So here I am, back again, after a season-long technological hiatus. These past 14 months have been a rollercoaster, reaching the apex just over 2 months ago, and now finally leveling out to near-normalcy again.
As a nutritionist I’m trained to piece together the symptomatology, the clues presented in my clients’ cases, and chart the best course for them to take on their path to taking back control of their own health. So it was frustrating when, in summer 2013, I had no idea what was happening to me.
I found myself suddenly faced with month-long periods. I would bleed for a month; strangely, not enough to warrant the use of much more than 2 or 3 pantyliners per day most of the time, so for that at least I was thankful; but unfortunately, still with cramping bad enough that I resorted to ibuprofen more often than not. The bleeding would then stop for a month (though on a couple of occasions, there were only 2 weeks’ interim), and resume again for another month in the same way.
With this level of discomfort, I was miserable. I began comfort eating whatever I was craving, telling myself I deserved it with the day I was having. I had stopped going to the gym by November, consequently started gaining weight, pulled away from intimacy with my husband, and quite honestly, I believe I was depressed, amplified too by a couple of family tragedies in the last quarter of 2013. I also felt ashamed that I, a person who should be exemplary in health and vitality, was sick and sinking into bad habits.
I finally had an appointment in December with my GP, who ordered blood work and an ultrasound. My iron stores, not surprisingly, were low, so I took her advice and started an iron supplement. The ultrasound revealed a “complex mass” of some kind on my right ovary, and by February a follow-up ultrasound confirmed that it might be a dermoid cyst, approximately 54mm in length. I would be referred to a reproductive surgeon for a cystectomy.
From what I knew, dermoids are something that can exist symptom-free in the body for one’s whole life, and do not respond well to alternative therapies. Again, that notion of the exemplary nutritionist reared in my mind. I did what I could with what I knew while I waited for my referral; more to make myself feel like I was still in control, that I could still help myself. I bought a juicer and started making fresh green juices most mornings; in addition to iron, I also took DIM supplements to help my liver process excess hormones, B complex for stress and metabolism, and curcumin to reduce inflammation; and as my cycles started to normalize again, gradually started a gentle workout routine again.
Over the course of the 4 months I waited to get into the OR, I made my peace with not having perfect control of the inner workings of my body. That said, the stress of waiting still took its toll, and I continued to comfort-eat, more so in the weeks leading up to the operation.
Stress-eating aside, I felt I was finally on the upswing when it came time for my surgery in mid-July. Knowing that possible risks of letting it alone could include torsion and atrophy of the ovary, and a resulting reduction or loss of fertility, I let go of being in control of the process, and made my peace that having the surgery was in my best interests right now.
A few words about the surgery day itself: Having never been put under anaesthesia before, I was extremely anxious, and it was the scariest day I can remember – especially the last 20 minutes prior to entering the OR: waiting on the gurney, being told to get off the gurney and walk into the OR and lie down on the operating table under my own power (when all I wanted to do was turn and run), having electrodes placed on my skin and an IV hooked into my hand. And after all that, I don’t even remember the moment I closed my eyes; just waking up sometime afterward, and fading in and out of sleep for several hours afterward.
The recovery period was where I felt I could take control of my health again. The relief of having this “mass” removed from my body was palpable. The stress of waiting, waiting, waiting – lifted. I would learn happily that the surgeon was able to remove the whole cyst and keep my ovary intact; and later on that biopsy revealed no malignancy. I chose nutrient-dense soft foods for the first few days after the surgery: organic applesauce, smooth blended soups, homemade protein smoothies. Once I was in the clear to do so, I resumed my regular supplements and added a few especially healing products to the lineup (a protein powder rich in l-glutamine, an amino acid important for tissue repair; a post-workout recovery shake loaded with anti-inflammatory ingredients; greens powder and omega-3; and a nourishing topical skin oil for the scars, to name a few).
I gradually reintroduced myself to exercise, first with a light yoga DVD in the comfort of my basement a couple of times a week, and then returning to beach volleyball with my friends. (The most uncomfortable part of this was not the incisions themselves, but the spray-on suture covering them. As it eroded, it would irritate the surrounding skin, making it unpleasant to twist or bend too far.) I also took the time off to step back from some of my obligations as a business owner and let myself readjust to my situation.
I still have a ways to go before I can say I’m back to where I was before it all happened. I still have some extra weight to shift, some bad habits to break (comfort-eating admittedly top of the list), and motivation issues to overcome.
To look at the positive, I’m getting back into a regular workout routine, my cycles are normalizing again, I’m reestablishing closeness with my husband, and rediscovering my interest in all things nutrition, which includes doing product research, running workshops, and bringing my Love Plants for Life offerings back in force for the fall and winter.
It’s my hope that sharing my experience, knowing that I’m not perfect and striving for a return to health myself, will inspire you to join me on the way.
Let’s do this!
The information in this article reflects my personal experience and approach to my own health, and is not meant to replace the advice of your health care practitioner. Talk to your doctor, naturopath, or registered nutritionist about your health status prior to adding any supplements to your routine to determine what’s right for you.
Published by Sara Galipeau
Sara Galipeau, R.H.N./C.H.N., FNE, NNCP is a vegan nutritionist and fitness enthusiast living in Ottawa, Canada. Her love of creating healthy food and seeing the positive effects of proper nutrition on her own health were the driving forces leading her to study nutrition. Currently she specializes in plant-based and clinical nutrition to support hormone health, general fitness and athletics, cognitive function, and body image. She has a creative eye for detail when addressing her clients’ lifestyles and health concerns, as well as for menu design and recipe development. Sara loves outside-the-box fitness, including pole dancing and POUND, and is also a classically-trained pianist with a bachelor's degree in music performance.
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