By: Jean Johnson for Fibroids1
We left off in Part One of this story with “Grandmother’s Era,” and Louise Mason asking her daughter what year she had her fibroid operation. We pick up here with the mother and granddaughter, completing our tracing of three generations of women and their approaches to treating uterine fibroids..
Generally, Ob/Gyns work with interventional radiologists to determine whether UFE or some type of traditional surgery is most appropriate for a woman suffering from fibroids.
Good physicians respect educated women that ask about their options for treating fibroids and are interested in scheduling a consultation with an interventional radiologist.
Prudent women with fibroids make sure they are fully informed before making a decision on which course of treatment to pursue.
Fibroids symptoms include:
Heavy bleeding or painful periods
Feeling of fullness in pelvic area (lower abdomen)
Pain during sex
Lower back pain
“Let’s see, I had my surgery in 1985 I think it was. I was 35 at the time, I know that.”
Mason’s daughter, Helen Mason Burns, was born in 1950. She has the same slim build as her mother, and both women’s eyes are clear, bright, and brown with congenial crow’s feet at the corners that convey years of easy good will.
“Yes. My era was different than mom’s. I went off to college in 1968, and those were the times when women were first starting to expect a little more consideration from the world,” Burns said, laughing and hugging her mother. “Not that dad wasn’t respectful of mom. But you know what I mean. I guess since women didn’t work for pay outside the home, the men got all the prestige.
“And it’s true, I remember all the news about how doctors were doing hysterectomies left and right when the operations really weren’t necessary. In mom’s case, as she probably said, she doesn’t think her hysterectomy was out of line. I agree because I remember how miserable she was just before she went in to have it – crying all the time and really upset. So maybe there was more going on than just the fibroids, I don’t know. Then again, maybe she would have done just as well with a myomectomy. We’ll never know.
“For me, though, I didn’t want to get thrown into early menopause. I’d had my children already so it wasn’t a matter of keeping my uterus to have more babies. I just didn’t want to put my body through more than it needed to go through,” said Burns. “I was already going through the ringer with the fibroids themselves, and mom encouraged me to take advantage of the newer technique. We’ve always been that way in our family – not that we’re terribly progressive, but when we are aware of a better way, we like to check it out.”
Burns explains that she has few complaints on her myomectomy. “It was major surgery just like the hysterectomy mom had, so there’s all that sort of recovery with the incision and everything. Then you have to stay in the hospital until you are up and walking around and able to move your bowels and all that.
“And then there’s the long time at home while you get back on your feet. It’s been so long now, but I remember that I had to really take it easy. I can’t imagine how it must have been for mom having the early menopause to deal with at the same time. I guess women were stronger back then,” Burns said, laughing again.
Your Time, Our Time
Helen Mason Burns’ daughter, Marilyn Burns Reed, thinks the same thing about her mother. “I feel totally spoiled, if you call dealing with fibroids being spoiled,” said Reed. “It’s just been six years since I had the embolization for my fibroids. No surgery. No prolonged recovery. I came home the same day and was back to work within the week. It was a total breeze. But that was 2000; it was a brand new century.
“The only inconvenience is that you don’t feel the effects immediately. The way I understand it, embolization works by cutting off the blood supply to the fibroids. After that’s done, the tumors start shrinking but it does take several months for them to get small enough so that the symptoms start to disappear. So I still felt bloated for weeks after.”
Reed is right as far as understanding the theory behind today’s state-of-the-art treatment for fibroids. Instead of going in and removing the uterus in which fibroids grow the way a hysterectomy does, or cutting the fibroids out of the uterus the way a myomectomy does, uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) simply severs the blood supply on which fibroids depend and the benign growths shrink of their own accord. After several months, the tumors are usually small enough that they cease to cause problems.
UFE is done by physicians called interventional radiologists. Since 1969 when Portland, Oregon’s Charles Dotter, M.D., first placed arterial stents in animals, interventional radiologists have pioneered treating internal ailments not by cutting into the body as in traditional forms of surgery, but by using spaghetti-sized catheters and expert knowledge of the circulation and tubular systems to deliver treatment to clogged vessels leading to the heart. This technique is also used to cut off the blood supply that feeds fibroid tumors, as well as for numerous other problems from varicose veins to kidney malfunction.
While interventional radiologists have explored the interior world of the body for more than 30 years in various aspects, the embolization of fibroids has only been done since 1995. Further, as of 2004, while there were 200,000 hysterectomies performed annually for various problems including fibroids, there were only 13 to 14,000 UFE procedures completed. Clearly, the procedure is still coming into its own.
“That makes sense,” said Reed, hearing the timeline. “When I first started exploring the embolization approach I didn’t even know what interventional radiology was or if the people that did it were real doctors. The name is off-putting, if you know what I mean. You can relate to a gynecologist or cardiologist, but an interventional radiologist just doesn’t spell much out to us regular people.
“Also the idea of someone being able to run a catheter around in your arteries to deliver these little particles to the vessels that feed the fibroids was just amazing to me. It’s like science fiction when you think about it.
“Really! At first I thought they were joking, and so did mom and my grandmother. None of us could believe medicine had advanced so far so quickly. It’s amazing how far it’s come during our three generations.”