Age: 49 years old
In August of 2006, at the age of 49, I visited an Ob/Gyn I found from my list of Blue Cross providers and discovered that I had 2 quite large ovarian cysts and some other nondescript “cervical lesion” which the doctor referred to as a polyp. I had scheduled the original visit as a routine pap and women’s checkup, although I was aware that something was not right & needed attention. I had not had a checkup in 9 years and had a strong aversion to the standard American medical establishment, choosing herbs and other natural substances as my medicine. While this had worked well for me under most circumstances, I was very clear that there are times when allopathic medicine is the correct choice and that this was going to be one of them.
After all the usual blood tests and a biopsy I saw the doctor to discuss the results, bringing my husband to the appointment for support and to help ask questions. I had already come to terms with the fact that I would undoubtedly need surgery and was feeling a sense of relief thinking of how unburdened I would feel when these growths were gone and I could return to my normal self. At this point, exercise, even walking, was becoming more difficult, sex was becoming uncomfortable and sometimes painful, and my menstrual flow had gone from light and regular to heavy, erratic and prone to cramping.
The doctor began by stating that the biopsy had come back benign and all my tumor markers were not just normal, but lower than average for signs of cancer. He said that all of this was good news, but… I had 2 large cysts, one attached to each ovary, the largest being approximate in size to a volleyball and the other about 2/3 of that. I would need to have my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix all removed as soon as possible. If there was no evidence of cancer it would stop there; if the biopsy and and blood tests were wrong and there was malignancy the surgery would continue with something he referred to as staging until hopefully it was gone. He stated this all in a very matter of fact tone as if this was an everyday occurrence (which unfortunately it is) and I should not be shocked or disturbed by this plan of action.
I felt as though he had hit me in the stomach with a baseball bat! I asked him to back up a moment and repeated back to him what he had just told me. He said that was correct. My husband and I both began asking questions regarding why this was necessary, why could we not just remove the cysts, how would this effect my health, our sex life? He assured me that I probably wouldn’t even miss them and many women think sex is better. I also asked who would perform the surgery and he replied that he would, which surprised me since he was not actually billed as a surgeon. The more questions we asked the more uncomfortable the doctor became and began nervously muttering medical mumbo jumbo he knew we would not quite understand, and I am not sure he did, either. I wanted to know if this could be put off a while so I could come to terms with it, maybe after Christmas, but he always came back to “What if you have cancer?” We asked for some sort of documentation to help us understand and we left with a pathology report and a feeling of nausea and despair. Later when I obtained my file for a second opinion I read in his report “Patient is resistant to organ removal” as if this was somehow strange and insulting to his expertise. I thought later, how far could you go with the cancer scare? I might have brain cancer, too; should we also take that out just in case?
At first I cried, then I became angry. What if I had just told him so matter of factly that I wanted to remove his testicles and anything else I saw fit during the operation? Would he be so fast to say “Whatever you say, lets get rid of these pesky trouble making body parts?” I am thinking not. I started researching at the library and online and after a few days began to think that maybe he was right, maybe this was the only way to safely remove the tumors and make sure I did not have cancer. Even though there is much evidence of far too many unnecessary hysterectomies being performed in this country, I was not finding information about safe and effective alternatives for these cysts, either. I was becoming depressed and complacent and was about to turn my attention to how to recover from a total hysterectomy, if that was possible.
Then my daughter sent me an email with several websites regarding alternatives to hysterectomy, most of which involved some sort of supplements or efforts to make the body more alkaline. I discounted most of them right away for my particular problem, but then found the site for Female Alternative Surgery and Dr. Tirso del Junco, Jr. It seemed much too good to be true and I nearly discounted it, as well. Before I went to work in the morning I told my husband about it and asked if he would take a look to see what he thought. He read through the site and became so excited he called the institute and spoke with Patricia Marshall, a surgical nurse and Dr. del Junco’s right hand. I spoke with her myself the next day and she was very confident the doctor could remove the cysts and any other problems I may have without removing any organs. We started looking on the internet to see if this doctor and his clinic had a good reputation or if there were any problems we should know about. Finding a doctor strictly over the internet without a recommendation is pretty scary. On the other hand, I was even more afraid of the doctor who had come recommended by Blue Cross! We found nothing to indicate Dr. del Junco was not everything his website had stated.
