Last year I was treated for endometriosis, which is a disease that affects more than 5.5 million women in North America. However, it took seven years of doctor visits before I was actually diagnosed—which, believe it or not, is shorter than the national average of ten years. Why does it take so many years of chronic pain before women get the answers and treatment that they need? I believe the problem lies within today’s standard approach to women’s healthcare, and I think the methods offered by Guiding Star Centers offer a compelling alternative.
Ever since I was in high school, I experienced intensely painful menstrual cramps and weeks of constant bleeding. Every gynecologist I visited prescribed the pill, saying that it would fix any hormonal imbalances and improve my cramps. However, it didn’t make a big difference in alleviating my pain, and it didn’t answer the question as to why I was experiencing such severe pain in the first place.
One doctor performed a basic exam and immediately told me that I did not have endometriosis. “Isn’t endometriosis only diagnosed by surgery?” I asked. He replied, “Well, technically it’s only diagnosed via surgery, but I’m 99% sure you don’t have it. I don’t see any signs of it, and even if you did have it, it would be minor and in an unlikely place. And anyway, if you did have endometriosis, the treatment would be the pill, and you’re already taking the pill. It will help preserve your fertility.”
I later learned this is not true. But at the time it seemed like a possible solution to my pain, and it took a while before I realized that I needed to find a better solution. I stopped taking the pill and started thinking about getting another doctor’s opinion. Eventually, I saw a doctor who used Fertility Awareness-Based Methods to track my symptoms. I learned to chart my cycle with the Creighton FertilityCare method, which gave her a better indication of any potential problems. She also ran specific laboratory tests, which indicated that I had low progesterone levels. She prescribed progesterone to be taken during certain days in my cycle, which improved my symptoms immediately.
Previous doctors had told me, “If you have a hormonal imbalance, the pill will fix it.” But they never actually ran these blood tests to see if I did indeed have a hormonal imbalance and, if so, which particular hormones might be out of sync. They saw the pill as a one-size-fits-all cure, and didn’t account for the reality that each woman’s body is different. This new doctor’s approach—pinpointing exactly what was wrong with me and giving me treatments that matched my needs—helped me get to the root of the problem.
After I had charted with Creighton for a while and continued taking progesterone, my doctor told me that based on my symptoms, she believed there was a 90% chance I had endometriosis, and soon I was scheduled for laparoscopic surgery. During my surgery, doctors did indeed find widespread endometriosis. It took four hours for all of it to be removed. Luckily, though the endometriosis was widespread, it was superficial; it hadn’t gone too deeply into the tissue, which made removal possible. It also hadn’t reached my ovaries or caused any permanent damage to my fertility.
If I hadn’t had the surgery when I did, the endometriosis likely would have spread further. It could have reached my ovaries and caused serious damage. It could have rooted deeper into the tissue, making it impossible to remove. It could have caused serious infertility problems. But thankfully, these potential complications were avoided thanks to doctors who paid careful attention to all my symptoms.
Being on the pill did alleviate my cramps a bit, but it did not prevent the growth of endometriosis. It didn’t treat my disease; it only masked it. It dulled the signals that my body was sending me, trying to warn me of the damage that was being done. It jolted my system, sending all my symptoms into disarray and making it impossible to determine what was really going on with my reproductive health.
Since my surgery last year, my cramps have markedly improved. I am no longer bedridden during my period. I haven’t again been surprised by blinding pain on the subway or at work. My pain is much more manageable. I am incredibly grateful for the doctors trained in Creighton FertilityCare, who offered a more holistic alternative to what I’d experienced in the past. With the help of Fertility Awareness-Based Methods, I was able to get to the root of the problem, to actually identify and treat my endometriosis rather than mask it with temporary salves.
There are many other women like me who experience chronic pain but are unaware of Fertility Awareness-Based Methods, which can offer a more in-depth evaluation of their symptoms and give a clearer picture of their overall health. This is why I believe it’s important to support the work of the Guiding Star Project, to empower women to have a greater knowledge of their own bodies, and to provide them with a higher level of care. Women deserve to have access to this alternative method of care, and Guiding Star Centers make that possible.
Erin Cain is a writer and editor in New York City. Her love of good storytelling has led her down many creative paths, including music, watercolors, and fiction writing. She also spent two years working in architecture at Disneyland, helping tell classic tales through brick, mortar, and plenty of themed paint. She now works in book publishing and writes at Work in Progress.