This is the story of a soldier with endometriosis.
Paige endured her first vaginal ultrasound in an emergency room at age 14. She got her period at age 11, and as a freshman in high school, she started having intense ovarian pain. The ultrasound revealed that she was experiencing ruptured ovarian cysts, which her doctor tried to control with birth control pills.
Years later, in graduate school, Paige suffered frequent, debilitating pain that would cause her to drop to the floor. She had frequent ER visits for pain that included severe back and leg pain.
Paige also had many urinary and bowel issues seemingly related to her cycle that specialists couldn’t specifically define. After decades of doctors’ visits, tests and pain, she came no closer to understanding her symptoms.
Could it be endometriosis?
In 2005, during an exam for persistent pain, a doctor suspected that she may have endometriosis, but was hesitant to diagnose her because he wasn’t an “expert”. That same year, Paige had her first surgery to remove fibroids and cysts. Post-op, the doctor told her that he saw “endometriosis everywhere.” He used ablation to remove what he could, but did not even come close to getting it all, which he didn’t tell her.
Paige still felt awful after the surgery and continued feeling poorly. From 2006 to 2007, Paige was deployed to Iraq and worked for the Department of Defense as a Human Intelligence Officer, collecting valuable intelligence and recruiting spies to keep troops and Iraqis safe. Her job was incredibly intense physically, emotionally, and psychologically. One of the only women working in the field, and at times the only female on a given military base, she had to continue to fight the daily pain her endometriosis caused her. This was a war zone, and yet there were no doctors that could help her.
In 2008, on a break from deployment, Paige saw a doctor in Texas for her endometriosis pain. The doctor immediately scheduled surgery but she was unfortunately deployed two days before she was able to have the procedure.
The difficulty of being a soldier with endometriosis
The culture of her work was so intense and weakness so frowned upon that Paige was forced to “suck it up” and just cope. Time to reflect or rest allowed her pain to break through, so she kept as busy as possible. She was afraid to seem like a detriment to her mission, sources, and peers. She put on a happy face and made work her life while she continued to be deployed around the world.
In Germany in 2012, almost seven years after her first surgery, Paige had the opportunity of a second surgery. While this doctor was able to free all of her organs that were fused together or adhered to her pelvic wall and bladder, he still didn’t remove the endometriosis, so she still was in pain.
Paige trained for and completed two more deployments to Afghanistan, requiring arduous physical activity, and carrying heavy weapons and body armor for protection. Her pain was so great that she became unable to carry the body armor and instead hid the fact that every time she went outside “the wire” in the Red Zone, she did so without any physical protection in order to maintain manageable pain levels.
During her last deployment, through most of 2013, Paige had to go to Afghanistan. She trained for a warzone: running, climbing, and walking with huge belt guns, carrying semi-automatic weapons. With each step, she felt like someone was ripping out her insides. Her job was dangerous and her life depended on her acting “normal” and looking like a local, which was hard to do hunched over in agony. Her senses were in complete overload. At this point, Paige had several cysts rupture with medics unable to help her or relieve her pain.
Finding Dr. Seckin
In search of a better quality of life, she found Dr. Seckin on the Internet while in Afghanistan. Her friend made arrangements while she was still overseas. As soon as Paige ended her tour, she flew into Washington, D.C., and drove to New York to see Dr. Seckin. His no-nonsense approach to explaining the disease and how it was affecting her body immediately relieved her. His line of questioning, including information about symptoms she never even realized were related to endometriosis impressed her.
Paige had surgery with him in December 2013. Dr. Seckin found and excised endometriosis from everywhere in her pelvic cavity, taking a total of 33 biopsies. He removed endometriosis from some of her nerves, which had caused her leg and back pain. Dr. Seckin had to rebuild one of Paige’s ovaries, and the disease affected both her bowel and bladder. Paige found a substantially better quality of life following her surgery with Dr. Seckin. She feels like a different person. She found a job that is much gentler on her body and geographically closer to the continuing medical care she may need with Dr. Seckin.
Trying for a baby
At 35, Paige is undergoing IVF because the endometriosis destroyed her chances of conceiving naturally. Paige is eager to share what she has learned, particularly with so many younger women who are not aware of the severity of endometriosis and its effect on fertility and quality of life. She urges all young women, especially those with endometriosis, to see a reproductive endocrinologist to test their ovarian reserve before turning 30.
In retrospect, Paige advises that knowledge is power, and combined with technologies such as egg freezing, women can make the choice to preserve their fertility while they still can.