March is the month of awareness for endometriosis, autoimmune diseases, and colorectal cancer. I’ve written and rewritten this post in the notes on my phone a few times. All three of these things are very important to me, so I wanted to make sure I got it right. I am affected by two of them, and the other is something for which I am at a higher risk. Between my flare this month and a little, good old-fashion procrastination, I unfortunately missed the deadline I set of completing this post in March. I hope this post can still help explain why awareness is still important – even in April!
Ever since a young age, I have had horrible abdominal pain since I was pre-menarche and equally bad cramps and heavy periods since. During a hospital stay for my ulcerative colitis, they found what looked like a cyst on my left ovary during a CT scan and scheduled a pelvic ultrasound to get a better look. It was discovered that I had not only a cystic ovary, but what looked to be endometriosis. There isn’t nearly enough research done on endometriosis and there is so much more that needs to be discovered. My gynecologist and I decided surgery for both would be the best option. Unfortunately, my surgery needed to be rescheduled twice due to ulcerative colitis flares. Finally, on Christmas break of my final year in college we were all set to remove the cyst and any endometriosis that we could. The game plan was to try and save the ovary and just remove the cyst, only to learn that the entire mass was a cystic. My gynecologist wondered if there ever was truly and ovary or just a cyst. She also found that the endometriosis was binding part of my colon to my uterus, but was able to laser the endometriosis off. It was a laparoscopy surgery done with the da Vinci machine, so though I have five scars, they are all small and three have faded well. Since surgery, I’ve had far less cramping and pain due to endometriosis, and I haven’t had a notable reoccurrence.
Autoimmune disease is also something that is very important to me, and thus, so is spreading awareness. I personally am diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Endometriosis, Celiac disease, and had drug-induced Lupus from Remicade treatments, but believe that spreading awareness for all autoimmune diseases is important. Though there are studies done, there is so much more that is still unknown with autoimmune diseases. Many people need to see multiple specialists before being diagnosed or set up with a treatment plan right for them. Awareness leads to the spread of knowledge and drive for research funding which leads to better treatment options and hopefully – one day – cures. American Autoimmune Related Disease Association is a national non-profit that is focused on research, advocacy, and providing patient resources for all autoimmune diseases (and is actually located local to me in Michigan!) They have great resources on diagnosis tips and having conversations with your doctor(s), as well as studies on the connection between women & autoimmunity. Great discoveries are fueled by funding and knowledge gained from advocacy and awareness of autoimmune diseases, so speak up and tell your story!
March is also national colorectal cancer awareness month. Though most IBD patients won’t develop colorectal cancer, the risks are higher for us than those without IBD. It is recommended that people with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis receive a screening colonoscopy once they’ve had the disease for eight to ten years – especially if there is a family history of colorectal cancer. My maternal great-grandma died of colon cancer when I was young, so I am extra diligent and so is my GI team. I had my first cancer screening colonoscopy in January of this year, and sixteen biopsies were taken, including the removal of one polyp. I am happy to report that I am in the clear! These screenings are very important, especially as someone with IBD, and colorectal cancer is treatable when found early.
All three of these diseases are near and dear to my heart, as they affect myself and those I care about. Even though it’s April, it’s never too late to keep spreading awareness of our stories!