What has your journey been with adenomyosis and other health conditions?
|A violent explosion of pain expanded across the front and back of my abdomen, sharply accentuated by the feeling of two knives staking claim in my ovaries. I scrambled about in the passenger’s side of the pick-up truck to find an Aleve. I had already taken two, in addition to a Midol, but the searing pain was more prominent than the looming fear from taking so many pain killers for so long. I swallowed the Aleve and began to scream, my body wrenching in convulsions as I started to hyperventilate. My partner, Mitch, pulled over at the next rest stop with tears in his eyes. It was the spring of 2017 and my menses have been like this for close to three years. Twenty-one day cycles, with bleeding for six to seven days, five of which required 24/7 pain medication—and lots of it. |
The downward spiral of my moon cycle began when I stopped taking birth control pills in 2013. A decision I made as I neared 20 years of hormonal contraceptives and a deepening concern for the connection between birth control and breast cancer—unsubstantiated by the gynecologist, but I believed otherwise having read the fine print of hormonal birth control side effects (may increase risk of breast cancer). The irony is staggering, especially since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, but I’ll not get ahead of myself… What Is Happening To Me?
I returned to the gynecologist for the third time since the pain became debilitating, determined to finally get some answers. At the past two appointments, I had expressed serious concern about the menstrual pain and was told (with an unsettling lack of compassion or acknowledgement of my concern) that I was experiencing peri-menopause and to “just take Aleve.” My pap smear once again clear, I pushed for more answers and was made to feel like it was mostly in my head.
When I shared I was worried about my stomach and liver from the high volume of pain killers I had to take for the pain, I was told I was too young for that to be an issue and the best way to deal with the pain was to go back on birth control. Deeply frustrated, I requested an ultrasound, which the doctor’s office was reluctant to give because there wasn’t enough time in the appointment. I advocated with urgency and received the ultrasound which showed there was a growth in my uterus the doctor called adenomyosis.
The biopsy came back thankfully showing no signs of uterine cancer, but with the news that adenomyosis doesn’t go away until menopause and given that I was 41 at the time, I would probably have to deal with the pain for another decade, give or take. The gynecologist offered four options for the pain: 1. Continue taking pain killers, even if that meant double or triple doses. 2. Take birth control pills for the pain (reminding me there was no connection between breast cancer and birth control pills while suggesting a low hormone pill—which is what I had been taking). 3. Take orilissa for several months for the pain, but not for the long term since orilissa causes osteoporosis. 4. Have a hysterectomy. I was deeply upset with the process, the options, and the lack of education or resources about mid-year women’s health issues like adenomyosis and endometriosis. I opted for the birth control pills and as I walked out of the office, the gynecologist said, “by the way, you’re over 40 so it’s time for your first mammogram.”
I went for that first mammogram and after several agonizing appointments, scans, and a biopsy learned I had DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) a hormone receptive type of breast cancer. I was also told to immediately stop taking birth control pills. The breast cancer journey was terrifying and ultimately served as the catalyst for change I so deeply needed and opened the space for a healing journey that navigated both conventional and holistic medicine. But this story is really about adenomyosis, which weaves in and out of the cancer story given the interconnectivity of hormonal imbalance and what I learned to be a shared root cause—estrogen dominance. Cancer received the attention, but adenomyosis was the source of some of the most intense physical pain, as well as the story of successful holistic treatment and the beginning of my path to personal empowerment.
Estrogen Dominance and Root Causes Three weeks after the breast cancer diagnosis, I returned to the gynecologist and was told I would probably need a hysterectomy to treat the adenomyosis in my uterus if I couldn’t handle the pain without being on birth control pills. (I refused to make my bones brittle with the orilissa option.) I was so fed up with the conventional medicine approach to women’s health at this point, I stormed out of the appointment. I began to extensively research the connectivity between hormone receptive breast cancer, adenomyosis, and hormonal imbalance. I came to the conclusion that they are deeply intertwined and share an underlying cause—estrogen dominance—too much estrogen which causes major hormonal disruption in the body and can lead to dis-ease including breast cancer, adenomyosis, and endometriosis.
Adenomyosis research and hysterectomy fears were put on hold as I endured back-to-back breast cancer surgeries—both of which failed to remove all of the cancer from my breast. The second surgery left me with a pinched nerve and spun me into a mental crisis which lasted for months until I was healthy enough for a third surgery—a mastectomy (removal of my right breast). The shining light of several months in crisis was learning to treat the adenomyosis holistically, with so much success that by the time I went for the mastectomy, I was no longer going to need a hysterectomy. The true magic was how empowering the experience turned out to be and how it is shaping my entire approach to life moving forward. Before we get to that part of the story, I have important information about estrogen dominance to share.
