What are they? How do you get them? What do they do? Are they bad? How do you get rid of them?
I had so many questions when I first was diagnosed with fibroids. It was a lucky accident that I did find out in the first place; January 2016 I was in emergency at a Halifax Hospital with severe abdominal pain caused by my recent IUD implant. My body was rejecting the implant and ejecting it, which I can tell you is extremely painful. The doctor did an ultrasound to check its placement and not only found it almost entirely pushed out but also found fibroids. He told me, “you had fibroids which is why your IUD likely didn’t fit properly in the first place. I’m going to book you another ultrasound appointment to make sure also request a gynaecologist appointment to review them.” And that was that, I had fibroids and I had not a clue what they were.
I had never been taught about fibroids in elementary school or high school or university. I had never had a friend or adult talk to me about fibroids or hear of an experience they had had with them. I had never read an article online mentioning fibroids. I felt very alone, uninformed, and scared.
So of course I started Googling “fibroids” and found out that the definition is:
“a benign tumour of muscular and fibrous tissues, typically developing in the wall of the uterus.” -Cited from Google’s Dictionary
Well that’s terrifying, I have tumours in my uterus. Are they cancerous? Should I be worried about them turning from benign to harmful? The doctor said I had more than one, is that really bad? I had no idea and for the next few months I was so concerned.
My ultrasound appointment came and went but the practitioners cannot give you answers, they are just operators of the machinery. I had to wait for another doctors appointment to review the results. When I finally reviewed with my family doctor in Calgary a few weeks later I was told I have a 5 centimetre fibroid, a 2.5cm and possibly other small ones since the ultrasound practitioners only record your two largest fibroids. My doctor then asked if I would like to request a gynaecologist appointment in Calgary to get more answers and advice on what to do about my fibroids. It would also be good to have a gyno for when I start trying to have kids. I said yes, finding out that there is a one year wait in Calgary for a gyno if you are not pregnant. Fortunately my gynaecologist appointment in Halifax was only an 8 month wait so I would get some answers there first before my gyno appointment in Calgary. I should make mention for all my international friends that Canada has free health care services like doctor appointments, hospital visits (like my time in Emergency), specialist appointments (like gynaecologists), ultrasounds, blood tests and surgeries. The only way they can make them free though is by using your taxes (Canada’s taxes range in each Province from 5% to 15%) and by having longer waits. So my medical journey has been all free to me, just at the cost of waiting.
In the mean time I continued to research, ask questions with my family doctor, and begin to speak to my friends about my situation. First of all, I found out that fibroids are VERY common! How are these so common yet no one talks about them?! I found friends currently with fibroids, or friends who knew someone who had them, or friends with medical backgrounds who knew how common they were. I found out through friends, doctors and research that fibroids can grow inside or outside of your uterus. That they are a big cause of pain and discomfort through pressure on your uterus, cervix and sometimes your bladder. And that fibroids inside a uterus can cause excess bleeding resulting in much heavier periods and more painful periods.
This last fact was like a lightbulb for me. My period had gotten so heavy and painful in the past year and a half that I couldn’t function on heavy period days. I would have to wear a SuperPlus tampon and a heavy pad underneath because I would soak through the tampon (heaviest you can buy) in one-two hours, for two days straight. This also meant waking up during the night to change my tampon and pad at least 3-4 times a night, causing me to be completely exhausted for the week. I had to change right before and immediately after yoga classes to avoid embarrassment. I couldn’t go on hikes, walks, trips, appointments, anything without there being a bathroom to sneak in to every hour. I had never taken pain medication for period cramps, but the last year I was popping extra strength Midols just to be able to leave the house without gripping a hot water bottle to my abdomen. My period was truly restricting my ability to enjoy life. And these fibroids could be the reason why my period had suddenly gotten so harsh and awful.
