I am endlessly flabbergasted by the mysterious, sometimes beautiful, sometimes frankly terrifying quirks and happenings of the female body. Anytime I think I know myself, I tend to encounter some event or article or fact that causes me to remember that I know absolutely nothing about anything (atleast within my body but oftentimes within the universe, as well). I was actually in one of these places in which I thought I was a wise, old soul when the world put me back into my place, as one of my close friends was abruptly sent to the ER with a condition I hardly knew existed: the ovarian cyst.
Ovarian cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that develop during the course of a menstrual period, and, much to my surprise, they’re actually extremely common! It’s estimated that almost all (a little louder for those in the back, ALL) menstruating women will have an asymptomatic cyst in their lifetimes. Most of the time this happens when an ovarian follicle forgets to break open to release an egg, thus causing aforementioned fluid to build aforementioned sac, or when an ovarian follicle forgets to dissolve after releasing an egg, also causing aforementioned fluid to do its cyst thing. This is all medical speak for 90% of the time, cysts are no more of a problem than spilling a little bit of guac on your skirt – it’s bound to happen at some point, but it’s nothing a little elbow grease can’t fix!
But, a little asymptomatic cyst was definitely not hiding out in my friend Chloe’s ovary. This bad boy was neoplastic, malignant, and very much symptomatic. I sat down with Chloe and had her tell me the whole story.
She says she began experiencing symptoms such as nausea and bloating this past December when she was only 15 years old. She had recently had a sinus infection and had been prescribed some antibiotics, so initially she and her family assumed it was just the meds messing with her system. But alas, this was not the case, and over the next five months, her symptoms kept getting worse and worse. I asked, “Did you know at the time that these were ovarian cyst symptoms?” She staunchly replied, “NO. I had no idea. I didn’t even know ovarian cysts were, like, a thing. Based on the symptoms I was experiencing, my ovaries just seemed so…unrelated.”
For a while she says the doctors believed it was gastrointestinal, so that is how they were treating it, but around mid-April, she finally went in for an ultrasound, which is when the doctor gave her the firm diagnosis: “We don’t know if this is an ovarian cyst or an ovarian torsion” (upon further research this is where your ovary and/or fallopian tubes get all twisted with the ligaments and tissues that support them and cause extreme abdominal pain. Ouch!) “so as a precautionary measure we’re going to send you to the ER.” Just what every 15 year old girl wants to hear on a school night! The following is an excerpt from our interview.
R: Take me through your night once you had been sent to the emergency room.
C: We went straight to the hospital and sat in the waiting room for a while, and then they finally called us (my family and I) back. I actually ended up meeting with three different doctors, and all three of them had drastically different opinions. The first one said, “There’s nothing much we really need to do; let’s just take another ultrasound.” This ultrasound did nothing but confirm that we were in fact dealing with a cyst. The second one also wanted to take another ultrasound but was definitely more pro-surgery. The third one believed surgery was definitely the best option, and that’s the doctor we ended up going with. The crazy thing is, as soon as we decided, I was in. I was immediately escorted into emergency surgery.
Chloe went into surgery at 7pm and came out at 9pm as a new, cyst-less woman. She says, “The whole thing was crazy, but I cannot tell you how nice to me everyone there was.”
During our interview, I read Chloe a snippet from another article I had read about ovarian cysts. It read, “Unfortunately, because women’s health is perpetually underfunded, ovarian cysts are subject to the same generalized medical *shrug* that accompanies PMS or irregular cycles. If you’ve struggled with cysts, you’ve likely been given the following advice: go on birth control to regulate hormone levels, exercise, eat a balanced diet.” In response, she said, “That doesn’t surprise me at all. In fact, that’s exactly what I kept hearing from the first two doctors. But the weird thing is, for me, they would say things like ‘Yeah, you should go on birth control, but you don’t have to go on it yet. We can just wait until you have another cyst.’” We exchanged shocked and exasperated looks and then she continued, “HECK no! I’m going to do absolutely everything I can now so I don’t have to have another one!” Here’s another snippet from our conversation.
R: What do you think about women’s health, particularly ovarian cysts, being “perpetually underfunded”?
C: I definitely think ovarian cysts deserve much more research. If it’s something that almost every woman experiences, it’s only fair to have them properly researched so we can further advance research and treatment of [cysts], even if most of them are asymptomatic and not really problematic.