Elephant in the room: endometriosis to menopause

endometriosis to menopause

A personal story and journey

You wake up in the morning, not realizing the rest of your life will be changed. It’s the beginning of a rollercoaster of feelings, and you never know when they will hit you. Emotions that overtake the person you truly are. As you look in the mirror every morning, you never know who is staring back at you. For me, menopause was no joke. But neither was what started much earlier.

It started with endometriosis

My health life has been filled with complications since I was 16. I will never forget sitting in a gynecologist office with my mom. The physician said I should start the pill. I felt embarrassed and confused. But the doctor believed it would help reduce the problems with my periods and endometriosis. So, I gave it a try.

It seemed like a solution at the time, but what we did not know at the time were the enormous issues I would begin having. Over the years, I stayed on birth control. But I also had to have many laparoscopic surgeries, removal of my endometrial lining, and Lupron shots. With each one, I hoped all the foreign things going inside my body would somehow help alleviate the nonsense of pain. 

Unfortunately, none of the interventions really worked. There’s not enough support for endometriosis, and it’s hard to understand unless you’ve been through it. While I had relief at times, I still found it incredibly hard to function. 

When things got even worse

All of this went on until 2014. It’s a year that I will never forget: I got married and divorced the following year.

Perhaps all of my medical issues brought a lot of tension into our marriage. It’s hard to know for sure. But as we rang in 2014, my healthcare team suggested a partial hysterectomy. At this time, my mind and heart were filled with so much hurt, pain, and sadness. While I felt relieved that I would not suffer with endometriosis any longer, I also wanted children and was not ready to lose part of my body. I prayed for the strength I needed to guide me through this next chapter of my life. 

In March of 2014, I had my uterus, part of my fallopian tubes, and cervix removed. When I woke up, I felt empty. Physically and emotionally.

A wrench in recovery

Within the year following that surgery, I began to have severe stomach pains and nausea. At first, I thought it was the flu because my students were extremely sick. I checked in with my doctor, who suggested I have an ultrasound done. Not thinking anything of it, I went for the testing.  

My ob-gyn called on February 10 at 5:30 p.m. with the results. He proceeded to tell me about a tumor on my left ovary and referred me to an oncologist. My heart sank. I went through every emotion possible. Then, I realized I had two options. I could allow this situation to control me, or I could let God take over. There was nothing else I could do but pray.  

Even so, I was scared. Cancer hit close to home. My cousin’s wife and my aunt had just been diagnosed a month before. With that weighing heavy on my mind, I met with the oncologist the next week.

Another surgery: ovary removal

Doctors ended up performing yet another surgery. This time, they removed my left ovary and the rest of the fallopian tubes. This surgery was definitely the most painful emotionally. I went in not knowing what I would be waking up to. I tried to mentally prepare myself for cancer, chemo, and/or radiation because I feared the worst.

When I woke up from surgery, the waiting room held the most incredible support system. My mom, friends, pastor, and even my administration from school were there. We got the news that the tumor was not cancerous. Instead of complete relief, a sense of emptiness crept in. An emptiness that many will ever comprehend, but those of us who have experienced it know. Emptiness because the reality of never bearing children was confirmed. Emptiness that organs our society associates with womanhood were completely gone.

The elephant in the room: abrupt menopause

As bad as it had been before, this is when the elephant in the room really took over. Not many people talk about how bad menopause or forced menopause can be, both physically and mentally.

I started hormone replacement, but it didn’t seem to help much with my mood, water retention, and other symptoms. In March of 2016, my right ovary began to shut down. My body’s swing into menopause got even worse. I continued taking the prescribed amount of estrogen. But the hot flashes, ridiculous mood swings, and unbearable weight gain seemed beyond my control. 

Even though I was miserable and frustrated, I ate healthy and exercised to do everything and anything I could do to feel normal. But when I would look in the mirror, the dysfunction of moods would set in. So, I incorporated herbs and other holistic options. But nothing worked well enough for me.

The little-known side effects of menopause

Two years later, I began having severe chest pains that radiated down my left arm. Labs showed my cholesterol was off the charts. (It had never been an issue before.) My doctors became very concerned. I saw a cardiologist, but the tests came back normal. Except for one.

What I had thought might be stress-related turned out to be the effects of menopause. Low estrogen can cause fat to build up around the heart, which can lead to calcium buildup in arteries. I started cholesterol medication.

More labs led to the missing answer I desperately needed

After some routine blood work, the results came back showing my body did not have any testosterone. My first thoughts were: Are you kidding me? That is for men. I am trying to lose the weight. Not bulk up and gain more. 

However, my doctor is the utmost amazing and caring woman. She reassured me low testosterone could be a problem in females and that testosterone replacement would not make me take on any male characteristics. But that it could help me manage the many symptoms I was still experiencing. She was so right.

Finally: on the path to truly healing

Today, I am on a testosterone/estrogen combination, as well as an additional amount of estrogen (plus aspirin and cholesterol medicine). I had begun to think I’d never get one, but this has been my miracle! The change in my mental and physical well-being is truly transformative. 

I feel better and look better than I ever have. Gone are the hot flashes. My moods are stable. And my weight dropped from 175 pounds to a healthy 135 for my height. Plus, my cholesterol is normal, my anxiety has decreased, and my energy level has increased. Most importantly out of all those, I am the happiest I have been in quite a long time.

I will always be on hormone therapy, but it also took four long years to find out what worked best for my body. In that time, I shed many tears of anger, disappointment, and happiness for those four years, when the elephant in the room took up every available amount of space. Yet, in hindsight, I would never take anything back and change it. Yes, it took a physical, mental, and spiritual toll on my heart and mind. But the relationship with myself is the best relationship I have, and I am able to love who I am today.

What I hope my story does for others

I hope sharing my story helps other women open up… to each other and those close to us. If you are married or in a relationship, have your significant other read this. Let it be the start of a conversation, so you can talk freely about what you’re experiencing and get the support you need and deserve. Your significant other should understand what we are going through and realize that the symptoms are not YOU. Endometriosis and/or menopause are disruptions in your life that will not be here forever and do not define who you are.

Words for other women, no matter the stage of your journey

Life can bring tremendous pain and also painful realizations. I will never forget the pain of endometriosis and menopause. And, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about how I didn’t have a child. 

But do not give up! Hope and light exist everywhere. My journey has helped me love me, and I stand here on the other side a different yet far more patient, understanding, and compassionate woman. And for that, I have no regrets. 

Dr. Rhonda J. Finding
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