I had surgery two weeks ago… less than 10 people knew about it. It took me out of my holistic clinic and into the depths of modern medicine for a few days of intensive rest and recovery. To be honest, as a doctor of Chinese medicine, I say the phrase “Surgery should be a last resort” to patients every day. But, when I heard the words “It could be cancer” I knew I had to go to the last resort.
Committing to surgery stirred up feelings of frustration (why didn’t acupuncture help?), fear (what if the surgery doesn’t go as planned?) and a sense of abandoning patient-centered holistic medicine for the profit-focused modern medicine machine. Having surgery felt a lot like a betrayal to everything I believe in.
This is what I learned…
• Modern medicine can be life-saving
• Modern medicine doesn’t have all the answers
• Modern medicine has a very limited toolbox (drugs or surgery) to solve health problems
Back in September, my gynecologist felt a mass near my uterus during my annual exam. I had been having severe pain with every menstrual cycle and knew my endometriosis had returned. An ultrasound revealed a complex cyst about the size of an egg and attached to my ovary. We agreed the best course of action was to watch it for a few weeks, clean up my diet (goodbye coffee, hello celery juice!), and check it again in December. The exam in December showed the cyst remained and had a new feature on it, a nodular tumor. My gynecologist told me it could be cancer and offered a CA-125 blood test. However, there was no definitive way to know without surgery. So, we scheduled the surgery, a laparoscopic cystectomy. The whole discussion took less than 10 minutes.
I returned home from that appointment scared and uncertain. Of course, my ultimate fear was losing a battle against cancer and leaving my 4-year-old without a mother. It was ridiculously easy for my mind to jump to that awful conclusion. I consciously refused to buy into that outcome that my mind wanted to play on repeat. After a few hours of acknowledging the fear and reprogramming my mind with positive outcomes, I felt more at peace.
In the days leading up to the surgery, I reprioritized my day to begin with a writing meditation full of “I am” statements such as “I am healthy and pain-free” and trust statements like “The universe conspires to help me.” I also spent 5-10 minutes every morning connecting to a higher power and asking for divine guidance. I revised my will. I treasured tucking my daughter into bed every night.
By the day of my surgery, I felt confident that the surgery would be a success. That morning I reminded my gynecologist to preserve my ovary if she could and to clean up any other endometrial tissue she discovered. She agreed and within minutes the anesthesiologist was there ready to knock me out. When I woke up in recovery about 90 minutes later, I was in a lot of pain and the nurse sent fentanyl through my IV. As someone who relies on herbal medicine, having fentanyl surge through my veins was quite a sensation. My pain level decreased from 8 to 1 within minutes, but I still had no idea if the surgery was a success. Once I saw my husband, my first question was, “Do I still have all my organs?” He said yes and a few hours later, I was released in a fentanyl haze of relief and gratitude.
Fast forward two weeks to today, when I had my post-operative appointment. I found out the cause of the pain was endometriosis, but not at all what I expected. The surgery revealed I had a benign ovarian endometrioma (often called a chocolate cyst) full of endometrial fluid. Compared to 5 years before when I had stage IV endometriosis scattered across my bowels, peritoneum, fallopian tubes and uterus, my body had effectively encapsulated the endometriosis into a single cyst. Miraculously, there were no signs of endometriosis on any other organs or structures. I thought to myself, “Wow, the acupuncture and herbs did help!”
Modern medicine can be life-saving and anyone facing the possibility of a life-threatening illness should consult a trusted MD for a modern diagnosis and treatment plan. However, for many chronic illnesses and conditions, modern medicine offers a very limited toolbox consisting of drugs or surgery. Now that I’ve had a surgical tune-up, I’ll continue with acupuncture treatments two times a week and a daily regimen of Chinese herbs to control the endometriosis. I know the risk of recurrence is high, but now that I’ve witnessed how intelligent my body was to isolate the disease, I have faith that I won’t be on an operating table again anytime soon.
Dr. Michelle Wendt, L.Ac., DACM
Dr. Michelle Wendt, L.Ac., DACM practices Oriental & Chinese Medicine in Hawaii and Texas.