Womens Health Awareness and Taking Action: Guest post by Sarah Cardwell

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(image: Sarah Cardwell)

I remember wanting to start my periods when I began secondary school. I had no idea what to expect, but it just felt like it would be the first step in growing older, becoming an adult. Within 6 months of starting I hated it. I had horrifically heavy & painful periods since the age of 13 and my mum always suspected I had endometriosis, the same condition she had been diagnosed with.

I never struggled to get pregnant with either of my two children, but with a heavy first natural baby of 10lb 7oz, it was decided after many scans that I would have a planned caesarean with my second daughter. She was only 7lb 11oz. When my periods returned after my second baby, I knew I had to do something.

After months of pursuing issues, and aged just 30, I eventually took my mum along to my appointment  and was referred for a laparoscopy. It was then that my mums suspicions were confirmed & they found signs of endometriosis.

On average it takes 7.5 years from onset of symptoms to get a diagnosis, according to Endometriosis UK (https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/endometriosis-facts-and-figures). It has taken almost 17 years for my diagnosis. The cause of endometriosis is unknown and there is no definite cure.

It was then I asked for a hysterectomy (removal of the womb) & was rejected.

Hysterectomies are known to treat endometriosis well:

• With mild endometriosis, the chance of needing further treatment is 4 out of 100 women

• For severe endometriosis, the chance of needing further treatment is 13 out of 100 women within three years and 40 out of 100 women within five years.

https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/sites/default/files/files/Information/

And I’m in good company, with many celebrities having hysterectomies for many reasons, Angelina Jolie and Michelle Heaton to be two of them. Lena Dunham too had her hysterectomy due to endometriosis. 

I was told I was too young and was offered a range of treatments from the coil to the pill, I even was treated with hormones to replicate the feelings of the menopause to see how my body would react, gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogues.

After six months it reacted brilliantly, no periods, no pain. I thought I was cured, but they said I couldn’t continue on the treatment due to risks of osteoporosis . I was in pieces and soon back to having periods spending days of my month in bed unable to move.

It was another 2 years of trialling medications & eventually changing my gynaecologist, before I was finally booked to have a hysterectomy operation. I was ecstatic. It was booked in February for the June of 2015 following my family holiday, I couldn’t wait.

However, things were about to take a turn for the worse. In March (the following month), my mum was informed that they had found a tumour where her ovaries had previously been, and within six short weeks she had passed away. It was the most awful time of all our lives, although thankfully she was surrounded by her family as she passed away. She had made me promise to go through with the hysterectomy, but to request and ensure they removed both my ovaries, even though they were healthy. So I did. In June 2015 I had a Bilateral total hysterectomy.

I knew I was very young at 32 to lose everything that made me a woman, but this was more than pain relief now, it was about survival and securing my future with my children.

The procedure went well and I recovered quickly, I was back at work part-time within 2 weeks, probably due to being a younger patient, but it didn’t have the same impact on my menopause symptoms. I suffered and still do, with every possible symptom, night sweats, hot flushes, weight gain, moodiness, although I think those closest to me would say that had always been there it just worsened.

Whether it was connected, it was then that the rest of my health deteriorated. I was never super fit or thin since my teens, but over the next year I gained almost 3 stone, started with severe anxiety and following an asthma attack after a serious lower chest infection, I was finally diagnosed with adult onset asthma. These of all could also have contributed to my recent spiral in mental health illnesses, but I still believe it was the right decision.

At 35 years old, I am on HRT and more medication than most pensioners, but I’m still here. I’ll be on most of my medication for life, but my HRT for a minimum of 20 years until I’m the average age for a natural menopause.

I wish my mum was here, as she too went through early menopause after her hysterectomy and I’m sure she’d have some tips that beat ice cubes down my top and lining my bed with ice packs to keep me cool in the night.

She’d hopefully have some advice on last summers rare heatwave in the UK, but sadly she was only 54 when she passed away and she inevitably saved my life and helped preserve my life so I can live beyond that she and be there for my children. And this hysterectomy added another layer of protection!

For more information please check out the resources above.

This article was written by writer Sarah Cardwell- who also experiences anxiety alongside her other health conditions. Check out her blog here: www.sarahsthinkingagain.blog

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