I got up to pee in the middle of the night, the whole world dark around me. I sat there, relishing in the mere moment where my mind and body were disillusioned by the fact that I was half asleep and too withdrawn to feel the pain. But as my body started waking up I could feel simple sensations coming to life. The bladder twitches, the thoracic ache, the speeding of my breath. Before I could allow these sensations to come into full life, I dragged myself back to bed. In those moments though, I thought about how I came to a place where pain was sewn into every part of my life. I remembered then, what it was like at 14, when I started my period. What it was like after my first surgery. What it was like leading up to my second surgery crippled in pain throughout my entire abdomen. These milestones – good and bad – were equally as eventful as the previous, and taught me a lot about this disaster of a disease called endometriosis.
When I was 14, naive to a disease, and naive that a process that half the population endures once a month could be wrought with such debilitation, I had my periods like every other girl. After a few months of simple periods, my body started coming into full force, with the first day of each period causing sharp pains throughout my pelvic region. An area of my body that was once asleep was now a part of me that I was so aware of yet forbidden to talk about. Sincerely there was no compassion for the pain I was enduring – at first once a month and the slowly the days of bleeding outnumbered the days I wasn’t bleeding and in pain on the bathroom floor – because nobody could relate. My periods lasted days. The pain: a consistent pressure across my entire pelvic area, and sharp pains as the clots made their way out of my body. My vulva felt swollen and my cervix felt wide open, allowing such volumes of blood to escape. The outside of my vagina was tender and chafing from the pads I’d force myself to wear until they were so damp and needed to be changed. After I was put on birth control, my cycles were regulated and bleeding was happily once a month, but the symptoms remained the same. For years. 15 years!
After my first laparoscopic surgery to remove Stage II endometriosis in hopes of a happy fertility story, I felt clean. Thats the word I would describe it to this day. Clean. I felt pure, and healthy and unafraid of my period. I wore tampons for the first time in my life without needing to remove it due to discomfort. I was blissfully unaware that this happiness had an expiration date. After three months I could start to feel the pain: Aching in my back. Diarrhea during my periods. Fatigue, heavy bleeding, crushing pain on the first day. Three months was what I gained, and then everything went back to normal. This was the detriment of ablation surgery. Literally, cutting the grass without pulling out the roots allowed all the pre-existing lesions to continue to work their demonic magic.
What turned out to be a happy infertility story – a divorce and a fresh start – led me to ignore the symptoms over the next 6 years. Symptoms like shakes and sweats when pooping, blood clots the size of marbles, knots in my left butt cheek that felt like sciatica, and mind numbing pain every now and then up near my ribs. My medical history would prove that such disconnected symptoms usually meant nothing would be found therefore not worth the effort to explore. Until it was too late. My whole life was being turned upside down because of the pain: I would keel over in pain while running (same pain as when I was 14 but worse stabbing), run to the washroom while eating (same pain as when I was 14 but more urgent), be paralyzed in cold sweats and pain while entertaining clients (something that I never had before. It was my body’s way of shutting down to protect me from the absurdly intense pain coursing through my body), and staying home to work on days where I could barely move my body. My body felt heavy, and sick. It felt immobile, stiff, and often breaking down. As a response, I would shut down.
I was blessed with a diagnosis, you see, so when I heard about an endometriosis pain clinic near me, I walked to a nearby walk-in clinic and asked for a referral. A pre-existing diagnosis is hard to argue with. And when a walk-in doctor has no advise for you, he will gladly write you a referral. Months later, I received the call that the pain clinic would see me. A doctor, an aggressive but smart doctor, was able to determine that my endometriosis was sadly all over my body. Through an assessment of pain pathways she could reveal without further examination that another surgery was imminent. And so, another surgery – an excision – revealed that Stage III endometriosis was on my ovaries (I had an ovarian suspension done) which was causing sciatica-like pain. I had lesions on my bladder, colon (probably contributing to the diarrhea), ribs, liver, and diaphragm (causing the abdominal pain). Unfortunately she was unable to remove lesions on the diaphragm due to her own limitations. Not even three months later, the abdominal pain began to ruin my life. I would end up in the emergency department to find reprieve with narcotics. And while I continued to warn them that morphine always made me worse, the morphine was shot through my system and I would clutch onto my abdomen as though I’d been shot. Several times, I would have traded being shot over this.
The doctors say I am a stage II again, but with so much time passing and nothing preventing the disease from spreading I’d be surprised if I didn’t have stage III I do not have any endometriomas or deep infiltrating lesions throughout my organs. I do not have anything that can be seen through imaging. I respond oddly to progesterone, and I reacted unfairly to Orilissa. Nothing about my personal disease screams ‘agony’ or ‘intrusive’. Instead I suffer in silence every single day to avoid sounding like a broken record while my insides continue to fail me. What does it feel like today? The pain: urgent diarrhea while Im ‘on my period’ even though I am on continuous birth control, a dull ache in my pelvic area, sharp pains in my ovaries, the sciatica-like pain, aching hips, a constant bruising feeling along the base of my ribs mostly in the centre and left side (contrary to the disease being mostly on the right side), a bruised feeling straight to my back, a tightening around the ribs like someone is tightening a belt around me, intense fatigue, night sweats, and nausea. I feel like a sick 90 year old in a 37 year old’s body. And for now, while Covid continues to delay my surgery this is how life will remain for the foreseeable future.
Please reach out if you have any questions about the disease, the stages or treatments.