Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Breasts and Other Lady Parts

There was a time, if someone (read that as 'a guy') wanted to touch my breasts (or look at them naked, for that matter), certain conditions had to be met.  First, I had to know his name--and his entire history and genealogy.  We had to have been together for a fair amount of time and we had to be in love.  Considering I only have had three loves in my life, not many guys have seen 'the girls.'  (So I have Puritanical morals--sue me!  ;))  This is why what happened to me yesterday is so different than what has been 'usual' in my life.  I allowed someone to poke and prod, stretch and knead, squeeze and hold my unclothed breasteses.  I don't remember the person's name, I never saw her before, and I most likely will never see her again.  Yes, I had my annual mammograms.

From what I understand, many women have a hard time going for mammograms.  Some women are very emotional about the experience--The Mother cries like a baby, for example.  Other women have a great deal of pain having the procedure done--my friend with the tiny boobies suffers greatly with the stretching of the skin.  For me, the entire ordeal is quite routine and I never have had an entirely negative experience.  (Now, I'm not saying that it is pleasant, by any means, it's just that I don't suffer a lot having this done.) I guess one of the things that has made this a process that I don't worry about is the fact I have only had one 'problem'* with a mammogram in all of the years I've had them done.

After having my annual 'squeeze,' I DO find myself thinking 'what if' until I get the 'all good' report.  Of course, I've never been faced with deciding what to do in the case of breast cancer--or, thank God, ANY cancer--but I think about it from time to time.  While many women tell their doctors to do everything that can be done to save their breast, I think I would go the opposite way and say "Get rid of the damn thing and make sure all of the cancer is GONE!"  I'm not afraid to die--I got into this a few posts ago--but I am terrified of dying in pain.  Cancer causes pain.

I've never sat down and had a heart-to-heart talk with a breast cancer survivor.  I admire anyone who has battled through cancer and I would never judge, but for me, I cannot understand wanting to save a body part over a fool proof complete cure.  But, some women feel as if their womanhood is somewhat diminished if some of their 'lady bits' go missing.  Again, I'm not judging, it's just that I can't comprehend that.  And I only have my own life to use as a gauge when I think about it.

At the age of 34, I decided to have a hysterectomy.  I began having periods about the age of 11 or 12 and every year brought more problems with my reproductive system.  I was the poster girl for bad, painful periods.  In high school, there were times when I had to leave school because I was in such pain--and it wasn't anything I could hide.  I would turn pale and find myself praying to the porcelain gods, heaving my guts out.  Of course, this wasn't EVERY month.  I could go several months with a fairly 'normal' period--just long enough to think I was getting better--and then I would get blasted all over again.  Going to doctors didn't help much.  I was given many different pain pills and one doctor even put me on amphetamines.  Nothing helped.  The only relief I ever got was when I'd find myself in the ER and the doctor ordered Demerol injections--that's goooood drugs.  Of course, I couldn't be on Demerol every month, so the relief was short-lived.  Finally, I was put on birth control pills.  Everything changed for me then--and the biggest change was NO PAIN!  I thought I had found the Holy Grail and I was ecstatic.  For six months.  And the pain started to come back.  Going back to what was 'normal' for me came very gradually, but it was apparent that The Pill wasn't going to be my cure-all and I decided to quit taking it.  This then brought me an entirely new set of problems.  After I went off of The Pill, I would go for three months or so at a time without a period.  To bring it on, I had to go to the doctor and get a prescription--if I wasn't pregnant, I'd get my period and if I WAS, then nothing would happen.  With The Husband away sailing the Seven Seas, there was no chance of a pregnancy, so I took the pills.  This happened to me after each of the two times in my life when I was on birth control pills--and it took me at least a year each time to get back to my 'normal' cycle after going off of the pills.  It wasn't a fun time for me, at all.

