Today, I’m inspired to write this piece because last week I attended an amazing luncheon honoring the doctor who gave me the good news I would not need major abdominal surgery to treat my very large uterine fibroid.
Several years ago, Dr. Marc Friedman, Chief of Vascular and Interventional Radiology at the S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was the physician who told me I would not need surgery to get rid of a fibroid, that was, according to my OB/GYN, “the size of a baby’s head.”
When I was pregnant with my second child, my OB/GYN told me I had a uterine fibroid. It wasn’t causing problems and her recommendation was to keep an eye on it.
According to Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, “Fibroids are benign (not cancer) masses of muscle tissue in the uterine wall. These growths can be very tiny or as large as a cantaloupe. In most cases, there is more than one fibroid. They are not associated with cancer, very rarely develop into cancer and do not increase the risk of uterine cancer.”
According to Web MD, “African-American women tend to get uterine fibroids two to three times as often as white women, and also tend to have more symptoms from uterine fibroids.” I’m African American so I fit this profile.
In late 2006, I went to the doctor for my annual check up. She told me the fibroid was the size of a “baby’s head” and I needed to have it taken care of. It was unsafe to have a mass that large in my body. I had been feeling bloated and had to urinate frequently, but I just assumed these symptoms were the result of having two kids. Then, when I looked in the mirror more closely, I panicked. Did I really look pregnant? An ultrasound confirmed the presence of a very large uterine fibroid.
I knew very little about my treatment options.
My OB/GYN recommended surgery to remove the fibroid. Hysterectomy was also discussed. The surgery to remove fibroids is major surgery and I had two young children to care for. Hysterectomy was out of the question. I was in my early forties. I was too young to go into immediate menopause. I asked her more questions about my options. She seemed uninterested in discussing any options other than surgery. She mentioned a non-invasive procedure called Uterine Fibroid Embolization, but said she didn’t know much about it.
I quickly began researching UFE on the Internet. My search led me to Cedars Sinai Hospital, which offered the procedure and the most comprehensive information on the subject.
On the hospital’s website, the UFE procedure is described:
“Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a minimally-invasive, nonsurgical treatment for uterine fibroids that preserves the uterus. UFE works by blocking the blood supply to the fibroids, causing them to shrink.”
In early 2007, I made an appointment with Dr. Marc Friedman. The UFE procedure is not performed by OB/GYNs. Because it deals with blood supply to the fibroid, a vascular surgeon performs this procedure. Dr. Friedman was professional, and he is THE expert on the UFE procedure. Importantly, after the first visit, he told me I was a candidate for UFE. (There are certain factors that determine whether a woman can have the UFE. They factors have to do with the type and size of the fibroid and whether or not she wants to have children).
I scheduled my appointment for the UFE, thrilled that I would not have to have major abdominal surgery. I would stay overnight in the hospital and be home the next day.
The UFE surgery lasted about one hour. I was put under general anesthesia. When I woke up, I was groggy, but not in any pain.
I’m not going to minimize the aftermath of the procedure. The pain increased dramatically after a few hours. I was given pain medication to quell the intense cramping in my uterus. Once blood supply is cut off to the uterus, it becomes very unhappy and starts cramping. Nausea was also a big problem for me, due to the pain medication.
The first three days were rough. I was at home, with cramps, but I was able to walk and move about. Within a week, I was back to my normal routine. I was thrilled to be back to my normal routine in such a short time. The results of the UFE were still unclear.
Within about six months, my huge fibroid was reduced in size by 50 percent (a good result) and my symptoms have disappeared. In fact, my results were so positive, I’m pleased to say I’m one of the patient spokespersons for Cedars Sinai’s UFE program.
I would have the UFE procedure again without hesitation. I encourage any woman who has fibroids requiring treatment to look into UFE. I did and I’m so glad I made the choice to have the UFE.