My 5th Endometriosis Excision Surgery

A drawing of a uterus, ovaries, and intestines.
Commissioned artwork by Sarah Soward

What an incredible Journey leading up to my fifth surgery!  Covid-19 postponed my surgery date by a week but, just in the nick of time, California’s governor lifted some lockdown restrictions that allowed for my surgery to move back to it’s original date of May 13, 2020. Today, June 10, 2020, marks one month since my surgery! Already! I am overjoyed with the results and the skilled hands of my surgeons.

A medical folder with "Surgery # 5" written on it

The Hospital

Due to safety measures of C-19, my Mum wasn’t able to join me for this surgery and recovery.  My husband was only able to drop me off at the curb of the hospital and I had to walk in alone. I didn’t see him again until he was picking me up to take me home.  It was a surreal experience. No piano player to greet me in the lobby and two checkpoints to pass with Covid questions, but I knew I was in good hands and the time passed super-quickly.

As usual, the hospital staff were incredibly kind and compassionate.  There were even a few familiar faces from prior surgeries.  Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla really does make me feel like a part of the family.  And it made me feel far less alone while I waited.

The two-hour time window between check-in and surgery flew by. Forms, questions, answers, IVs, talks with surgeon, talks with the anesthesiologist, talks with OR nurses, talks with prep nurses. Before I knew it, it was time to roll on back.

One of my favorite questions to ask before each surgery: “What music will we listen to in the OR?”  The option for me to choose is always given, but I default to the surgeon’s choice. This time (and always?): “Chill” station.  Perfect.  So the last thing I remember before taking that surgical nap: being wheeled into the OR, introduced to the rest of the OR staff, and after a few laughs and getting positioned on the operating table, a gentle whoosh of fluid through my veins (I can’t remember for the life of me what the anesthesioligst said before injecting the magic juice), and waking up in recovery.

I always wake up freezing cold. So the nurses were wonderful and turned up the heat on my air-blanket. I’ve GOT to get one of those for home. Ha!  Then I fell back asleep, woke up later, and began the transition from naptime to going home.

The timeline?  I arrived at the hospital at 5:15am, and was wheeled to the OR around 7:20am.  Surgery began at 7:50am and the report was dictated immediately after at 9:47am. My surgeon called  my husband at 10:20am to discuss what he found.  The nurse called Jim around 11:47am to let him know I’d be ready to go home soon, and we made it home at 1:00pm.

The Surgery

Text from operation report summarized below

Get on to the nitty-gritty already! I’ll include images of my official op report, followed by my (untrained) laymen explanation. All the learning!

Dr. Mel Kurtulus was my surgeon and Dr. Chandra Spring-Robinson was the Assistant Surgeon. Both are from San Diego Women’s Health and I cannot speak highly enough of them, both for my surgical care and for my regular gynecological needs and Endometriosis symptom management.

If you recall, I had a bowel surgery in 2018 and have rocked a 2-inch vertical scar beneath my belly button. In order to avoid any complications with scars, my surgeon decided to open a port and take a peek under the hood through an incision beneath my left rib cage rather than his usual route (through my belly button). So he took a quick look, realized that the belly button was free and clear of any adhesions, and opened up the rest of the ports: I have incisions on the right torso, my belly button, and two on my left torso.

Once properly situated, strapped in, and stirruped to the OR table, a foley catheter was placed inside my bladder. Through the belly button incision, they pumped my abdomen full of 3 liters of CO2 gas (this helps plump up the belly so they can see clearly inside).

Text from operation report summarized below

The uterus appeared normal (please remember they suspect I have Adenomyosis, which is not visible as it hides within the uterine muscles).

My bladder was stuck to my uterus and pinned there by adhesions. In the photo, it looks very spider-webby.

The right ovary had a cyst which they assumed was a benign cyst.

The left ovary was pulled and stuck to the left side of my pelvic wall by adhesions. It also had a cyst present.

Not mentioned in the report, but is visible in the photographs and was discussed at my post-op meeting, was the yellow-tinged inflammatory fluid in my pelvis. It was at the bottom of my pelvis, just floating around as loose fluid. If you’ll recall a few months ago, my ultrasound technician found “loose fluid” in the area of my intestines. I was advised that this is “inflammatory fluid” and is normal to find in instances of leaking cysts, endometriosis, and adhesions. The fluid was removed during surgery.

Text from operation report summarized below

Endometriosis lesions were found on the outside of my bladder, as well as the right round ligament, the cul-de-sac (also called the Pouch of Douglas), the left round ligament, the left paracolic gutter, and on the sigmoid colon. All of the lesions (except for the sigmoid colon) were excised and packaged up for pathology.