Early on, the diagnosis of 'endometriosis' was suggested by a doctor.  The only thing he told me was that everything would get better once I had gone through a pregnancy.  And nothing more was said.  I didn't think much more about this and without the interwebs available like they are now, I didn't have a place where I could do any research into this problem.  I just tried to learn to live with it.  Now, of course, I realize that all of the problems I had were because of endo.  When The Husband got out of the Navy, we settled into our lives and went about the business of making babies.  Only, I just couldn't seem to do what came naturally to most of the women I knew.  It took us five years into our marriage before we had The Oldest--partly due to the endo.  (Some of the problem was The Husband and me being apart for long periods of time, but that was only part of the problem.)  After having our first child, I didn't have ANY relief from my symptoms as the one doctor said I would.  And once again, I suffered from infertility problems--it took SIX years for The Youngest to come along.  For most of the time that we tried to get pregnant, we didn't use birth control, thus the reason I say I suffered with infertility.  As it turns out, the doctor who did my hysterectomy said I was lucky to ever have gotten pregnant even one time--infertility is one of the results many women suffer with having endometriosis.

By the time The Youngest was five, I was not living a 'normal' life.  My monthly cycle was about 35 days long and for only a week out of those 35 days, I felt almost normal.  The rest of the time I suffered with PMS and painful periods.  And I mean SUFFERED.  With two young girls to take care of, I couldn't completely take to my bed the seven days of my period, but I came close.  Whenever K was home, he was in charge and I was in bed, in a fetal position, rocking back and forth, trying not to moan because of the pain I was in.  At times I thought I was hemorrhaging because the flow was so heavy.  I could barely walk because my thighs were so weak and sore and my lower belly was distended and throbbing.  It felt as if all of my body parts were about to be discharged from my vagina because of the pressure I experienced in my pelvic 'floor'.  And these were the 'good' days.  (joking)  During my non-period, bad days, I had breasts that swelled like footballs and felt as if they would burst open if they were touched--and they hurt.  I had a painful, bloated belly and leg pain.  My moods were extremely erratic.  PMS to the nth degree was the order of the day.  And every month, things seemed to get a little worse and I had had enough.

Finally, the pain and problems got to a point that I couldn't go on living with them, so I decided to try talking to a doctor one more time about what was going on.  I had never told my GYN the extent of my problems before because no doctor had ever done much to help me previously.  But, with this appointment, I decided I wasn't going to leave until I had some answers and a possible solution.  As I started to read down my list of symptoms, the doctor joined me and finished the list without ever having read what I had written.  He said I had a classic, text-book case of endometriosis.  To be sure, he was going to do a laparoscopy on me to make the final diagnosis, but he had no problem with diagnosing me before the surgery.  And then we discussed solutions.  He said he could put me on medication that was proving to be helpful, but the side-effects were not fun.  (Weight gain--possibly to the extreme--was only one of the side effects.)  Or he could do laser surgery to remove the 'bad' tissue--the only problem with that is he could not be sure of getting all of the endometrial tissue, as it has a tendency to travel throughout the body in women with endo.  Or he could do a hysterectomy.  This would--in all likelihood--completely cure me of my problems.  Removal of the ovaries--and the stopping of estrogen production by the body--was the only 'cure' that he would come close to guaranteeing.  (Some women don't find this as the answer to their endo--they can't tolerate the hormone replacement therapy I went on.)  Even though I left his office knowing that I would be getting a second opinion and doing some thinking about what he had to say, I knew in my heart of hearts that I WAS going to get the surgery.  As I told him during my follow-up visit, "I'm done using the lady parts, so we might as well get rid of them."

