For years I suffered in silence. As a teenager, it was awkward for me to even mention the word “period” let alone discuss it in detail. At the age of 16 I started to experience heavy bleeding. During the first two days of my cycle I would rush to the bathroom every one to two hours. I often planned my life around my period, and would skip social events and volunteer opportunities for fear there wouldn’t be a bathroom readily available. After a few years my periods also became very painful. I often visualized a spoon slowly scraping out my insides as I curled up in bed with my heating pad. It wasn’t uncommon for me to stay home from school and/or work once a month, but there were many times I also forced myself through the day because people were depending on me.
When I finally found the courage to see an OBGYN in my early 20’s nothing seemed amiss to her. She never mentioned endometriosis or ran any tests. I was given one of two options; oral contraceptive or an ibuprofen regimen, I took the latter, and never bothered seeing another OBGYN, assuming it was just my lot in life.
At the age of 31 I started having daily abdominal pain. Although the pain was minimal, I knew it was not normal. An ultrasound was done and a cyst the size of a tennis ball was found on my left ovary. I sought care from a local OBGYN who strongly suspected I had endometriosis and recommended surgery. Before I knew better I had ablation surgery in June of 2016. My endometriosis was one of the worse cases my OBGYN had ever seen. She drained the cyst and cleaned-up what she could, but it was beyond her capability, so she left most of it alone.
In two months time the cyst grew back, and with it excruciating pain, all on my left side where my OBGYN had done most of her work. Over the next four months I landed in the ER twice. Both times I was prescribed strong pain narcotics that at times didn’t even take the edge off. I could not walk for more than a few minutes without debilitating pain. Thankfully my pain was usually manageable during the day, so I was able to keep my full time desk job, but my pain level would skyrocket during the middle of the night, keeping me up for hours. My OBGYN blamed it on the progression of my disease, but it did not make sense to me how an active 31 year old, could now barely function day-to-day just two months after surgery. My OBGYN recommended Lupron; I left her office and never went back.
I started doing my own research and discovered that not all surgeries for endometriosis are created equal. Ablation surgery only burns off the surface. It has a high rate of return, and often times makes symptoms worse. Excision surgery, on the other hand removes the entire lesion, and has less than a 20% chance of reoccurrence.
My research eventually led me to Dr. Eric Heegaard at OBGYN West. From the moment I met him he was compassionate and understanding, and obviously very competent. He pointed things out to me other doctors had failed to mention. During my consult he asked me what my biggest fear was. I told him, “I feel like my life has been stolen from me, and I’m afraid I’ll never get it back.” He responded, “Do you want to hear some good news? I’m 95% sure I can fix you.” Confident in his capabilities, I booked excision surgery with him in January of 2017. What was supposed to be a two hour surgery turned into a five hour surgery, because according to Dr. Heegaard my endometriosis was “rock hard.”
As I recovered, I discovered true to his word Dr. Heegaard did indeed fix me. He gave me my life back, and I will be forever grateful. I’m also very grateful to my Naturopath, Dr. Shannon May at Nourish Natural Health in Duluth, MN. Even after surgery my periods were still incredibly heavy, but thanks to Dr. May she got my bleeding under control.
Now I consider my periods normal. Cramps only require a regular dose of over the counter pain meds, and I no longer have to plan my life around my period, or constantly scope out the nearest bathroom. Today I am pain free and for the most part symptom free. Like many women, endometriosis has done irrevocable damage, but thanks to Dr. Heegaard and Dr. May I am living well with this chronic disease.
Since my original diagnoses of stage four endometriosis I have become an avid advocate for awareness. I have had the honor of marching with the MN Endo Warriors in the Worldwide Endo March two years in a row, and recently just started my own facebook page “Twin Ports Endo” to help create greater awareness in the Twin Ports of Minnesota and Wisconsin. I made the decision that my suffering would not be in vain. For too long I remained silent, but today I share my story to encourage and inform others. I am 1 in 10, and I fight for a better future for women with endometriosis, because we deserve better.
— The Minnesota Endo Warriors are honored share Jennifer’s story and are committed to providing a place of community and comfort to those living with endometriosis and their loved ones.
Countdown to the 2019 Minnesota Endo March