Dr. del Junco is an extremely skilled doctor and is the ultimate advocate for women’s health.
If I could avoid a hysterectomy with my extreme condition, any woman with a benign condition can avoid one.
It’s been three months since my alternative surgery, and I’m still elated. My quality of life has improved dramatically.
Approximately 16 years after being diagnosed with fibroids, I’m finally relieved of the physical, emotional, and even wardrobe problems they brought.
At first, they were small, and it was not an issue. The fibroids caused no problems, and I did nothing. In 1998, however, I had a couple of episodes of non-menstrual bleeding. The nurse practitioner I saw told me,” It’s the fibroid. You need a hysterectomy.” I left the office in tears. The “H” word almost made me “hysterical”, and wasn’t that one of the most over prescribed surgeries in the U.S.? Did I really need a hysterectomy?
I decided to research fibroids and alternative ways to get rid of them. During the next few years I tried acupuncture and chinese herbs, castor oil packs, changing my diet. (cutting out meat and cutting down on high fat dairy and junk food). Nothing made a significant difference. In fact, the fibroid(s) got bigger.
Over the years I saw five gynecologists who subjected me to every selling technique and scare tactic I’ve since read about to try to coerce me into submitting to a hysterectomy.
In 2002 I saw Dr. “C”. I told him that I did NOT want a hysterectomy, and that I’d read about embolization, and I didn’t want that either. I would, however, be interested in a myomectomy. He told me that he could try to do a myomecomy, but now the fibroid was so big that the surgery might turn into a hysterectomy. He also warned me that myomectomy was a very bloody operation. (Yes, “old fashioned” myomectomy is/was if the doctor is not skilled.) I had naively thought that I could go to any gynecologist and say,” I’d like a Myomectomy, please.” , and that he or she would be able and willing to give me one. I left the office without agreeing to any surgery with him, and re-committed myself to more aggressively shrinking the now 20 cm. fibroid. I discover African herbs, and I restricted my diet even more.
During this time, my symptoms included not being able to sleep on my left side (where the fibroid was located) and having a “fibroid bump”. A couple of people asked me, “When is your baby due?” or, a very stupid question, “Are you pregnant?” I was mortified. I started wearing bigger shirts and I was always aware of my stomach, but I wasn’t bleeding and I didn’t feel any pressure on my bladder, so I was okay. The situation was tolerable as long as I slept on my right side and wore big shirts.
When I saw Dr. “C” again a couple of years later, he was upset that I hadn’t pursued surgery and expressed concern that because the fibroid was so big that it might be cancer. He sent me for a “second opinion” of his choice to doctor who was a cancer specialist. His buddy tried to intimidate me, and he insulted me because I was in my early 40’s and I wanted to keep my uterus. “At your age… You don’t want any more babies, do you?” No, I had already raised a daughter myself, and I was not interested in any more children with or without a partner. That was not the point! I did NOT want to subject myself to any parts being removed for what I believed was solely a benign condition.
In March ’08 I experienced stabbing, sometimes debilitating abdominal pain, and at the same time, my stomach became huge, swollen and paralyzed. (I had always been able to suck in some tummy fat, although you can’t suck in the fibroid). I had read about fibroid degeneration, and the pain was consistent with the fibroid outgrowing its blood supply and contracting like a heart attack. I checked myself into the emergency room one morning, and after a CT scan confirmed a “massive pelvic mass” they arranged to transfer me to another hospital. “They can take care of you there. They have gynecologists and surgeons there.” I told that doctor, “I’m in a lot of pain, but I am NOT having a hysterectomy. I will tell them, but please write that in my chart.” I felt proud of myself. This was a feminist issue. I would not be another victim of hysterectomy.
At the next hospital, the doctor assigned to the floor and two nurses assured me that the gynecologist I was scheduled to see was “nice”. Great!, but he was not going to be my first grade teacher! He’s nice, but is he going to listen to me, extend me credibility, and respect my wishes? NO! Dr. “H” looked at my CT scan, and being a 40 year veteran gynecologist, immediately recognized the cause of the pain. “It’s a degenerating fibroid.” Again, I had to explain that I did not want a hysterectomy. He actually told me (regarding hysterectomy) “You won’t get your period anymore.” Is that a selling point? Oh, good! No more “curse”! I was adamant, and thought he would stop with the “H” word, but the next day he came into my hospital room armed with “evidence” of possible malignancy. Dr.”H” told me that I had a high level of ascites- a fluid that could indicate cancer. “You have a very high level, very, very high level .” ( I found out later that I had a very, very SMALL amount of benign ascites, and that the “high level” of fluid was the fibroid liquifying as it degenerated). He dared me to research ascites on the internet, and went on to explain that he’d need to take out the fibroid along with my uterus so that the entire tumor could be biopsied. He also told me that would need to have my ovaries removed, but didn’t explain why. (“Castration” , I’ve since read, has been standard practice for women in their 40’s getting a hysterectomy. The idea is to remove the ovaries just in case they become cancerous in the future. A recent study shows that women without cancer are at a higher risk of death from heart disease if they’ve had their healthy ovaries removed.)