Since having this surgery done, I have become addicted to The Gore and have done a lot of research into how other women have and do cope with endo and hysterectomies.  Solutions to endo are pretty much the same as they were when I had my hysterectomy, but far fewer hysterectomies are being done--and more people are frowning on the solution.  While it IS an extreme solution to a problem that may not be life-threatening, that doesn't seem to be the reason so many are against the practice.  I guess a lot of women feel 'castrated' and less of a woman once a hysterectomy has been done.  They seem to define themselves by how many lady parts they have.  This is a mind set that I cannot understand.  I'm not condemning anyone who feels this way, it just doesn't make sense to me.  A couple of months after my surgery, when I was feeling better than I had felt at any point in my life, I told someone that I would have had the surgery done ten years earlier if it wouldn't have meant not having The Youngest.  I cannot imagine my life if I wouldn't have done the surgery--and I don't feel any less of a woman because I have no uterus or ovaries.  Yes, I've had to take a pill every day since the surgery, but as I get older, pills are just a way of life for me--as is the case with a lot of older people.  The HRT hasn't been a factor in any health issues I have and, despite what some reports MIGHT indicate, I feel as if it has helped me.  Given the chance again, I would choose to have a hysterectomy in a heartbeat--it was the best decision I ever made for my health.

I do hope that every woman faced with having to make the decision of whether to have a hysterectomy or not would do a lot of research and get both sides of the story.  Too many people are condemning hysterectomies as too extreme--even likening them to misogyny on the part of male doctors.  While I don't believe that, to each his--or her--own.  I just beg any woman to do a great amount of research before making any decisions, don't buy into any 'politically correct' ideas just because, and make up your own mind without being influenced by others.  It is YOUR body and YOU have to live with it.  And if God created you a woman, just because some of your lady parts are gone, that doesn't change who, or what, you are.

*A couple of years ago I needed to have follow-up mams and ultrasounds of my right breast.  There was a cyst--which they had been tracking for several years--that was larger than it had been and they wanted to make sure nothing was going to come of it. By the time I had my follow-up, the cyst had gone back to the size it had been and there was no need for any more action, other than some extra mams to make sure everything was status quo.  I have had no more scares since.


Anonymous said...

This post gave me the shivers, I thought my periods were bad but now I see they were normal, and I had no idea how much pain some women have. Sorry you had to go through that.

I have a friend who had an hysterectomy and she was moaning about feeling less of a woman and I stared at her in disbelief because I'd have been thrilled to have an hysterectomy! I'm so happy I've gone through menopause! I skip down the Feminine Hygiene aisle and stick my tongue out at the Always, but I'm always respectful to the Depends because I have a feeling I'm gonna need them sometime in the future.

meleah rebeccah said...

I have never had a mammogram yet. But, I know I need to do that soon.

I feel so much for you. On the period situation, I've been bed ridden with pain, but I don't think min have EVER been as bad as yours.

My friend Amy The Bartender had a hysterectomy last year - and she's never been HAPPIER as a result.

cmk said...

janet: And I always thought everyone had SOME trouble with their periods, until I met a friend of mine and she said 'those days' were no different to her than any others. I was flabbergasted to hear that some women had no pain and breezed through their periods.

meleah: As I said, the mammograms don't really bother me much--but I always have been kind of different about having my lady parts looked at--it really hasn't bothered me much. I'm sure part of the reason is that I started seeing doctors for my painful periods so early in my life--I think I was 14 the first time I had a GYN exam. This all just came pretty naturally to me.

It seems as if there is no middle ground with women who have hysterectomies: either they are extremely happy that they had the surgery or they piss and moan about feeling less like a woman. I get so pissed off when I hear women scream about doctors who do too many hysterectomies and don't explore 'alternate' ways of making things better. Sometimes it's better to just fix the problem the best way possible.

Ziva said...

I guess I'm really lucky, my periods are really not bad at all. I get a little bitchy, sure, but I've never had pain that wouldn't go away within a few hours.

I'm not even 30 yet, so I really haven't even thought about what I would do if the worst case scenario came true and I'd have to make a decision about removing a lady part.. However, I've seen someone fight cancer and lose, and I know that I would do anything to win the battle.

cmk said...

And I have been lucky to not have to make the decision more than once--AND for a non-life threatening problem.