Audre Lorde said in the piece “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” that silence was tyranny. And so in a moment of honesty, I want to speak truth, to unveil myself of the silence which has kept me.
I have fibroids. A clarification, I have a fibroid. One, that exists like a Mille Vanille song that just won’t get out of your head; my fibroid is a reminder of my humanity, of my womanness, and of the vulnerability that pain induces.
For those who don’t know what a fibroid is, it is a Noncancerous muscular tumors that can grow in the walls of your uterus. I know, you’re thinking, gnarly man. And I honestly thought the same thing.
Some of the research I’ve conducted on fibroids says that fibroids growth can occur between your 20s and 40s for women. But the caveat is that black woman are almost 30-50% more likely to get them. There’s a study conducted by Wise,L., Palmer, J., Reich, D., Cozier, Y.C. and Rosenberg, L. (2011) that shows that black women who use chemical relaxers “we observed increased risks of uterine leiomyomata (fibroids) in association with ever use of hair relaxers, duration of use, frequency of use, and total number of burns experienced during use. (pg. 4)”
I got my first relaxer at about 8. I can only assume it as 8, but I would sporadically get relaxes from 8-16. For those who don’t know what a relaxer is (or never watched Chris Rocks’ “Good Hair” for my melanin deficient folks), it is a chemical concoction which is placed on your hair, left to sit, and washed out. The chemicals eventually “straighten” or “relax” kinky/curly/nappy hair. Sometimes referred to as the “creamy crack”, hair relaxers are used by many black women. Relaxed hair for me has a specific smell; it reminds me of French Toast Crunch cereal. It has a chemical sweetness, a familiar sugary tinge. I’ve seen most of the women in my immediate family get a relaxer, and have been on the sitting end, in the bathroom, with a towel over my shoulders as someone placed the mixture onto my hair. There are obvious reasons why many women chose to straighten their hair. As Paul Mooney so eloquently stated, white people are sometimes uncomfortable with black hair (We can definitely talk about all the times strangers have touched my locs another time). When I was 18 went natural, and never looked back.
Three months ago I started feeling pain in my pelvis, a dull pain at first, which escalated into a deep and persistent pain. IT felt like something broke inside of me, and someone kept moving around the broken pieces. I chose to do what any rational person would do when you experience sever and prolonged pelvic pains-I waited for five days before I went to the doctors. Now before you get self-righteous about waiting to seek medical care, note that this is very common. A study conducted by Stewart, E., Nicholson, W., Bradley, L., & Borah, B. (2013) found that black women waited up to 4.45 years before seeking treatment for pelvic pain which later revealed fibroid growth. So lets normalize this!
Like the Stewart et al. (2013) study participants, I also took aspirin, and pain killers, and used hot presses, and writhed in my sleep. I waited, because pain has excited in my life and I thought like most pains it would dissolve, would dissipate, would fall to the recesses of my mind where I could think fondly of the time I foolishly neglected my health. And then, when I finally went to the doctors I was told “we don’t know”.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever felt certain of your own death, but I did for a moment, a day, a week before I got an ultrasound. Because I thought it was cancer. In those moments I feared that I wouldn’t get to grow old or drink another seltzer, or share all these milestones I’d created visions of. The truth is, I had never really imagined 28, so getting here was, is a gift.
When I got to the doctor’s office I had to wait an hour, which for someone who actively believed I had cervical cancer was the longest hour of my very small life. I had an ultrasound, something I hadn’t imagined would happen until I was having children, something that felt almost surreal, and there it was. A nice little growth on the top of my uterus. As a former goth kid the inevitable news of my untimely death didn’t produce the same dark fascination. There was no Smiths sing along in my head, only the sound of my heart beating rapidly against my rib cage. After what felt like the longest hour of my life sitting in the Ob/GYN, my Doctor arrived and I was told I have fibroids; clarification, one fibroid.
Me: “So it’s not cancer”
Doc: “No, it is a muscular growth that might cause you discomfort and pain and make your periods unbearable. But it’s not cancer”*
Me: “oh joy”
Indeed. In the three months since my diagnosis, I’ve gone through a lot of stages. Stage one- overreacting and doing all the research possible on fibroids, their causes, cures, and ways of managing what will be some very uncomfortable years ahead. Some people suggest exercise or yoga as a way of helping with the discomfort. I intellectualized my pain to remove it from my body, and then I got anger. Stage two- being very upset at my life. I channeled all of the Neu Mental within and ranged, in silence. Finally, after two weeks of thinking about it, avoiding it, and being angry at my body I let go. Stage three- repair. I started trying to exercise some, and I even started taking vitamins (semi) regularly. This is the last part of that repair, taking an honest look at myself and making peace. I can’t undo the fibroid, and I don’t know if it matters at this point.
It, like a long string of things which have come suddenly into my life and left indelible marks, exists within me. Pain, like happiness, comes swiftly; but unlike happiness, pain can linger long. So I chose to accept it, to learn from it and move through. I chose survival, I chose truth.
*My doctor explained complications to fibroids more like this.