I learned about ovarian cysts my freshman year of college, when a friend of mine disappeared from school for a week and then sent an email with a photo attached of something that looked like a small bloody potato, alerting us to why she had been MIA for a week.
“That was growing on my ovaries,” she wrote in the email, proud but shocked.
I felt nauseous just looking at it and spent the next 15 minutes convincing myself that I, too, had ovarian cysts, since all the symptoms I read on WebMD made me feel as though I did.
All of those things were, of course, things I had felt in the last 24 hours. But then, by the grace of my dorm mate, I backed away from the computer and thought about what I had done in the last 24 hours (which included beer pong, vodka shots, and a dance-off with friends that lasted until 5am). I took a deep breath and realized that perhaps the symptoms were coming from my actions and not from my ovaries.
I was only 18. My periods back then were regular, even without being on birth control. I didn’t have much menstrual pain or wild mood swings. Looking back, those were the glory days of my period.
Discovering my ovarian cysts
A couple of months ago, I noticed that my periods were becoming more painful. A week or so before I would start to menstruate, I would have a sharp pain in my left side, by my ovaries, that would leave me unable to move from my bed. I felt faint before my period and had a feeling of heaviness all over my body. Then my period would come and all of that would go away for approximately 21 days, when the symptoms would show up again, becoming more extreme with each passing month.
After the second month of this, I knew something was wrong. I was scared to find out what it could be and I was also too stubborn to go to the gynecologist since my health insurance plan had an $8,000 deductible and I knew a test or two done on my ovaries would rob my pockets. So instead, I texted someone I thought could help me self-diagnose.
“It’s been a while but…” I said to my college friend, via text.
I told her about all of my symptoms and she immediately wrote back, “I’m not a doctor, but I’d bet you have ovarian cysts and should see one ASAP.”
Understanding my options
Finally, all of the Google searching I did on ovarian cysts made sense. All of the symptoms matched my pain. What scared me the most was reading that some ovarian cysts can lead to ovarian cancer. Suddenly, I was no longer eager to save my money.
After seeing a gynecologist who was able to feel cysts on both my right and left ovaries, I was told that I needed to get two tests done so that she could see how big the cysts were, what kind they were, and then recommend next steps.
Eager to find out what was wrong, I went to get a pelvic exam and a transvaginal ultrasound done just two days later, paying $400 before laying down on the examination table.
They said the results would be available in a week. I spent that next week becoming a self-researched expert on ovarian cysts. I learned there were two types of functional cysts and that most cysts go away over time, without requiring removal.
My doctor called the next week to tell me that my cysts were not cancerous and they weren’t big enough to have removed.
I took a deep breath before asking her what I should do next.
“If I were you,” she said, “I’d get on birth control so that they shrink and stay under control. If you choose not to do that, then I can give you hormone shots to shrink them, too.”
While my first thought was, “How much is this going to cost me?” My comment to her was the truth about what I planned on doing.
“What if I do nothing?”
My body, my choice
I had never gone on birth control and I was reaching thirty years old, in a monogamous relationship, and overall against putting hormones into my body, which was why treatment option number two wasn’t really an option in my mind.
“I don’t recommend you do that,” she said. “They could grow even larger, affect your chances of getting pregnant, and potentially harm your body in other ways in the future.”
I stayed silent on the phone for quite some time before she told me to call her back when I made up my mind.
Birth control or shots of hormones. Those were my two options, yet neither fit well with what I felt comfortable doing to my body.
It’s been six months since that phone call and I have still decided to do nothing to treat the cysts. I decided that, instead of putting hormones into my body, I would wait and see if the cysts went away on their own.
I did research on my own and found solace in the knowledge that most cysts go away or shrink over time, without the help of birth control, a potential removal surgery, or hormone shots. So, what I’ve decided to do is start monitoring when the pain happens (which day of my cycle), as well as make a follow-up appointment in a year from now to get my tests redone to see if the cysts have grown, shrunk, or stayed the same.
While it might sound irresponsible, it’s my choice and what I feel is right for my body.