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Friday, October 5, 2012

Endometri-whata?


Exactly :)


Endometriosis


This is why I originally started my blog back in June. I will save the reiteration from my previous posts, but I wanted to take some time and actually write about this disease. 

For starters, Endometriosis occurs when cells from the lining of the womb (uterus) grow in other areas of the body. This can lead to pain, irregular bleeding, and problems getting pregnant. This is what I have. 

I was officially diagnosed with this monster of a disease on June 4th, 2012 after having a laparoscopy. I spent two days in the hospital (turned out to be a longer surgery than originally expected) and my life (and health) have changed ever since. 

I'd like to point out that in no way am I writing this to gain any sympathy or pity from readers. My purpose for writing about this is to not only tell my story, but to inform women about this disease, and to reach out to my fellow Endo sisters. Every woman that has Endo has their own story, their own symptoms, and their own struggle. This is my story. 

The name of my blog, "Get It Together, Woman," came from one of my best friends, Vanessa. After I had my surgery, she was there rooting me on to get better and would always say to me, "get your shit together, woman." I obviously omitted a certain word and made it a little more reader friendly (hehehe). Anyway, that phrase stuck with me through out my entire recovery period. Vanessa was pretty much telling me to not let this horrible disease beat me. I had to figure out how I was going to continue living my life, while accepting that I would forever have a chronic debilitating disease. When you really think about, women always have so much going on in their lives. We are "supposed" to juggle everything at once and make it look like everything is ok. Well, sometimes life throws a million curve balls at you and they hit you...HARD. What I had to do was get my shit together (excuse my French) And that's what I've been doing for the past four months. 

I was offered countless of treatment options after my surgery. Which one did I choose? Not a single one. 
For those who don't know what the treatment options are, here are a few: 

Lupron: a shot that suppresses the signals from the pituitary gland in the brain to the ovaries that stimulate estrogen production. Lupron is also said to suppress the hormones that make endometriosis grow. This shot is usually administered once every three months for 6 months. This shot makes the menstrual cycle stop and makes the body go into a chemically induced menopause. By stopping the production of estrogen and eliminating any ovulation to take place, it is "supposed" to eliminate the painful symptoms and growth of endometriosis. This medication has COUNTLESS side effects, such as bone loss, extreme weight gain, hot flashes, mood swings, depression, etc. WHY ON EARTH WOULD I WANT TO TAKE THIS? Don't get me wrong, this medicine has helped some women out there, but I cannot justify putting my body through such adverse side effects with absolutely no guarantee that it will help. Plus it can only be taken for 6 months. I also forgot to mention that this medicine is also given to men with prostate cancer. No, gracias, Again, this is my opinion, and it is best to consult with your doctor on a treatment that is right for you. 

Birth Control Pills: Pretty self explanatory here. My dr specifically wanted to put me on Loestrin-24, a low dose bc pill. Again, I chose not to do it. I have to be one of the few girls out there that has never been on birth control. However, out of all the treatments out there, this one would be the one I would choose should I ever decide to. 

Mirena IUD: Again, pretty self explanatory. This is inserted into the cervix, releases hormones to stop ovulation and prevent pregnancy up to 5 years. Again, no thanks. 

Those three were the main treatment options that were offered. Possible surgeries down the road were also talked about. 

Again, these medicines can and have helped women out. However, these medicines have also made endometriosis worse for many women. A treatment option should not be worse than the actual cause of pain. 
Unfortunately, since endometriosis is different for every woman, it is unclear on how each one of our bodies will react to a certain medicine. Big womp. 

So what have I done to manage the pain? A lot of trial and error, for one. But I have also spent an immense amount of my time and energy on looking for natural, more holistic ways to deal with endometriosis. 

Here is what I have done (and have had success):

Acupuncture: I have been fortunate enough to work with my acupuncturist, Jenny, who is very knowledgeable about the disease. She has done a fabulous job at keeping me as pain free as a girl with endo can be. And trust me, the pain free days have outnumbered the pain ridden days. It did take some time to notice some results, but with continuous sessions and hope, I began to feel better. Check her blog out, Chicago Acupuncture. She frequently posts about how acupuncture can help with managing various conditions. Thank you, Jenny! 