I made a quick decision to proceed with Dr. del Junco as soon as possible. I decided that I was going to gamble that all the tests were right and I did not have cancer and was very excited to find a doctor who agreed that the presence of growths in or on the reproductive organs does not necessarily mean they all need to be removed. I faxed over my file from the gynecologist along with my insurance information and Patti did all the rest. She came up with exact dollars I would need for both the doctor and the hospital in addition to my insurance, obtained preapproval from Blue Cross and gave me a list of available dates, making everything quite easy and smooth for me. She was also extremely knowledgeable and able to answer any questions I had about the procedure and recovery, not to mention an all around delightful person to deal with. I chose a date and made plans to take a leave of absence from work and my husband would drive me to Los Angeles. While we do live in California, our home is almost a 9 hour drive from Glendale and so we had to make arrangements to be gone for a couple of weeks.
My first appointment was a consultation. Again, my husband joined me and we both felt free to ask as many questions as necessary to feel confident and comfortable with this procedure. It actually only took a very short time with Dr. del Junco to know that I had made the right decision. He explained exactly what he would do and why he would do it that way. He examined my list of symptoms and complaints and said in addition to the cysts I probably had been suffering from adenomyosis (the presence of endometrial cells in the uterine muscle) which would explain the change in menstrual cycles and sexual discomfort. He had a procedure with which he had much success in reducing or eliminating these problems. I was surprised the other doctor did mention anything like this and he said that it is impossible to diagnose for sure without surgery; plus when everything is removed it really is no longer an issue what exactly was causing the problem. He also said his gut feeling was that I did not have cancer (as was mine) and that just jumping into a total hysterectomy when all the signs were pointing away from malignancy was unnecessary. Everything would be biopsied and in the event he did unexpectedly find evidence of cancer, we would deal with it when we knew for sure. I completely agreed this was the best way to proceed.
So here was this skilled surgeon with many years of experience in dealing with alternative surgery for women telling me that, indeed, the cysts could be removed safely no matter how large they were, and he would figure out exactly what else was causing problems and fix those as well. It was not at all necessary to remove my entire reproductive system “just in case” and that he honors the fact that those organs do serve a purpose, even after the child bearing years are over. Like me, he sees the body not just as individual and expendable components, but as a whole unit which functions best when all of the parts are intact. This man was showing compassion and a respect for the female body that has become lost this county’s medical establishment. I was ecstatic!
The surgery went as planned with removal of the cysts and damage to the ovaries (they were completely covered by the tumors) repaired with laser surgery. I did have adenomyosis as Dr. del Junco suspected and he addressed that issue along with a removing small fibroid. And most importantly, I did NOT have cancer. All of this requires a level of skill and expertise in surgery far beyond the average gynecologist, which is why they prefer to perform hysterectomies – they know how to do them. I think my particular case was a little more complicated than normal due to two previous surgeries and the presence of a large existing scar, a mesh hernia repair covering much of my abdomen, and many old internal adhesions. This is another very good reason to have a general surgeon such as Dr. del Junco performing the surgery; he has the expertise to deal with any extra challenges that arise, known or unknown.
Temple Community Hospital also deserves kudos for their part in this whole thing. The staff was quite wonderful and caring and the entire experience was everything I could have hoped for. My husband and I were provided with a private room with 2 beds and he was able to stay with me around the clock, which was quite a blessing. He was fed and cared for almost as much as I was.
It has been just under 6 weeks since the surgery and my recovery has been swift and without any sort of complications. Everything has gone just as Dr. del Junco and his nurse Patti had said. I cannot begin to thank them enough and I hope that my story will inspire other women to at least consider looking into an alternative when their doctors tell them there is nothing to do but have a hysterectomy. There are undoubtedly cases where that is the best option, but far too often it is not truly necessary. We are made to feel powerless and as though we have no say in how best to deal with our own health issues. We are not educated by our doctors, but dictated to and often intimidated, and when we ask questions instead of simply agreeing it becomes a personal blow to the doctor’s ego. So it is up to us to be responsible for our own well being and one way to do that is to seek out further options when we are not comfortable with one person’s opinion. That is the gift of Dr. Tirso del Junco , Jr. and the Institute for Female Alternative Surgery.