“I was in the shower,” said Kellie Brown, a Philanthropy Manager who resides in Atlanta, Georgia. “And I thought I was going to die. I thought I was bleeding to death.”
The cause of her uncontrolled bleeding? Uterine fibroids.
Exceedingly common, uterine fibroids are benign tumors that grow in the walls of the uterus and affect up to 80 percent of women by age 50.1 For some women, fibroids can be no trouble at all. For others, they can be the source of heavy painful periods, urinary incontinence, and pelvic pain.
But severe bleeding and cramping weren’t always the norm for Kellie. Growing up with easy periods, she didn’t pay much attention when they worsened in 2012. She remembered attributing this change to the normal progression of womanhood. “I never had period pain when I was younger,” Kellie explained. “For a long time, I rationalized that maybe everybody gets cramps at some point. I guess this is just my turn. That was what I told myself as it got progressively worse.”
Heavy, painful, and often sporadic, periods changed her life dramatically. By day, Kellie’s work-life suffered. “It just seemed absolutely uncontrollable. I would have to call off from work,” she admitted. “When I was at work, I’d have to go find an isolated place and just take the pain for the five or ten minutes when it was really intense.”
By night, fibroids relentlessly took over. Her bedtime routine consisted of wearing a super absorbency tampon combined with an overnight maxi-pad and sleeping on top of the blankets because her bleeding was so heavy. “I was in a relationship at that time,” Kellie continued. “He was fantastic about it, but it certainly lead to uncomfortable moments where we’d have to get up and change the sheets.”
Even normal daily activities became a safety hazard. “I would have to pull over and stop driving when cramps would get really bad.” Something had to be done.
After suffering with horrendous symptoms for over a year with no reprieve, Kellie was officially diagnosed with uterine fibroids in late 2013. Along with a diagnosis, her general practitioner gave her one treatment option: surgery. “We were still thinking about [having children],” Kellie remembered. “And I was really nervous to do something so dramatic to my reproductive system.”
Fortunately during this time, a friend also told her about Dr. Lipman of Atlanta Interventional Institute and a promising option called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE). She made an appointment right away.
Getting all her questions answered in a thorough consultation, Kellie now had a new outlook on life once she realized surgery wasn’t her only option. “Another doctor, and a woman at that, who understood I was still hopeful to have kids told me to take my uterus out,” she emphasized. “With UFE, Dr. Lipman told me I’d go home with a Band-Aid. It was unreal.”
For Kellie, total recovery from UFE consisted of about two weeks of rest and slow movement around the house, with an “all-over ache” only lasting the first two to three days.
Now she describes her life having endless possibilities—at any time during the month—thanks to her periods normalizing for the first time in years. “It’s amazing,” Kellie laughed. “I would tell my friends, ‘I got my period today! I’m so excited! Do you want to go do something? Get coffee, walk around, find something to do?’”
By telling her story to other women, Kellie hopes to pass along this enthusiasm for living fibroid-free and, above all, the courage to look beyond surgery. “It’s not the only option,” Kellie stressed. “Don’t be afraid to push back. We all have to stop being afraid to talk or feeling like we’re wrong. We’re not wrong for anything that’s happening.”
Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2015). Uterine Fibroids Fact Sheet. Retrieved February 5, 2016, fromhttp://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/uterine-fibroids.html