About two and a half years ago, I went to a new gynecologist because I’d gotten a new job and had changed insurance plans. I was going for a routine checkup, but I was also having occasional sharp pains in my lower abdomen, mostly on my right side. I’d gone to my primary care provider first, because some of the pains had been on the left and my mother had voiced concerns about appendicitis. When I pointed to the painful areas, my PCP said the pains were in my ovaries and were probably ovarian cysts bursting. She told me to see my gyno.
I figured the cysts were the same as the ones that had been coming and going in my breasts for a few years. I had my first mammogram at age 20 and several ultrasounds, not to mention four different biopsies. Everything had come back benign; I thought this would be more of the same.
So I went to my gyno, who immediately dismissed my pain, saying that it would go away if I lost weight. Despite my asking what she thought the pains WERE that could be alleviated by weight loss, I didn’t get an answer. But since I’d had other cysts, I wasn’t particularly concerned, and the pain seemed to come less frequently, so I put off finding a new gynecologist for awhile.
Six months or so later, my company had changed insurance providers, so yet again I had to find a new gynecologist. I got lucky this time and found one who didn’t think my pains were weight-related. Unfortunately, by the time I got in to see her, I was only able to jump the list because my pain had gotten much worse and was now accompanied by a large growth.
After many, many pelvic exams, ultrasounds, and CT scans, I was finally told I had a large tumor in my right ovary. The surgeon told me there was a 70 to 80 percent chance that the tumor was benign–but that also meant there was a 20 to 30 percent chance it was malignant. And there was no way of knowing until they could remove the tumor and do a biopsy.
In March of 2006, I had surgery to remove the tumor, which thankfully turned out to be benign. But by the time the surgeon had an opening, the tumor had grown. It was over eight inches long and three inches wide by the time it came out. And since it had been inside my ovary it had strangled and crushed the ovarian tissue. There was no way to salvage it, so when the surgeon removed the tumor, he also took out my right ovary and Fallopian tube.
I still have the left one, but there have been a few cysts in that one too, so I now have ultrasounds twice a year to ensure that my remaining ovary is still healthy. I have to take birth control pills on a ten-week cycle, meaning I only have a period four times a year. There are benefits to that, but while the hormones in the BCPs are helping my ovary, they’re increasing the occurrence of cysts in my breasts. Something of a catch-22.
Considering my history of breast cysts, it’s possible that I’d have had the ovarian cysts anyway. But if that first doctor had listened to me, she might have caught the cyst before it grew into a tumor and destroyed my ovary.