Text from operation report summarized below

Due to the closeness of the left ureter to the endometriosis lesions near my left ovarian fossa (the little cavity of the pelvis where an ovary sits) and the stuck left ovary against the pelvic wall, my surgeon took great care to keep the left ureter safe from any surgical damage. The left ovary and its cyst were completely removed. We had previously agreed to remove my left ovary due to ongoing pain and it proving to be a problem-child (for lack of a better term) discovered during previous surgeries.

Text from operation report summarized below

Now, back to the guts. On my distal sigmoid colon, he found a patch of Endometriosis, which he notes as “a deep penetrating cluster of endometriosis lesion.” In my post-op appointment, he classified it as a nodule of Endometriosis, and said it looked like Deep Infiltrating Endometriosis to him. Unfortunately, due to the high risks involved in cutting that deeply into the intestine without a full bowel prep and a colo-rectal surgeon on hand, he took note (and photographs) of its positioning and opted not to remove the nodule. More on this will be addressed in “The Plan” section below.

According to an April 2003 study published in Human Reproduction, Deep Infiltrating Endometriosis (also referred to as DIE) is described as “…a particular form of endometriosis that penetrates greater than 5mm under the peritoneal surface [citation omitted]. These lesions are considered very active and are strongly associated with pelvic pain symptoms [citation omitted].” Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts says that DIE is a rare occurrence, showing up in only 1-5% of women who have Endometriosis.

Text from operation report summarized below

He then removed the cyst on my right ovary and was able to save the ovary.

He thoroughly checked the rest of my pelvic cavity and found no further Endometriosis. He freed all adhesions and restored any wonky anatomy to its rightful place.

Before closing me up, a bag was placed inside my pelvic cavity, Lefty was tossed inside the pouch, and all was pulled out of my body. YAY! Good riddance! All of the CO2 gas was expelled from my pelvic cavity. And I mean ALL of it. I had ZERO occurence of post-laparoscopy shoulder pain due to any remaining CO2 gas. NONE. Dr. Kurtulus and I refer to it as the “Lisa Special,” where extra time and care is taken to make sure it’s all out. He does it for all of his patients and one day I hope he publishes the importance of taking extra time and effort to teach other surgeons. With all the gas gone, I was sealed up.

Text from operation report summarized below

Also, per tradition, he took a look inside my bladder in search of any signs of Endometriosis or Interstitial Cystitis or anything else that should not be there. Clean as a whistle and beautifully pink.

Another surgery wrapped up. All involved are skilled at what they do. And this has been THE EASIEST recovery yet.

Photographs

Since not everyone will want to look at my fascinating insides, I’ve embedded the surgery photos at the bottom of this blog entry. Scroll down if you’re curious!

But here’s a one-month progression of my belly healing up after surgery (contains some close-ups of incisions). If you don’t want to watch it, just scroll down a little further to the next section. Although this slideshow only focuses on several days (the entire first week, then once a week after that), I actually do have pictures from every day while healing. Believe it or not, they do help me when I forget if the bandaid lasted that long, or if that incision oozed, or if “this” looks normal. I go back to prior surgery photos often. And I recommend it for your personal notes.

Pathology Results

The pathologist, Dr. Kurt Mathews, found that all of the lesions were Endometriosis. Dr. Mathews also identified the right ovarian cyst as a benign cyst and the left ovarian ovary as a hemorrhagic corpus luteal cyst: both cysts were normal; neither was an an Endometrioma. Which is great news to me. Maybe my body will behave, eh?

The Bills

As of June 29, 2020, I am still waiting to receive most of the insurance Estimate of Benefits/ itemization and confirmed payments:

  • The hospital: $89,775.18
    • This includes the OR and pathology lab fees, medications, supplies, and equipment
  • The surgeon: $5,373.00
  • The assistant surgeon: $1,368.00
  • The anesthesiologist: Pending
  • The pathologist: $671.26
    • This is payment to the pathologist for the tissue examination.
  • My co-pay: $500
  • TOTAL: $97,687.44 (pending bills still need to be added as of 6/10/20)

The Plan

My post-op went very well and all of my questions and concerns were addressed. I have a follow-up consultation on September 1, 2020. At that future visit, we will discuss any remaining symptoms of pain or discomfort. As of today (June 10, 2020), I’ve had no recurrent pre-op symptoms. Any discomfort or pain that I am having is due to the healing process of surgery.

We will monitor my post-op bowel pain. When I poop I once more have the feeling of glass shards running through my guts, which wasn’t present before surgery. Most likely, the intestines are still healing and adjusting from the laparoscopy. I was told that this generally fades a few weeks to months after surgery.

Dr. Kurtulus had already had a private conversation with my colo-rectal surgeon about the Endometriosis nodule on my sigmoid colon. If I do decide to go in for another surgery to have that nodule removed, it will likely be very similar to my 2018 bowel resection. Only the small portion where the lesion is embedded would need to be removed. I’ve forwarded the surgery photos and op report to my colo-rectal surgeon, Dr. Matthew Schultzel, for review and discussion. If after the 3-month follow-up I have had any ongoing or new pain in that area, I will have to decide then what to do.