Herbs: Jenny also put me on some herbs that helped tremendously with menstrual pain. After one month of taking them, my menstrual cycle was much more bearable and not as painful. In Chinese Medicine, Endo is described as a stagnation of the blood. When you think about it, it makes sense. All of the blood that is supposed to be released during menses gets rerouted elsewhere in our bodies. I take a combination of two different herbs (I will have to list the names of them at a later time since I do not have the bottles in front of me). 

Castor Oil Packs: This is one of my favorite treatments, and not just for Endo, but for muscle pains and aches. Jenny also introduced me to this and they have been a life saver. They are a bit tedious to prepare and can get a little messy, but they are well worth it. I first started using them in the beginning of August after I had a minor jet skiing accident. The accident itself wasn't so serious but it did aggravate my surgical sight, which caused excruciating pain. After only 3 days of using it, the pain subsided and I felt much better. I have read that continuous use of castor oil packs for up to 3 months can significantly help with endo pain. I just used a castor oil pack last week when my endo pain was flaring up. I am also an avid workout nut and certain exercises still aggravate my pelvic and abdomen area, so when I do feel any pain, I go straight to the castor oil pack and I feel 10 times better. 
-How to make a castor oil pack? It's pretty easy. Get a piece of flannel (organic, dye free is best) big enough to cover your abdomen/pelvic area (or whatever area you will be covering) and soak it in castor oil. It doesn't have to be drenched in it, just enough to cover the entire piece of flannel. Place the piece of flannel over your abdomen, use some plastic wrap to cover the flannel (to avoid stains) and place a heating pad over the plastic wrap/flannel. Leave it on for about an hour and repeat once a day. Make sure to use cold pressed castor oil. I buy all of my materials at Whole Foods. 

Pycnogenol: Pycnogenol is the brand name for an herbal extract derived from the bark of Pinus pinaster, a type of pine tree. The herb seems to have anti-inflammatory effects and antioxidant activity, which are said to help with endo pain. I have not tried this supplement yet, but will do so in the near future. 

Exercise: You're probably thinking, "I'm in pain, why would I want to exercise?" Those were my thoughts exactly after I had my surgery, but it has helped TREMENDOUSLY. I was a hardcore Yogi before my surgery, and that also helped with my endo pain, but I had to quit doing Yoga when the pain became too much to handle. Exercise balances out the production of estrogen our bodies make and can help with reducing endo and menstrual pain. A low impact exercise regimen is usually recommended to avoid causing further pain. I am a workout junkie, I advocate a healthy, active lifestyle, so get out the door and move your booty. I promise you'll feel better. 

Diet: This is a big one. I spent hours and hours reading about how our diet can provoke endo. After I had my surgery, I was pretty strict about what I ate. I stuck to lots of green leafy veggies (kale and spinach are my favorite), fruits, avoided red meat as much as I could, ate lots of fish and chicken, and reduced my caffeine intake. After doing all of that, I felt a lot better. Certain foods promote an increase amount of estrogen in our bodies, such as dairy. Now, I'm not going to lie, I didn't stick to this diet for very long. However, my actual diet isn't too far from this, but I love food way too much to give up everything. For example, dairy is something I have ALWAYS consumed on a daily basis. Now, I try to moderate how much I take. Caffeine is another one. I am a coffee addict. But, I don't drink as much as I used to. I stick to water (lots of it), organic milk, organic pomegranate juice (one of my all time favorites), and some lemon water from time to time. 

These are just some things that I have done to help manage my endo pain and in no way am I advocating that this is the "right" way. I simply want to offer as many tips as I can to my endo sisters to help them find any relief. 

This post was quite lengthy (I promise to not make my posts this long) but I wanted to thoroughly explain this topic. And to those who actually read the entire post, kudos to you! I hope I was able to help in some way. 

I welcome any comments regarding YOUR story and journey and would love to hear what treatments work for you. 

Much love and good night. 

Steph  

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