When I was a little girl, I noticed I was different in a lot of ways compared to other girls my age. At only 10 years old, the same as my mother, I started my period. That evening, my Mother and I got all dressed up, and she took me out to a fancy dinner to celebrate my “becoming a woman.” It was a scary moment in my life, and I truly appreciate my Mom putting in the effort to make it a more light-hearted event. She had extremely heavy periods as a young child and has vivid memories of passing out in elementary school due to the intensity of her menstrual cycle.
I remember being the only little girl in the 5th grade that had to run to her locker every hour to grab a pad. From the beginning, my menstrual flows were extremely heavy. I was forced to wear the largest pad available on the market, which felt like I was wearing a diaper. I called them “sleeping bags!” I never had luck with tampons. There were several times that the blood leaked straight through into my pants because I was unable to get out of class on time. I was forced to always keep an extra pair of pants in my locker for such emergencies. My periods would usually last anywhere from 7 to 14 days. During my cycle, my stomach was so bloated that I looked 5 months pregnant. Because of the extreme bloating, I was forced to wear sweat pants. On average, I missed anywhere from 2 to 3 days of school during the week of my cycle because I often became bedridden. I felt like my insides were twisted in knots; the pain was unbearable.
In 2007, at the age of only 18, I was diagnosed with stage 5/category 5 endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Stage 5/category 5 endometriosis is extremely severe and involves organs both within and outside the pelvic cavity. PCOS is a hormonal disorder causing enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the other edge. After being diagnosed, I underwent my very first laparoscopic surgery in 2009 to remove the endometriosis. I had it removed from my stomach and colon. Even after the surgery, the symptoms persisted, but I was determined to find someone who could help me.
My hormones were greatly affected. I felt like I was always fighting just to be myself. I often felt trapped. My mood was always up and down—happy some days, depressed others. Many with endometriosis have a hormonal imbalance, mainly estrogen dominance. Endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent disease, meaning it thrives off estrogen. Estrogen dominance doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a crazy amount of estrogen; it means that the ratio of estrogen to progesterone is too high; it’s not balanced as it should be.
In 2011 after moving to Houston, Texas, I met two excellent endometriosis specialists, Dr. Rakeesh Mangal and Dr. Jonathan Mathias. They are both located at The Women’s Hospital of Texas.
Dr. Rakeesh Mangal, OBGYN, is one of the few physicians in America who has completed fellowship training in both advanced endometriosis surgery and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. My endometriosis was so severe that Dr. Mangal performed my second Laparoscopic Surgery in 2012, which lasted a total of 8 hours. That was followed by my third surgery in 2013, which lasted a total of 4 hours. I had endometriosis removed from my bowel, liver, and bladder.
In 2013, I was introduced to Dr. Jonathan Mathias, a neuro-gastroenterologist with over 40 years of experience. He believes endometriosis is a disease of impaired transportation of glucose. Women with endometriosis suffer from the biochemical abnormality of the hypersecretion of insulin. This results in the production of excessive prostaglandins, which are the chemicals in our bodies responsible for cramps and spasms. Symptoms include chronic abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, bloating, and altered bowel habits. I had an Eletroentrerography Test performed on my stomach, which assesses the electrical activity of the enteric nervous system. My bowel was extremely spastic, sounding like Rice Krispies. Dr. Mathias suggests that bowel symptoms may decrease when foods that encourage the production of those bad chemicals are reduced or eliminated. The control of insulin and blood sugar is extremely important to control inflammation in the entire body. Therefore, he placed me on a stringent diet. Simply put, the diet excludes caffeine, chocolate, red meat, soy, and sugar. My life was forever changed.
After receiving the diet plan from Dr. Mathias, I faced an extreme degree of depression. I don’t view it as just a “diet.” It was a complete lifestyle change for me. At that time, the resources and the number of quality products on the market were extremely limited. I felt lost and very much alone. After being on the diet for several months and listening to my body, I made a few changes. I was still experiencing bloating and a spastic colon. Therefore, I became gluten-free and grain-free as well. Gluten can increase inflammation and can also cause digestive issues such as bloating and constipation. It can cause hormone imbalances and inflame organs. A gluten-free diet reduces pain in 75% of women who have endometriosis. A grain-free diet may aid weight loss, improve digestion and blood sugar levels, and reduce inflammation. It may also promote mental health and alleviate pain in people with fibromyalgia or endometriosis.
Before meeting Dr. Mangal and Dr. Mathias, I was told by several doctors that I would never be able to conceive a child. However, on March 14, 2016, my soul mate, Aaron, and I witnessed a miracle when our son Parker Emerson was born. God spent a little more time on him. He knew we needed him in our lives. Parker Emerson has made us better people.
Now, I continue to listen to my body every day and make changes where needed. My life has improved dramatically, and I owe all of that to determination and my incredible team of doctors. My best words of advice: Never give up. Never settle.
FOODS OK TO EAT
PROTEIN: Chicken, Fish, Turkey, Shellfish, Cheese (Except Aged Cheese)
CARBOHYDRATE: All vegetables (Except On Avoid List), Fruit
BEVERAGES: Propel, Vitamin Water, Decaffeinated Tea (White, Green, or Red), Milk (2% or Less), Water
OTHER: Herbs, Hot Sauce, Mayo, Mustard, Oil (Canola, Olive, Peanut), Salad Dressing (Olive Oil & Vinegar), Spices, Stevia, Truvia, Alcohol Sugars (Erythritol or Xylitol), Monk Fruit
FOOD FOR MODERATION
CARBOHYDRATES: Red Potatoes, Fruits (Grapes, Oranges, Watermelon)
OTHER: Butter, Ketchup, Sour Cream, Spicy Food
FOODS TO AVOID
PROTEIN: Aged Cheese, Caviar, Red Meat, Soy, Tofu
CARBOHYDRATES: Gluten, Grains, , Bananas, Beets, Carrots, Chocolate, Cranberries, Dates, Flat Beans (Black, Butter, Kidney, Pinto), Figs, Mango, Papaya, Potatoes, Prunes, Raisins, Syrup
BEVERAGES: Beer, Coffee, Soda, Flavored Water, Fruit Juice, Gatorade, Hot Chocolate, Kool-Aid, Liquor, Red Wine
OTHER: Honey, Margarine, Sugar, Sugar Substitutes, Sunflower & Pumpkin Seeds