormones – and handed it to my now horrified mother that her 14-year-old daughter would now be on The Pill. After all, the doctor said so, so it must be safe.
A few years later, I was still taking the birth control pill regularly for purposes of reducing my monthly cramping, which in fact had not been reduced by much, if at all, and was then also faced with severe migraines. Although I had experienced migraines since the age of 10, they had certainly become worse as my teenage years progressed. Again, I was told this was normal – many women find they have “monthly” migraines in addition to other period-related symptoms. And many teenagers experience increased migraines, I was told. It will pass, I was told. Oh, and “just” take some Advil if you’re experiencing pain. Unfortunately, by my early 20s, none of these symptoms had passed and in fact, they had all gotten worse.
Luckily, I happened to see a naturopath for the migraines, who showed me research to suggest that migraines and the birth control pill simply don’t mix – not only can the birth control pill cause increased migraines, but it also puts those who are prone to migraines at an increased risk of a stroke. Needless to say, in that moment, I stopped taking the birth control pill that had been prescribed to me for nearly 10 years by my family medical doctor. While I then experienced a reduction in migraines, I also unfortunately experienced a new symptom – increased menstrual pain at a level I had never imagined in addition to a now irregular cycle. After a number of medical tests and procedures, I was finally given a diagnosis. It turned out that the pain I was assured time and time again was “normal” and just part of being a woman, was in fact the result of ovarian cysts and endometriosis. After a minor surgery, I was told that in if I wanted to ensure that the cysts and pain wouldn’t return, artificial hormones, aka the birth control pill, was the only answer.
Torn as a result of my previous experience on The Pill, I continued popping Advil each month, usually with some “preemptive” pill popping in the days before, in order to take the edge off the now increased pain. Eventually, the cysts returned, as did the endometriosis and I received a “possible” diagnosis of PCOS. Around the same time, I began undergoing chiropractic care, which I had originally sought out due to recurring low back pain. A few weeks into care, something miraculous happened – I got my period without any cramping or additional symptoms. Then, the following month, two “miracles” – not only did it arrive on time, but again, zero pain. And then, six months later, I found out that an ovarian cyst that had been steadily growing had actually disappeared – without the use of added hormones. I was beyond elated and truly believed that all of these nasty symptoms were behind me.
Unfortunately, a few years after embarking on a healthier lifestyle involving chiropractic care, I felt some familiar symptoms that coincided with some new stressful events occurring in my life. While continuing with natural health interventions, I became increasingly concerned by these symptoms – my body was clearly telling me that something was not as it should be, so I visited my family medical doctor, hoping to rule out anything medically significant. Unfortunately, she was less than supportive of my desire to pursue natural means before medical interventions, and refused to take any of my complaints seriously until I agreed to return to previous medications (including anti-anxiety drugs). She gave me an ultimatum – fill the prescriptions and take the medication, and then she would address my symptoms, or leave her practice. Uncomfortable with this experience, I opted for the latter, but still had the recurring symptoms, which were becoming more severe.
By late fall, the pain came to a head and began radiating into my back and shoulder blades. Although I had experienced pain caused by ovarian cysts and endometriosis in the past, for unknown reasons, this time I had not experienced the classic symptoms. While I continued with chiropractic care and sought more natural means to ease the pain and other symptoms, nothing seemed to help completely, and after my experience with my now previous family medical doctor, I feared going the medical route and feeling as though I was dismissed, not believed and simply having what felt like prescriptions thrown at me, when I instinctually knew that was not the only answer. Then one night, the pain became unbearable and was like nothing I had ever experienced. Lying on the floor while in severe pain, I was eventually went to the hospital where I was told that I had suffered a ruptured ovarian cyst, while another one was causing my right ovary to twist. I was rushed into surgery and had my right ovary removed to avoid rupture and further damage to my reproductive system.
After this alarming experience, I knew I could no longer ignore symptoms that I instinctually knew were not normal. I also had to listen better to what my body was telling me and advocate for myself when I knew medical or other professionals were wrong (or simply didn’t know). Knowing from my experience in that first year under chiropractic care that my body was capable of existing without cysts, menstrual pain, or migraines, I turned to other aspects in my life. While recognizing the effects of anxiety and doing what I could naturally to deal with it, I turned to the role that diet can play in these issues. After months of online research, copious amounts of kale, and even a few pounds lighter due to my new kale-based diet, I received news that the cysts had once again reappeared, this time on my left ovary. After one of the cysts had burst and caused additional complications, it was suggested that I undergo a full hysterectomy, or at the very least, have the remaining cysts removed surgically, most likely along with my only remaining ovary. While attempting to come to terms with the news that I could potentially be left barren at the age of 33, I did my best to continue on a natural course of self-care while deciding on what to do about my reproductive health. I continued with regular chiropractic adjustments, ate as healthy as I could, tried to rid myself and my environment of as many hormone-disrupting toxins as I could, and tried my best to keep my anxiety levels in check, all while preparing for what seemed like an inevitable surgery.
As the day of the scheduled surgery approached, the pain and pressure in my side gradually subsided. Not wanting to jump to conclusions, I assumed this was part of what I had psychologically been working towards as I tried my best to come to terms with the very real threat of having a full hysterectomy and ruining my dreams of ever having children. With some support, I had been working on the act of letting go – letting go of the overwhelming anxiety and desire to control my own body at a time when I couldn’t. I approached the day of the surgery feeling apprehensive but also at peace with what I could not control. As I was prepped for surgery, the surgeon decided that he wanted one last ultrasound. From what I understand, this was not a regular procedure, and to this day, I have no idea why he requested an ultrasound immediately before the scheduled surgery. After the ultrasound, I received the news – the cyst had indeed shrunk. Although it was not gone completely, the mere fact that it had shrunk, and without the use of drugs or synthetic hormones no less, meant that the surgery could be put off, hopefully indefinitely.
I have no doubt that chiropractic wellness care played a primary role in enabling my body to heal itself. It has not only given me a better understanding of health and wellness, but has also enabled me to better hear and listen to the signals my body is sending. If given the chance, our bodies can do amazing things. But putting chemicals and other stressors into it simply doesn’t give it the chance to do what it was designed to do…
Stay tuned for the conclusion…