Not only was I in pain and restricted due to my heavy period, but I recently had blood tests done that showed that my iron deficiency (something I have struggled with since high-school) had turned into full blown anemia. My iron and hemoglobin stores were so low that I was getting close to needing a blood transfusion. And the worst part, I was severely anemic but unable to battle it even with supplements because I was losing so much blood each month with my period. It didn’t help that every iron supplement I had been recommended made me so nauseous I would vomit all night, so I refused to take iron supplements. My health was at a low because of my monthly cycle.
Fortunately, this is when things started to get better. First, I explained my issue with iron supplements to my family doctor. He knows that I’m 90% vegan (basically I will always choose vegan and cook vegan but will eat vegetarian when I travel or am out with friends and vegetarian is the only choice) and that animal proteins really bother my body and make me feel sick. So he found a high dosage iron supplement that is vegan for me to try and it was a success! (It’s called FeraMAX 150 and is the Vegan version) I had no vomiting side-effects! We also got me on vegan B12 and vitamin C to help with the absorption of the Iron.
Then September 2016 finally came and I got to meet with my first gynaecologist in Halifax. He reviewed my ultrasounds and my blood tests and agreed something needed to be done. I was too anemic to be doing the activities I loved and to conceive a child in my near future. He recommended a medication called Fibristal that reduces the size of fibroids by up to 50%. “It works by blocking the effect of progesterone on the endometrium (lining of the uterus) while keeping estrogen levels in the normal range.” Basically it reduces your hormones and blood flow in your uterus to stop the growth of fibroids and shrink them. This medication also stops your period while you are on it, giving me an incredible opportunity to up by reserves on my Iron and Hemoglobins with supplements while reducing my fibroids at the same time! The only downside to this medication is that it is very expensive. I fortunately have employment coverage that covers most prescription costs, but even with my coverage it was still $80 CAD per month for a 6 month treatment. For me it was worth it, so I went for the treatment.
Now at this point I also was informed how fibroids can develop. There is truly no way to pinpoint how each individual case grows fibroids, but there are three main ways that they can happen:
- Family History: Fibroids sometimes run in the family. So if a mother, sister, or grandmother has fibroids, you are more likely to have them as well.
- Pregnancy: When you become pregnant your hormones are rapidly changing. These spikes in estrogen and progesterone can cause for fibroids to grow quickly.
- Hormones: The natural fluxes of your estrogen and progesterone can cause fibroids, especially if you are messing with you hormones with synthetic hormones such as: birth control pills, an IUD, hormone supplements or eating lots of soy (which mimics estrogen).
I can easily rule out the first two options since my Mom and relatives have never heard of fibroids or suffered from them, and because I have never been pregnant before. What I can EASILY link my fibroids to is the third option. First, a year before my period started to get heavy and painful I went off of birth control pills which I had been on for about 8 years, so this definitely would have been a big shift in hormone production for my body. Then 6 months after my period got heavy and painful (a year and a half off birth control) I decided I wanted to go back on birth control to reduce my cramps, but the pill dosages I was on before didn’t work this time. I was getting my period every two weeks on birth control, so we tried not one, not two, but THREE different kinds of birth control pills over the course of 5 months. There were a lot of weird synthetic hormones in my body during those 5 months! And finally, 2 months after trying the pills that I opted for an IUD to hopefully do the trick, and, as you know, my body ejected it in under a month. Then voila, we found the fibroids!
I have to admit that birth control was not the only thing playing with my hormones, but I was additionally eating WAAYYY too much soy products. The same year I went off birth control was the same year I became a vegetarian. I didn’t have any vegetarian cook mentors in my life to advise me on how to cook, so the easiest thing to find was tofu products. And the easiest meal was stir-fry with soy-sauce, which is something I ate almost every day. I was warned to be careful of eating too much soy because of its synthetic estrogen, but I didn’t feel sick or unwell from it so I thought I was fine. Turns out that those same blood tests that showed by anemia also showed that my estrogen content was pretty much double of what it should be, so I was definitely eating way too much soy and this likely contributed to by fibroids as well.
Now to the final chapter of this novel of a blog post: diet, conceiving and surgery…those still with me, thank you so much for reading!! Continue to Fibroids Part 2 here.