I almost lost my uterus because my doctor didn’t tell me I had other options
I had uterine fibroids. So did my mother and sister. Fibroids are so common in black women, I can see a lot my sisters out there nodding their heads and sipping their tea. We know.
“It is likely that if you’re Black and over the age of 20, you have a fibroid,” says M. Natalie Achong, M.D., of the Yale University School of Medicine’s department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences.
I was diagnosed when I was 27, but based on my heavy periods and severe cramping, they probably were present for many years. I was on birth control pills, so that helped regulate my periods. But the pain forced me to live on ibuprofen every month. I managed and went on with my life. I had my pap smear every year and the fibroids checked. They were always there.
I switched jobs and signed up for my yearly exam. My doctor was an older man, and his bedside manner left a lot to be desired. He barely said a word to me as he did the exam while a nurse looked on. Ladies, we know how these examinations go. The doctor usually starts some random conversation as he or she swabs away at your vagina and does the pelvic exam. They’re trying to make us comfortable, and while it rarely works, we appreciate the effort.
This dude? Not so much. He said maybe two words as he examined me. He finished, took off his gloves and said, “Get dressed and meet me in my office.” Just like that. I was annoyed and alarmed.
I sat down opposite him. He slides a box of tissue over to me.
You need a hysterectomy.
I was 31.
I tried to stop the tears, but they came anyway. I rarely cry, and I definitely don’t cry in front of strangers. I was scared, but I was pissed that his bedside manner was so brusque.
Why do I need one now?
Because you have fibroids.
I’ve had them for years.
You have a lot of them.
I know that.
Now mind you, they weren’t bothering me any more than they normally did, so I couldn’t figure out why he was pushing for a hysterectomy. Then he said I needed to schedule the surgery as soon as possible.
I got outside and lost it. I was scared. I called my mom. We do that, right? We call mama for comfort. Luckily my mama is also a nurse. I told her what the doctor said. She didn’t say anything for a long time. Then she exhaled sharply.
No. Get a second opinion. Your sister had her fibroids removed.
I called my sister for details. She said:
He said what? No, I had a lot of them, too. My doctor did a myomectomy.
The following week, I saw a second doctor, another older man. This time, he chatted away as he did the exam. He finished up and confirmed my fibroids. He also mentioned I had a lot of them. Then he gave me two options. I could leave them or have a myomectomy. I asked him:
I don’t need a hysterectomy?
No, you’re too young for that. We would never recommend one unless it was absolutely necessary.
The other doctor said I needed one.
He looked alarmed. Then he said:
Some doctors don’t like doing myomectomies. They can be long, complicated surgeries.
Was this why the first doctor didn’t give me the option of a myomectomy? If I hadn’t talked to my mother and trusted what she said, I would have had the hysterectomy, even though I had other choices.
I looked up the first doctor on the hospital website. He had been practicing for 30 years! How many women had unnecessary hysterectomies because of him? Obviously he had heard of myomectomies. It wasn’t a new procedure (This was several years ago. Doctors still perform myomectomies, but now there are less invasive procedures).
I filed a complaint with the hospital board but never heard from them. Then I focused on getting my surgery. I scheduled it for the following month. It was a painful six-week recovery, but afterward I was fine. Then life went on. Several years later, the fibroids grew back. By then, I knew I wasn’t having children. Truth be told, I never seriously considered the idea, but at 31, I still wanted the option.
I suspected they were back because I could feel pressure in my uterus. I scheduled an examination. My doctor was a wonderful woman who was brilliant and kind. We spoke for a few minutes before my exam.
I think my fibroids are back. If they are, I want a hysterectomy.
Well, let’s check you out and see what’s going on.
I leaned back and tried to relax as she probed as gently as she could, explaining what she was doing as she went along.
Hmm. Well, they’re definitely back.
What are my options?
At this point, I would recommend a hysterectomy. You could leave them, but they’re going to keep growing.
I opted for the hysterectomy. I kept my ovaries, so I didn’t go into early menopause.
I was 40.
I don’t tell this story to give you a blow-by-blow of a common occurrence in black women. I tell it because it’s important we advocate for our health. We owe it to ourselves to question our doctors and research a diagnosis before opting for any procedures or even trusting that diagnosis. Whenever possible, get a second or even a third opinion. Doctors aren’t gods, and they aren’t created equal. Some are better than others at giving a correct diagnosis, discussing options and listening to our questions and concerns.