I know that all of you have been waiting for a new book from me, and despite my best efforts, I have not been able to deliver. There is a very good reason, and I want to share my story with you. I hope that it will help someone else who is struggling through the same thing.
In mid-May of last year, I was getting ready for a trip to Missouri to see my mother and my son. I had loaded most of my things in the van the night before, and I woke up the next morning, ready to load the rest so I could hit the road.
After thirty minutes, I became very tired. My energy level was at zero. Having gone through a small issue with anemia two years before, I became concerned that I my iron levels were low again. So I canceled my trip and called my doctor right away so they could draw some blood.
Three or four days later, they called. “Teresa, you need to go to the hospital right now for an iron transfusion. You have severe iron deficiency anemia. Your iron levels are at 4.”
Needless to say, I was concerned, but I put off going to the emergency room until the next morning (it was almost five p.m. before I had gotten the call from the doctor’s office). When I went out there, I explained why I was there. As the nurse took my vitals, she said she could tell I was anemic by looking at my face and eyes. Very scary to know that it was so evident to other people, but not to myself.
After round two of being a pincushion, the attending physician came in and informed me that I wouldn’t be getting an iron transfusion because my iron levels were now at 7.5, and his cut off point was seven.
For those that have never had anemia, it sucks. There are times when I get up in the morning, and I feel great. But an hour later, I can feel utterly exhausted, and I find myself crawling back into bed. Sometimes this happens twice a day. I also have fibromyalgia, which also leaves you feeling tired at times. Talk about a double whammy!
My doctor referred me to a hematologist, although when they first told me about the specialist, they said oncologist. After calls to the hospital and then my doctor again, I learned that Dr. Kannan specialized in blood disorders. It would have been nice to know that, instead of being told “oncologist!”
Dr. Kannan put me on two different iron pills: one in the morning, one in the evenings. Together, I was taking 1,056% of the daily recommended dosage of iron. I was having so much blood drawn I felt like I was being drained by Dracula and all of his relatives!
Dr. Kannan believed that I had a microbleed somewhere, and that was the reason for my low iron levels. She referred me to an internist, who did a colonoscopy and and endoscopy. The test results came back negative. Thanks to the iron pills, my levels were slowly rising. “Come back and see me in six months.” I still didn’t know what was causing the anemia to begin with.
I reconnected with an old friend, Luke, and we talked about the anemia. One day, he asked me, “ Did anyone ever suggest that it could be your period that is causing the anemia?” My answer was no.
(Sorry, gentlemen, for the following parts of this. However, pay attention, because you may be able to help someone close to you if you recognize the symptoms.)
Luke’s question was a good one. That time of the month has never been easy for me, and as I’ve gotten older, the heavier and more painful my periods have become. It got to the point where I could go through an ultra tampon (the biggest there is) in an hour, and this would go on for at least two days. Midol and I were on a first name basis. I was told when I was younger that I would never have children, because my uterus was tilted to the right. I guess you could say James is my miracle child (he was born on a Sunday, too, so he is truly blessed and a blessing).
So, this past January, I went to see a gynecologist. After the exam was over, he told me I might need to have a sonogram. That unnerved me a bit. He also told me that I was a hormone low, and gave me a shot of progestererone. After that, it was five pills a month.
I hate these pills. While they have made my period not as heavy, they have made it last longer. They also leave me moody, ready to cry for no reason at the drop of a hat, and with cramps and a backache that lasts for seven to ten days, instead of two days.
A sonogram was scheduled for Valentine’s Day, but I also had to go back to my gynecologist for another PAP smear. He glanced up at me when he was done, a serious look on his face. “I’m putting a rush on your sonogram. We should have the results today.”
With my friend by my side, we went to the hospital for the sonogram, which was uncomfortable to say the least. That afternoon, I received a call. “There is a possible tumor,” the nurse told me. “But we need to do a pelvic MRI to be sure.” After some serious thought and discussion, I told them to schedule it.
