I've had problems with my reproductive organs for a long time. They did successfully produced two kids (however did a rather poor job of delivering them), so they've done some good work, but for the past few years, they've been a bit of a nightmare.
Now you may ask why I've decided to talk about my bits in detail. It's an odd topic, and yes, people will likely get a more intimate view of my world than they had anticipated, but that's life. I really believe that we don't talk enough about our vaginas et al. Since I began having issues about 5 years ago, I've bluntly spoken about the topic to a number of women, and what I found was that I was by no means the only one having problems, I was just the only one loud enough to bring it up in an otherwise normal conversation. This should surprise no one.
If you were having sinus problems, you'd go see a doctor, tell them in detail what was going on, and then they'd have a peek up your nose and let you know what was going on. Why should vaginal problems be any more difficult to address? Why should I feel nervous talking to my doctor about vag pain or misbehaving periods? It's a doctor...they've probably seen a few vaginas in their time!
But I do feel uncomfortable. Or more accurately, I did. The last time I went to see him I jokingly said that one day I'd go to him about a non-vag related issue and it would blow his mind. He laughed. Awkwardly.
I began having problems with my lady bits, just after my youngest stopped breastfeeding. Symptoms ranged from never ending periods, monthly yeast infections that would make bread jealous, and pain. After seeing my regular doctor, and then a few specialists, I was told it was not cancer. At the time, I hadn't been aware that was even something I needed to be worrying about, but now of course, I was exclusively worrying about that.
Eventually, I was diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosis, a degenerative condition that makes vaginas unhappy. Because I'm me, I renamed my condition Werewolf Vagina, as it accurately described the situation. Lichen made me think of Lycan, which is a Greek derivative for werewolf, so the whole thing practically wrote itself. Also, shitty things are much more fun when they have a cool name. It didn't help that the symptoms were surprisingly cyclical, so full moon jokes just made sense.
Despite treatment, nothing really changed, so I was off to another set of specialists. After more tests, some truly horrific biopsies, and keeping a va-journal of symptoms, the new gynecologist told me that I didn't have a vaginal werewolf after all (good news!). She felt that I was, perhaps, just imagining the pain was there, when really it wasn't (stupid news!).
The conversation following that brilliant revelation went somewhat like this...
Me: So, um, is the word you're dancing around "psychosomatic"? You think that these symptoms are all in my head?
Doc: No. Well, yes. It's like when someone loses an arm, but they forget it's gone and still feel it from time to time. You had pain, but now you don't, but you think you do.
Me: So, you're saying I have a phantom vagina. Perfect. And while we're on the subject of my imagined vaginal concerns, this doesn't explain why I have a period all the time. Pain aside, I don't feel like that is something I can conceptualize in or out of existence.
Doc: Well, you're getting older. When women get old their cycles can become erratic. Bye now.
Me: *Table flip*
Fast forward a few years.
The pain had settled itself down to a tolerable roar for reasons I can't possibly begin to guess at (mental fortitude?), but I had now taken to calling my period Shark Week, although I feel like I could have more accurately referred to it as Shark Fortnight, as it was never less than 2 weeks. It felt like I was basically bleeding constantly without the sweet release of death. It made no sense. No doctor could figure out why, and most eventually shrugged like this was a situation I would just have to learn to tolerate.
At a loss, I began carefully googling possible reasons for this insane situation.... but I am not supposed to do this. Ever. (see here for further explanation as to why)
This was, unsurprisingly, a mistake, as I now obviously had uterine cancer.
|Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash
Back to the doctor. Because at this point, why not. Let's make it weird for him.
Me: So, shark week is ridiculous and goes on for weeks at a time. This doesn't seem normal. It also sounds like one of the main symptoms of uterine cancer.
Doc: That's unlikely.
Me: Yes, I realize that. But you've given me no other explanation for why this is happening, nor any way to fix it. Can we maybe just, I don't know, check?
Doc: You're too young for that type of cancer.
Me: *eye twitch* So I'm old enough for shark week to be erratic, but not old enough for it to be due to cancer. Ok. So are there any other symptoms I should be watching out for in the future just to calm my overactive imagination? You know, just in case cancer doesn't take my age into account???
Doc: No. Erratic bleeding is basically the main symptom.
Me: Ok, so just to summarize, I have the one symptom indicating uterine cancer, but it's not cancer because cancer is a bit of an ageist? Can we maybe talk about a hysterectomy? I'm basically done with this whole thing, and whatever the cause, this is not a great day to day situation.
Doc: *laughs* (<--- You know, because this is a reasonable doctor response, and my endless bleeding and desire to have that come to an end is some funny ass shit!)
Me: I want another doctor.
After another few months of waiting, I saw another gynecologist. But unlike all the others, this guy didn't laugh at me. He took my concerns seriously, and agreed that just living with this wasn't a reasonable solution. When I cautiously approached the possibility of hysterectomy, he agreed that given the situation, and the limited options available (of which I'd tried most), this was a reasonable option. In 5 years, this was the first doctor that didn't make me feel like I was just complaining a lot.
I signed the paperwork that day.
I'm now 5 weeks post-op, and it's amazing. I haven't gone this long without a shark week in almost 5 years. The journey has been a long one, and it's been amazing how many women I've talked to who have had similar experiences. I realize that the nuclear option I opted for isn't for everyone, but I also feel that in some cases, it is absolutely the right choice, and no woman should be laughed at for asking about it.
Despite this, I try to look at the bright side of this, um, adventure. Without it, I wouldn't have come up with such an amazing vernacular for periods and all things vagina related. I also feel like I now have a few less organs that can get cancer, so that's nice. But I think my favourite part of this experience is the deep irony of the hysterectomy itself. Since both my kids were born via c-section, the only thing I've actually given birth to via the natural pathway is my uterus!