Blog / 2013 / Treating Endometriosis: the Pill and the NuvaRing

March 7, 2013

In honor of Endometriosis Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share about my healing journey in some detail. I remember searching for such stories after I was first diagnosed. It didn’t matter that every woman’s path with the disease was so different: I was desperate for any hints. Hopefully, my account will help other women make the right choices for themselves.

I had my first laparoscopic surgery in September 2009. Before that, I hadn’t been to a doctor in some time, even though I had been troubled by symptoms of endometriosis for years. Soon after the operation, my gynecologist started to pressure me to do a course of Lupron. To him, it made sense to shut down my reproductive system immediately after the surgery in order to give my body time to heal.

But this wasn’t the first time that I had heard of these drastic hormone shots. My father is a two-time survivor of prostate cancer, and he did a course of Lupron his second time around. I remembered what it did to him and, frankly, it seemed insane to put my 28 year old body into menopause in order to help me recover. I wasn’t ready for such a step.

In fact, I refused all pharmaceutical treatment for five months after the operation. Then, a not-so-promising ultrasound revealed new cysts, and my gynecologist informed me that I had to get on the Pill immediately if I didn’t want to have another surgery within the year. I explained to him that I had been on the Pill once for two weeks when I was 19 and that the hormones had stolen all my rainbows. My doctor was unmoved; he insisted that I start using the Pill.

So I did. But I also began charting my symptoms in earnest.

chart pain from endometriosis
Download a PDF of the full chart.

Something about noting every pain and all the problems made the process feel more clinical. And that was a good thing for me. It helped me to feel scientific about experimenting on my body with various hormones, instead of feeling lost.

Over the next eight months, I tried two different kinds of oral contraceptives. Beyond the rainbow-draining aspect of this treatment, I suffered from worse migraines than ever before, I had terrible week-long bouts of nausea, I was light-headed a lot, and my pelvic pain remained. The daily Pills were daily poison, and I had the charts to prove it. I could look back at my notes and see clearly that I was not exaggerating or misremembering.

charts

Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of the Pill. It has always seemed like the Barbie version of birth control: just pop a pretty little tablet and you’re cured! No need to learn about your body or, worse still, your partner’s; no need to touch bodily fluids. I know that oral contraceptives are historically important to the liberation of women and I know that they have changed a lot since they first came on the market, but their chemical nature disturbs me.

At my next ultrasound—one that showed a pelvic cavity brimming with endometriomas despite my diligent Pill-taking—my gynecologist was accompanied by a fellow who was learning about endometriosis and laparoscopy from him (because he’s an excellent surgeon). This fellow had already been a gynecologist for some time, and, after hearing about my reaction to the Pill, she recommended the NuvaRing.

I started using it immediately, and my world changed overnight. The NuvaRing’s very low dose of hormones directly where it was needed allowed my rainbows to return. My head cleared, and I was among the living again.

I was also among those women who like the NuvaRing but find it rather expensive, so I headed over to Planned Parenthood. In Oregon, the clinic has the Contraceptive Care program for women whose income is at a certain level. C-Care completely covers birth control in whatever flavor an eligible patient chooses.

I asked for the NuvaRing, but, during my check-up, the doctor informed me that my blood pressure was higher than it should be, a fairly common and dangerous side effect of the Pill and other hormonal birth controls. Because of this, Planned Parenthood put me on NuvaRing probation. I was given one, but if my blood pressure didn't adjust itself by the next month, I would have to choose a different flavor of birth control. And sure enough, that’s just what happened.

For more information about treatments I’ve used, check out these articles:

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