I barely even knew a life before pain. From 12 years old, just after I started menstruating, I would experience the most excruciating abdominal pain. So much so the Doctors thought I had appendicitis. It wasn’t until during the surgery for my appendix, that they instead found a burst ovarian cyst.
They removed both the cyst and my appendix! I then had surgery every 6 months for recurring Ovarian Cysts and at age 14 I was diagnosed with endometriosis.
From the ages of 12-22 every six months or so I would have to have surgery.
It was a cycle of constant, unimaginable pain, doctor’s appointments, some horrible medications and surgery.
Around and around, in and out of hospital for months and years on end.
At 22, the pain reached new heights, I was missing so much time off work and not being able to live normally.
It was incredibly traumatic, and I became resigned to my fate – some days it took every bit of strength not to drive my car into a tree.
One day in early May 1994 I happened to be flipping through the Yellow Pages (it was the 90’s and before Google) when I stumbled across the number for the Endometriosis Association of Victoria.
I spoke to them and they made an appointment for me to see one of their doctors they had on their books.
I consider that the luckiest day of my life.
The doctor that I saw was an amazing man, Professor Carl Wood, a leading Melbourne gynaecologist who pioneered the first IVF babies.
Prof Wood instantly sent me for a barrage of blood tests, ultrasounds and scans.
A few days later he called me into his office and told me that he believed that I had Ovarian Cancer and that needed to have a hysterectomy immediately. I was just 24 years old.
At the time, I did not have private health insurance and given my extensive hospital history no one would insure me, so I suggested to wait until a year until I could afford the surgery. Prof. Wood looked at me gently but sternly said “Michelle, you don’t have that sort of time…”
Prof. Wood gave me a proposal; he said he would perform the surgery for free on the proviso that I would be a guinea pig for this latest surgery he was pioneering- Laparoscopy Assisted Bilateral Salpingo-Oophorectomy Hysterectomy. I had no idea really what that all meant but I didn’t even hesitate to say yes, I was in so much pain I was prepared to do anything.
The following Wednesday I was in surgery and subsequently had my uterus, ovaries and cervix removed. I was home after 2 days with this new surgery, fit as a fiddle.
Two weeks later, I was called to come in to see him for a follow up for the results. The pathology came back positive for Ovarian Cancer and he informed me that if we hadn’t taken the radical surgery approach I would have been dead in 6 months.
I also had a course of oral chemotherapy, just in case anything had been “left behind” and after 6 months I started on HRT, which I am still on today.
That was over 26 years ago, and I haven’t had a sick day since. I am now happy, healthy and pain free.
My advice to other young women is please advocate for your own health. Age is no barrier and the Doctor’s words are not always gospel You are well within your right to get a second or third opinion. It is okay to question; it is okay to ask for further help or to see another Doctor. Do whatever it takes and always trust your own instincts.