My Health Story
I remember when I was 15 years old, my girlfriend and I were getting ready for our first ever school ball together at her house. Horrifyingly, my period decided to start that same day, which materialized as crippling period pain and a swollen abdomen which resulted in me not fitting into my gorgeous dress. Her father, a gynecologist, offered me some little pills to take the pain away and decrease the inflammation. He explained to me in his authoritative voice, "Pain is normal!'
That may have been a passing comment from a gynecologist off duty, but those words stuck in my head for years as I navigated my “normal” period pain.
As I went through my education at the University of Auckland – with a first-class honors degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering followed by my Doctorate in Engineering, I matched my academia with a strong focus on health and nutrition. I learned about macrobiotic principles, ate organic foods, avoided medications and prided myself on my fitness. But my period pain continued to plague me.
It wasn’t until I was 30 that I finally reached out to doctors to help me with my “normal” period pain. By this time my symptoms were so extreme that I was falling unconscious with the pain, bleeding so severely at night that it looked like someone had been murdered in the bed, and I was bleeding at other times too, such as when I exercised.
My visit with my GP was the first time I had been to a doctor in over 10 years and the first time I had ever heard the word “endometriosis”. She again reiterated what I had heard so many years before “Pain is normal!”
My GP recommended a specialist for me and wrote down the word “endometriosis”. This marked the start of a very long journey with endometriosis, doctors, medications and surgeries.
My gynaecologist examined me and explained to me she doubted I had endometriosis, but she would book exploratory surgery. I wasn’t surprised she didn’t think anything was wrong, I was so healthy apart from the crippling pain and bleeding. And I already knew “Pain is normal!”
But surgery presented a different story. My gynaecologist was utterly surprised at the severity of my disease. I had endometrial growths over two thirds of my entire pelvic area. The laser surgery performed did not do it justice, and my body reacted negatively to the invasive procedure. My pain escalated further. My gynaecologist prescribed stronger pain killers and wrote to my GP saying the outcome of the surgery was “disappointing” and recommended further surgery.
That was it. Enough was enough. I finally realised the truth:
Pain is a warning sign something is wrong and to pay attention.
I didn’t trust my gynaecologist to reoperate and I started learning ways to take control of my health. The information on healing conditions was scant at best 20 years ago, but I explored all sorts of diet and lifestyle changes to help me heal myself. I tried everything from raw food diet, green smoothie cleanses, acupuncture, and psychiatry.
After 24 months of excruciating pain following my last surgery, I was lucky to be recommended to NZ’s top gynaecologist. I had a completely different experience with him. He took the situation seriously and within weeks I had surgery with two surgeons present – a bowel surgeon and my gynaecologist. They used a scalpel process to remove significant scar tissue from the previous surgery as well as new endometrial lesions on my pelvis, bowel and other organs.
On waking from this 5 hour procedure, I asked my surgeon if he had found anything. He held my hand, tears welling in his eyes, and told me this was the most complicated surgery he had ever done due to the way my organs had been tied together with scar tissue. The scar tissue had grown as a result from the laser surgery. He finally said the words I had come to know as true:
The surgery gave me much relief for months, but healing was still a long journey. I continued to focus on all I could do with diet and lifestyle, but still relied on a heavy prescription of medications and painkillers. I returned to my gynaecologist for subsequent surgeries every year for the next four years when the pain became unmanageable. Midway through these surgeries I made the difficult decision to agree to a hysterectomy to slow down the endometriosis. But despite the hysterectomy, my gynaecologist told me to expect a lifetime of regular surgeries and medications.
This journey was very isolating. I was unable to work for a number of years and found it difficult to maintain friends. I also didn’t know of anyone who had recovered from this condition.
Over fifteen years I worked hard to grow my career as a business coach, mentor and eventually independent director for companies. I worked across 200 businesses in those years. I continued to keep to my diet and lifestyle beliefs and managed to avoid further surgeries, but was still highly dependent on medications and pain killers. In the back of my head I heard my own voice reminding me…
In 2016, I noticed that my health was declining again. In order to manage my pain I was taking an increasing level of medications. This was a big motivation for me to start making further life changes.
Around this time, I started to listen to podcasts and read books about amazing healing stories from functional medicine practitioners. Inspirational stories such as Dr. Wahls reversing her Multiple Sclerosis after years in a wheelchair. These stories inspired me to learn more about the science of healing foods and gave me hope for my own future.
I wasn’t clear on the impact that changing my diet and lifestyle could have on me. I also was aware that what worked for one person may not work for another. It was so confusing. What should I eat? What supplements should I take? How much should I sleep? What exercise should I do? How could I maintain a positive outlook? How would I even measure if it was getting better rather than worse? I slowly developed my own wellness plan whilst learning more about healing through nutrition, and it worked.
My health is much improved including clarity of mind, sleep, energy and quality of life. I am no longer taking any medications or painkillers for my conditions and haven’t had further need for surgery for endometriosis. My healing journey has embodied all aspects of my life. It included developing my resilience, my mental wellbeing, an understanding of how my diet affects my own health.
"Pain-free is my new normal"
Changing my life has inspired me to help others. I now focus on coaching clients to improve their health and quality of life. I have developed my programs from my formal education in nutrition and wellness over the past four years and is exactly what I would have loved to have to help me on my journey. Now, I am passionate about helping others understand that their Pain Is NOT Normal and to help them navigate their journey to wellness.