Following the mastectomy, I began working with a naturopath specialist, Dr. Chris Holder of Wild Oak Medicine [https://wildoakmedicine.com/], to develop a holistic treatment plan that would not include taking tamoxifen—the pharmaceutical drug used in conventional medicine to treat estrogen dominance in hormone receptive breast cancer patients. Side effects include the same symptoms as adenomyosis and I wanted to avoid taking pharmaceutical drugs. Using telemedicine and shipping, I underwent a series of toxicology testing and mitochondrial DNA genetic analysis to uncover the causes of breast cancer and to determine treatments specific to my body. The testing results revealed the causes of cancer overwhelmingly pointed to estrogen dominance, validating my own initial research, with additional causes being excess androgens, insufficient digestion, inflammation, and poor liver function. This information helped shape my cancer treatment plan to address root causes instead of symptoms through an integrative mind, body, spirit approach that includes complete changes to lifestyle, nutrition, energy, and perspectives.
Dr. Holder is committed to uncovering the environmental causes of breast cancer, and shared astonishing sources of excess estrogen—clearly represented by the growing number of women being diagnosed with hormone receptive breast cancer, endomitriosis, and adenomyosis. • Birth control with hormones, even low doses, are a considerable source of estrogen, and the longer someone takes birth control, the more estrogen can accumulate in the body, as was clearly the case for me. • The hormones put into mass-produced food are direct sources of excess estrogen.• Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) mutate our mitochondrial DNA and because that DNA is unique to individual bodies, traditional research cannot be applied. The testing in my body specifically showed two DNA strains whose mutations are directly linked to excess estrogen production. • Plastic creates xenoestrogens or fake estrogens the body perceives as estrogen.
The acrylamide leached from heated plastic and products which contain parabens and phthalates all act as estrogen in the body. These xenoestrogens come into contact with phytoestrogens like soy, lavender, and licorice and bloom even more estrogen. Even the plastic which creates the slippery feeling in most grocery receipts are pumping unnatural estrogen into our bodies. One of my DNA mutations limits my bodies’ ability to dispose of xenoestrogens. • Trauma and stress directly correlate with adrenal function and fluctuating hormone levels. The more estrogen there is in the body, the more it is affected by trauma and stress. The more trauma and stress, the more hormone levels fluctuate.
Individual genetics and DNA mutations determine the estrogen production levels from this vicious cycle caused by the pace and demands of modern capitalistic society. None of this is to say that estrogen is bad—it is a critical hormone that is extremely imbalanced in many women’s bodies. This is where there is danger in products that are marketed as hormone balancing because unless you know what hormones you are trying to balance, you very likely could be making symptoms worse. Please note my work with Dr. Holder exposed many other environmental factors connected to the root causes of cancer in my body (e.g. pesticides and metals in water).
Listed above are just the causes associated with estrogen dominance as this article is intended to draw the connections between breast cancer and adenomyosis. A Holistic Healing Path Early on in the diagnosis, I worked with my naturopath primary care doctor at Tree of Life Medicine [https://tolmedicine.com/] who also believed estrogen dominance was an underlying culprit of my declining health. My initial healing regimen focused on detoxification, reversing adrenal fatigue, and addressing hormonal imbalance:• Eliminate alcohol and refined sugar.• Eliminate processed food as much as possible.• Eat alkalizing foods and vegetables in a variety of colors, limit meat to only grass-fed or organic.• Eliminate conventional dairy and only eat organic. Non-Organic dairy is a triple cancer threat—hormones, GMOs, and pesticides.• Attempt to eat organic and GMO-free as time and finances allow.• Take adrenal support supplements and adaptogen herbs including tulsi, astragalus, and ashwagandha.• Take DIM (diindolylmethane) supplements to block excess estrogen and destroy breast cancer cells.• Use castor oil packs over both my uterus and liver (resting with flannel soaked in castor oil covered by a heat pad with old towels to contain the mess).• Oil cycling—freshly ground pumpkin and flax seeds; fish oil first half (estrogen) of menstrual cycle followed by freshly ground sunflower and sesame seeds; evening primrose oil second half (progesterone) of menstrual cycle.• Herbal Tea cycling—dandelion tea for liver during estrogen cycle as soon as bleeding finishes; an herbal blend of red raspberry leaf, calendula, lady’s mantle, tulsi, rose, and violet halfway into progesterone cycle and through bleeding.• Vaginal steaming with the herbal blend (red raspberry leaf, calendula, lady’s mantle, tulsi, rose, and violet).• Yin yoga poses to support downward flow and pelvis.• Keep feet warm to support uterus and rub acupressure points on ankles for uterus and fallopian tubes. This is not a comprehensive list of my entire treatment plan, but rather the components which are connected to estrogen dominance as “prescribed” by my naturopath doctors.
In addition to diminishing the pain, I have been working to lengthen the progesterone part of my cycle as a direct indicator of balancing my hormones. While some of this has been achieved through the practices above, reconnecting with my feminine intuition, learning to listen to my body, and working with some powerful holistic health practitioners has been vital to reversing the dominance of estrogen and balancing my hormones. The day after I was diagnosed with cancer I began working with Sylvia Gaboriault [https://sylviagwellness.com/], a Reiki and wellness practitioner, to help me identify and move energy through and out of my body. She suggested I see Kayla Becker [http://www.riverhouseyoga.com/workshops/2018/2/7/hands-on-health-the-maya-way], a Maya Abdominal Massage therapist, to address the mind, body, spirit connection between my uterus and the rest of my health issues. Kayla looked me in the eyes and saw the deep sorrow I held in so many parts of my body. She opened her arms to me as I sobbed the deeply seeded pain and suffering from this story and so many others.