I told Dr.”H”, “If there’s no proof of cancer, if this is benign, I don’t want a hysterectomy.” He screamed at me, “Even if it is benign, you still need a hysterectomy!” I was livid, but I stopped myself from cussing, “No freaking way!” I told him with my teeth clenched. He said nothing, and very quickly walked out of the room.
A few days after leaving the hospital I made an appointment to see a new gynecologist. I was still in a lot of pain, and I had to sleep on the couch sitting up. Lying flat was not an option- the pain was excruciating in that position. I had eleven “absences” from my job as a High School Spanish teacher, and when I was at school I was worried that my students would think that I was “secretly” pregnant. My abdomen was still huge.
Dr.”W” , who happened to be a woman, listened to my story about my hospital stay, and I shared my philosophy about not wanting a hysterectomy for a benign condition. She seemed like a sympathetic, reasonable person until she told me, “The uterus is just a muscle”. That’s not what I’ve heard! She reiterated what Dr.”H” had said about the need to biopsy the entire fibroid- not just take out a sample to make sure there was no cancer. She told me that it was not possible to perform a myomectomy on a fibroid the size of mine (she tried to show me while pointing to a plastic replica of the female reproductive parts). She wasn’t getting anywhere with me, so she suggested I consult another gyn. for a “second opinion”. I wouldn’t fall for that one again. “Dr. “S” is my personal doctor.” I refused to see him. Of course they are co-workers and are of the same opinion.
At this point, though I wondered if I was being a tenacious, assertive feminist or a stubborn fool. Apparently, I had the same symptoms as ovarian cancer-large pelvic mass, ascites and a high tumor marker (CA-125) level. I knew it was a degenerating fibroid, but could I also have a deadly form of cancer, too? The situation was ridiculous. I had to find out. I was genuinely scared now and also fed up with my condition. I had some hope that I could find someone to give me a myomectomy. I had read a book called The Hysterectomy Hoax by a New York gynecologist who writes that hysterectomy should only be performed in the case of cancer. He explains that hysterectomy is a relatively simple surgery and is the most profitable procedure gynecologists can perform. He also refutes the claim that there is a fibroid size limit for a myomectomy.
I found Dr. del Junco’s website through a google search, and it was a true beacon of hope. It sounded too good to be true. Dr. del Junco is completely respectful and reassuring. There was never any question that he could remove my monster sized fibroid. Dr. del Junco told me that after the surgery everything would be biopsied. (Logic at last! I’d be very angry to be “hysterectomized” and to be told after surgery, “Good news! You don’t have cancer!”).
Dr. del Junco’s Program Coordinator took care of all the details, insurance etc. and answered all my questions. The doctors, nurses and entire staff at Temple Hospital were patient, kind, attentive, and professional, and the surgery was a complete success. A nurse told me immediately after the operation, “You just lost 18 pounds.” I thought she was joking, until two other people told me the same thing- They had weighed the fibroid, and at 18.5 pounds, it was one of the biggest tumors they had ever seen.
I was so incredibly relieved to touch my abdomen, and just feel a soft stomach. My recovery was not a big deal. I didn’t need to take any pain meds after three days post op. I was in virtually no pain. I followed dr.’s orders, and I walked a lot. I discovered that the huge fibroid must have been pressing on my bladder, because after surgery there was an absence of pressure that had been there before. Also, I was able to sleep flat in my bed and to fall asleep naturally instead of being propped up on the side of the couch with pillows and cushions and passing out from exhaustion in a sitting up position.
All my old clothes fit, and nobody has asked me about my “baby”. It’s a lot easier to move now because I’m so much lighter. I have taken flamenco dance class with my daughter for the last few years, and I can enjoy it a lot more now. (and my dress fits again).
I had my follow up visit with Dr. del Junco 10 days after my surgery. He not only removed the fibroid from hell and preserved and repaired my uterus, but he removed a cyst from each ovary, discovered I had adenomyosis and got rid of it and repaired my abdominal hernia. The fibroid and the cysts and everything else was tested, and everything was benign.
I can’t believe I walked around in that condition for all that time while dealing with the pain, the big stomach, the fear. I truly am happy though, that I finally found Dr. del Junco. It was absolutely worth the wait to be able to have surgery by this incredible doctor who has the unique compassion, philosophy and technique to change women’s lives.