Finding the Courage to Share
Talking about health issues, especially reproductive and women’s health issues, has never come naturally to me. For personal and religious reasons, I have some convictions on what kind of birth control I want to use and how I’d like my physician to approach this more sensitive area of health for me, so I had put off finding a gynecologist to do routine check-ups for me in my city. It took getting diagnosed with endometriosis, a chronic condition when your uterus lining tissue grows and attaches to other parts of the body, for me to learn to the importance of finding a good doctor and opening up about my symptoms.
When I moved to D.C., I made an appointment with a gynecologist at the hospital closest to me for a routine check-up. My first impression of the gynecologist I met with wasn’t favorable. She seemed rushed and unwilling to consider my sensitivity surrounding an issue that felt intimate to me. After that visit, I decided not to go back to her and didn’t spend time looking for a physician I connected better with.
So when my symptoms started nine months later, for a while I tried to ignore the pain. I had pain in my abdomen that came and went, and my periods began to get heavier and more uncomfortable. Soon I grew frustrated at not knowing why I was feeling the way I was, and also scared of what it could mean. After a few months of pain and worsening symptoms, I realized I needed to see a doctor.
I ended up traveling home for a few days to see my mom’s provider. That doctor did an ultrasound and found I had a growth on one of my ovaries, explaining my discomfort. But she wasn’t able to diagnose the condition in the time I was there and didn’t know if the mass was cancerous or benign, so she recommended I see a specialist in D.C. as soon as possible.
When I returned, out of urgency I called the same gynecology clinic I had gone to almost a year before. They weren’t able to fit me in for another three weeks, which felt too long for me continue living in uncertainty. Instead of waiting for another few weeks, I did some research and called the Northern Virginia Physicians to Women clinic, which is affiliated with the Virginia Hospital Center. Though not convenient for me to get to, they were able to accommodate my situation immediately, and I decided give it a try.
I immediately felt more connected with the staff at this clinic. The gynecologist I met with was straightforward and conveyed a sense of humility and willingness to listen I hadn’t seen in other providers. She said because the growth on my ovary was so large, we needed to schedule emergency surgery as soon as possible. She explained what the risks were and how we would move forward. Unlike the other hospital I went to, her staff was very willing to accommodate my scheduling needs. She diagnosed my condition as endometriosis and was able to answer questions I’d had for months about why I was feeling the way I was.
The procedure to remove the growth was called an ovarian cystectomy. Thankfully, the surgery yielded no complications and the recovery period wasn’t difficult. Since then, I’ve gone back several times to the same clinic for check-ups. In these sessions, I’ve been able to broach subjects related to birth control and other reproductive health issues openly with my gynecologist that I hadn’t felt comfortable talking about before. Going forward, as long as I don’t experience pain or anything else abnormal, I’ll only need to go to the gynecologist once a year for an annual appointment. I still have heavier, more painful periods than I’ve had before, but understanding that’s part of my condition has been a huge relief.
I’ve always encouraged other people to be proactive and preventive in their health, but in the area of women’s health, it was always harder for me to follow my own advice. Before learning about my condition, I would have felt strange asking other women about their health issues, but once I started asking questions and sharing my story I realized how many people have stories like mine. My experience forced me to start talking about an area of my life I was hesitant to talk about before. Asking other women about their doctors and how they found them was also really valuable for me to learn more about navigating that kind of relationship.
I would encourage other women to take the time to find a gynecologist they connect with and feel comfortable with. I wish I hadn’t been so reluctant at first to seek the care I needed, but I’m certainly glad I did in the end and that I found the right providers to support me.