When I finished I felt like I had been seen and heard in a way I had never experienced. I was filled with compassion for myself instead of anger for everything that was happening to me. Kayla proceeded to give me an anatomy lesson of my lady parts. I was mesmerized by learning where my organs were located and how they worked together. Kayla had a hunch from talking to me which proved to be correct when I got on the massage table. My uterus was crumpled up like a broken soul, leaning to my right side, draped over my bladder. As she gently massaged my body and glided her hands over different organs, she reached into my lower abdomen and physically moved my uterus. I felt a little bubble and shift with some discomfort, but nothing compared to what I had been through. Kayla taught me self care techniques to stretch the ligaments to hold my uterus in its rightful home—at the center of my pelvis.
I felt the change immediately. My next menstrual cycle was different. The ovary knives were gone and there were no convulsions. The cramps were still very painful and the cycle was still only 21 days, but over time the cramps lessened and the cycle began to extend in length.
Empowerment from the Womb It blows my mind that one visit with a holistic practitioner addressed what a doctor who specializes in the uterus couldn’t see for years. At the time of my first appointment with Kayla, the rest of my world was spinning out of control—cancer still in my breast after two surgeries, a pinched nerve and mental health issues propelling me into crisis, public humiliation from having to ask for money to pay for the treatments and supplements for a holistic path and the judgement that generates, loss of friends and family out of judgement, fear of losing our home because I was not physically or mentally able to work.
Yet in these darkest moments, I began to feel empowered and realized I needed to take full responsibility for my health and forget about other people’s expectations and opinions, even if that pain created even more trauma. Understanding the underlying causes of the dis-eases in my body was a part of my process and how I began to learn to listen to my body. I saw Kayla on several more occasions and am deeply grateful to both Sylvia and Kayla as well as many other holistic health practitioners who helped me reconnect to my intuition as they supported me over the past two years.
I learned how to make decisions based on what I feel is best for me, not because of an expectation, statistic, or one-size-fits-all approach to conventional medicine. I nurtured my womb with creativity and learned to feel my emotions and release them out of my body. I began to believe the body really does want to heal itself. And when I began to believe in myself, I started to heal. Almost two years later, the menstrual pain is completely manageable. I only take regular doses of Advil (least toxic to liver) for the heaviest days. Blood flow is less and the length between cycles is longer—I recently had two 28-day cycles In a row! I haven’t had a 28-day cycle since I was on birth control!
I maintain a holistic treatment plan to the best of my ability given the realities of cost. I prioritize balance and joy in my life and relationships by honoring the cycles of nature, boundaries, and self care. I found acceptance with losing my breast and embracing a uniboob and am so grateful I am able to keep my uterus. Gratitude extends to all of the doctors, nurses, practitioners, teachers, and the people behind the lessons I learned and continue to learn, which I share as knowledge and wisdom to support other people in their own healing.
None of this would be possible without a Go Fund Me campaign my partner ran when I was diagnosed with cancer that was generously supported by numerous people over many months. I extend the deepest appreciation for all of the people who supported me through this health crisis. Holistic healthcare is expensive and is not accessible or equitable to people who cannot afford a “healing journey.” People with less privilege are either forced to follow the one option provided by the conventional medical system of drugs and surgeries. Or people just get sicker and die because they do not have health care and are forced to live in a society that values some lives more than others. We are all in need of healing—as individuals, a culture, and the whole of humanity.
Now that I am healthy, I am committed to supporting the transformation of our culture to one of love, hope, dignity, and respect for us all with integrity and reciprocity to the air, soil, and water that give us life. Join me as I encourage the empowerment of people, organizations, and movements to raise the impact of our voices for change. Connect with @RaeCarterEmpowR on socials media:https://www.facebook.com/RaeCarterEmpowR/https://www.instagram.com/raecarterempowr/https://www.linkedin.com/in/raecarterempowr/https://www.youtube.com/user/raecarter/
|Rae Carter is a light in the dark, a woman transformed by cancer, and a voice for heart-centered social change that honors the cycles of nature with compassion and empathy for all living beings. She is an empowerment coach, healing navigator, culture change facilitator, and communication pundit. Her journey to heal from cancer and address prevention for the future navigated both conventional and holistic medicine, with equal consideration to physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Rae speaks and writes about how her journey to heal from cancer was the catalyst to reclaim her power and her voice. She supports people recovering from illness, loss, and burnout with empowerment techniques by incorporating somatic movement, voicework, reiki, writing, guided meditation, and Earth-based spirituality into coaching sessions. |
Rae co-creates with her business — EmpowR — a communication, facilitation, empowerment, and healing navigation approach, practice, and set of services. She lives with her partner and animals in Plainfield, Vermont where they grow organic medicinal herbs, facilitate healing events, and create music with the Hygge Den music collective. Connect and follow her journey on social media RaeCarterEmpowr.