The results of the MRI revealed a small fibroid tumor in the wall of my uterus. My gynecologist, who is about 80, referred me to another gynecologist, because he doesn’t perform surgery anymore. Dr. Moodala looked over the results, and listened as I explained that I felt having a hysterectomy was the best way to go. The reason for this was because I hoped that by “gutting the fish”, as I called it, would take care of the anemia. Luke suggested that it might also help my fibromyalgia.
Dr. Moodala wanted to do a hysteroscope before she scheduled the hysterectomy, explaining that it was standard procedure. The day of the procedure, I was shocked to discover that she was also going to do a biopsy. Hadn’t expected that one. Many tears were shed in the parking lot after the procedure was over.
I sweated it out for a week, wondering if I had cancer or not. I am very grateful to my mother, son, immediate family, and those select few friends that I told about the biopsy for their love and support. I climbed a lot of walls that week, and they helped me through it with a lot of love and laughter. The call at the end of the week came back with one word: benign. What a wonderful word to hear.
On June 13th, I will have my hysterectomy. My fervent prayer is that this will solve the anemia and maybe even some, if not all, of the fibromyalgia. I’ll be laid up for six weeks, which thrills Stacy, my editor. “You WILL write!” she has told me several times. “Yes, ma’am!” has been the reply, with a salute at the screen that she never sees. Whoops, cat’s out of the bag now, isn’t it?
My reason for telling you this is not for sympathy, but to inform. This isn’t something that I have talked about publicly much, which is unusual for me, because most of the things that happen to me are downright funny and goofy, and I always share those stories to give you a good laugh. But this is a very personal struggle, and one that I have kept to myself.
Most of you know that I’m Queen Klutz. I can injury myself in the dumbest ways possible (yes, Debbie, I know: the trunk!). I have arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and anemia. There are days when it hurts so bad to move that I just want to curl up in bed and cry. My primary doctor, who has taken care of me for sixteen years, once shook his head at me as I cracked jokes with him and the nurse as they poked and prodded me. “How can you crack all these jokes?” he asked me. “I know what we’re doing has to hurt like hell.”
“Dr. T, this is the way I look at it: I can moan, groan, and cry about all the pain and all the things that are wrong with me (and there are rare days, when the pain is so unbearable that I do), but what good would that do? I choose to laugh about it. Then others laugh with me, and it makes the pain a little more bearable.”
Laughing through the pain hasn’t been easy the past year. I have spent time crying and wallowing in self-pity. I have been sicker this past year than I have ever been in my life, and for some people close to me, that has been too much for them. That’s understandable. If it’s too much for me, I can only imagine how hard it is to sit and watch me going through this, unsure how to help. But their love and support is still there, and I am very grateful for that.
Despite the pain and discomfort, I do my best not to let it stop me. I push myself harder than I probably should, and my family and friends get mad at me for overdoing it. But if I don’t push myself to the limits, then the pain wins. And I refuse to allow that to happen.
If you or someone you know has anemia, encourage them to talk to their doctor (or doctors) about their complete medical history, including that monthly visitor. If you get nosebleeds a lot, tell them. If your periods are heavy and painful, say so. Yes, it’s embarrassing to talk about it, but if you don’t, you could be overlooking something that might make a world of difference. If Luke hadn’t asked me that one question, I probably would not be having surgery in two weeks. Sure, my insurance company thinks I’m high risk right now because of all the tests I’ve had in the past year, but if the end result is that I become healthier, so be it. I’m high risk.
Ask questions. Demand answers. Educate yourself. Learn your family history. Another thing that helped my case was learning that my late biological mother had the same heavy bleeding problem I have. She had a hysterectomy at 28 (I’m 48. My sweet mother said that she really expected this to happen to me sooner. I told her, “Well, gee, Mom, I like to take my time about these things. Gather all the facts and information. I figured twenty years was long enough). Don’t settle for “Your levels are coming up. See you in six months.” It’s your health, and your life. Do what is right for you!