I decided to write this post because this topic has come up in conversation lately. It caused me to reflect on my own experience with uterine fibroids and wondered what, if anything was different about the experience about this particular health issue as a black woman.
Growing up, I vaguely recall other black women in my family, and in the community, sisters of friends, who had this thing called “fibroids” but that was it. It wasn’t discussed, no details were shared. I didn’t know what it really was and no one explained it to me. I just knew that some women had it and then you had to have surgery that would leave you unable to have children. This of course wasn’t exactly true, but that’s what I believed. Until I was diagnosed with fibroids in my mid-thirties.
What is Fibroids, anyway?
Aside from my struggle with migraines, I was pretty healthy and fibroids was never on my radar as something I needed to worry about.
So, what is fibroids? Fibroids are growth(s) in the uterus that are noncancerous, are different sizes, and often happens to women in their 30s – 40s. Fibroids affects about 80% of women before the age of 50. Alarming stats.
There isn’t a known cause but it’s likely linked to genetics, hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and pregnancy. I would later learn that family members also had this issue.
Are There Fibroids Symptoms?
I got annual check-ups and made sure I underwent the dreaded PAP tests (Argh). I was given the all clear in terms of my health. Then, one month I noticed that my period was messed up – flow was very heavy and lasting longer than usual. I knew something was wrong. I also had a bit of an enlarged abdomen but honestly thought it was just weight gain that happens with age.
Typically women don’t have any symptoms but if there are symptoms they really look like they can be related to anything or nothing. These include:
- heavy flow or last longer than a week or very painful.
- pelvic pressure or pain
- need to pee a lot more often or you have trouble peeing
- lower back pain
- swelling of, or larger, abdomen
When I realized that my period was abnormal, I immediately went to see my family doctor who sent me to get an Transvaginal Ultrasound (I still shudder thinking about it and yes, it’s as invasive and uncomfortable as it sounds) and then to see a Gynecologist for another pelvic examination, another transvaginal ultrasound (double shudder) and finally a diagnosis. I had fibroids and needed to consider my options.
What Really Scared Me About Fibroids
When I found out that I had fibroids, I was initially freaked out. I mistaking believed that my only option was to have a hysterectomy. I didn’t know if I was going to have children but I wanted that choice to be mine.
According to research, no what women with fibroids worry about? Women who are dealing with fibroids tend to worry about the same things that I was worried about, what negative affect this would have on our future health and our bodies – would it cause cancer? how would it impact our relationships with our partners?
Black women and Fibroids
What also surprised me to learn from doctor, and later reading some research on the topic, was that fibroids tends to happen more in black women.
I’ve since learned that there are also some differences where it comes to how black women experience fibroids.
According to the Mayo Clinic and Journal of Women’s Health’s national survey, there are a number of facts that affect African-American women when it comes to fibroids than white women:
7 surprising facts about fibroids affecting black women:
- Are at a higher risk of having fibroids than women of other racial groups.
- We have fibroids at a younger age
- We tend to have larger fibroids
- We tend to have more severe symptoms
- We are more likely to report a fear of future fibroid growth
- We worried a lot more about fibroids impacting our ability to have a successful and healthy pregnancy
- It would lead to depression
Looking back, a lot of these facts make sense to me now. In fact, I didn’t realize how many of black women I knew had experienced fibroids until I spoke openly to family and friends about what I was going through.
I spoke with the doctor about my options. A hysterectomy is one option but not the only one. It’s always good to have options and to think about what is best for you given the circumstances and sound medical advice. But, this can only happen if you pay closer attention to your bodies and go get checked out in the first place.
Finding Gratitude and Raising Awareness
The crappy part of this experience for me was finding out that the fibroids might grow back at some point. This was disheartening news but also totally out of my control.
I’ve decided to focus on the positive. The fact that this was a common, treatable health issue and noncancerous. As a Canadian, I also have access to good health care to address the issue if it comes again. For that I am grateful.
I know that we all experience our health issues differently but given that this is a common occurrence among women, and particular for women of colour, you would think there would be more information made available to us, especially if black women are known to more likely wait for years before getting a diagnosis than their white counterparts.
There was an article I read recently that talked about cancer being a taboo subject in the black community (and the impact of lack of health data on Black Canadians) to the point where families don’t talk about it to the detriment of their relatives who later are diagnosed with cancer, not knowing there was a family history.
Although the research study mentioned in the article looked at breast cancer and cervical cancer among Black Canadian Women, I could relate to the taboo surrounding the issue and lack of available data on black women’s health. This is one of the reasons, I decided to write this post. I hope by openly talking about my fibroids experience and sharing the little I know is even a tiny bit helpful in raising awareness on the issue.