One o'clock in the morning. My husband was working late, my two little boys were asleep in their beds. A searing, piercing pain ripped through the left side of my abdomen. Almost thrown out of bed in agony, I dragged myself to the bathroom. The violent nausea was instant and unrelenting. I collapsed.
The early hours of that morning were a blur. I was incapacitated in pain, vulnerable in my fear and panic, home alone with my two boys. By some miracle, my husband was home before I could reach for the phone and call him. He raced me to the emergency room. Clinging to my side, it felt like my ovary had burst. I felt pain that challenged even the most intense pain of childbirth.
Through the drawn out hours at the hospital I learny that my ovary had not burst. But a cyst on my ovary had. A cyst I did not even know was there.
Ovarian cysts are common and one of the leading reasons that women seek help from their gynaecologists. Worldwide, about 7 per cent of women have an ovarian cyst throughout their lives. For some there are warning signs. For me there weren't any - or at least I hadn't thought there were. When I was confronted with test results that showed that not only had one cyst burst, but there were more aggressive cysts that needed medical attention, it felt like I was no longer connected to my body. That somehow my body was failing me. In turn, it felt like I was failing my family.
Among the doctor visits, tests and the anxiety of results my instincts as a mother heightened. The questions tumbled over in repeat. What if it is cancer? What if I lose my ovary? What if I'm not okay? Faced with the uncertainty of surgery and the dynamics of recovery, the only thing I could think of was my boys. My two little boys and how our little family had suddenly lost its safety blanket.
A large endometrioma was removed from my left ovary. It wasn't cancer. I didn't lose my ovary. Thankfully.
The recovery at home was slow and painful. It was a time to heal and a time to reconcile with my body. It was a time to be grateful and count my blessings.
Ovarian cysts can't be prevented. While some cysts have no obvious signs, others do have symptoms: pressure or swelling in the abdomen, pelvic pain, a dull ache in the lower back and thighs, pain during sex or your period, and abnormal bleeding. If a cyst is physiologic, also known as an ovulation or follicular cyst, it tends to go away on its own. Pathologic cysts don't go away by themselves.
"The best way to protect your health is to know the symptoms that may signal a more significant problem and to schedule regular pelvic examinations," says Dr Alison Gee, from the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. "Although there's no definite way to prevent the growth of ovarian cysts, regular pelvic examinations are a way to help ensure that changes in your ovaries are diagnosed as early as possible.
"While most ovarian cysts develop as a result of the normal function of your menstrual cycle, other types of cysts are much less common."
Looking back now I can see the warning signs, the constant dull ache and the pain on my left side. Warning signs I won't dismiss again. My yearly doctor's appointment is on our calendar alongside our birthdays, because when confronted with the infallible truth that our lives are so precious, to ourselves and our families, I won't put any of us at risk again.