But the plan?

  • Wait and see. If any symptoms become unbearable, go in for surgery. Hopefully it never happens. But I am struggling with the mental aspects of accepting that a deep-infiltrating nodule of Endometriosis remains inside my body and is just lying in wait.
  • Continue to maintain (and better) my diet, lifestyle, and exercise.
  • I will also continue to daily track my diet, symptoms, and any needed pain medication use. And I will bring summaries of those journals to Dr. Kurtulus in September.
  • But the biggest part of the plan? Remain positive during all of this.

Comparison to Past Surgeries

Where was Endometriosis found throughout this whole journey? How much did the surgeries cost (even if covered by insurance)? I always like to go back and compare. And, unless otherwise noted, all lesions were excised:

June 30, 2014: 2 incisions; 2.5 cm Endometrioma on left ovary; 2cm hemorrhagic corpus luteum cyst on right ovary; Endometriosis lesions located on liver, diaphragm, between bladder and uterus, left ovary, cul-de-sac, and various locations throughout the pelvis; the uterus was adhered to the bladder; peritoneum adhered to the bladder and uterus; left ovary and fallopian tube obliterated and adhered to adnexa; cul-de-sac obliterated and covered in adhesions; and bowel was adhered to left side of pelvic wall. The liver and diaphragm Endometriosis was not removed. Total cost: approximately $71,000. Surgeon: Dr. Mel Kurtulus

September 12, 2016: 4 incisions; 2cm hemorrhagic corpus luteum cyst on right ovary; Endometriosis lesions located on diaphragm, sigmoid colon serosa, right ureter, left side of uterus, various locations throughout the pelvis; adhesions were found throughout the pelvic compartment; uterus was adhered to bowels in several areas; both ovaries and fallopian tubes were clustered and stuck together; right ovary was adhered to backside of uterus; uterus adhered to right side of pelvic wall; and extensive scar tissue on bowel and backside of uterus. The liver Endometriosis lesion had disappeared and the diaphragm Endometriosis was not removed. Total cost: $93,472. Surgeon: Dr. Mel Kurtulus

July 18, 2018: 4 incisions; 2cm hemorrhagic corpus luteum cyst on right ovary; Endometriosis lesions located in cul-de-sac, small intestine, near the sigmoid colon, left ovary, fallopian tubes; the tubes were inflamed and covered in disease and were both fallopian tubes were surgically removed; adhesions were found on and near the sigmoid colon, fallopian tubes, and bladder; the sigmoid colon was adhered to left pelvic wall and the bladder was stuck to my uterus. The diaphragm Endometriosis had disappeared. The small intestine Endometriosis was not removed. Total cost: $121,669.50. Surgeon: Dr. Mel Kurtulus

November 26, 2018: 5 incisions; 2cm Endometrioma on left ovary; Endometriosis lesions located on terminal ileum (small/large intestine), cecum, appendix, cul-de-sac, both uterosacral ligaments, near the bladder, and on both ovaries; adhesions had formed on the left side of my pelvic wall, my left ovary was stuck to the left side of my pelvic wall, and my bladder was adhered to uterus; a portion of my small intestine, large intestine, cecum and appendix were all removed, totaling approximately 7 inches during the bowel resection portion of this tag-team surgery; microscopic Endometriosis was found on appendix and cecum, as well as large intestine. Total cost: $235,429.60. Surgeons: Dr. Matthew Schultzel and Dr. Mel Kurtulus

May 13, 2020: 4 incisions; 3cm hemorrhagic corpus luteum cyst on left ovary; 1.2cm benign cyst on right ovary; Endometriosis lesions were found on the outside of my bladder, right round ligament, the cul-de-sac, left round ligament, left paracolic gutter, and deeply-embedded on my sigmoid colon; my bladder was adhered to my uterus, the left ovary was adhered to the left pelvic wall; and my left ovary and adnexa were removed completely. The sigmoid colon Endometriosis nodule was not removed. Total cost: Pending. Surgeons: Dr. Mel Kurtulus and Dr. Chandra Spring-Robinson

The Recovery

Let me start by saying this has been the easiest recovery yet! In a future post, I’ll share my itemized recovery day-by-day journal (I write down EVERYTHING from the second I’m home to four weeks out). And my husband has offered to help so we can compare it to previous surgery recoveries…as well as identify factors that may have made a difference in this time. So, please stay tuned for that separate blog entry.

During the four-weeks following surgery, I had ZERO shoulder pain from CO2 gas (thanks to Dr. Kurtulus and the “Lisa Special”!). And I took ZERO opiates and only two NSAIDs! TWO! I’m so amazed!!! Every day was an experience and journey. So, please stay tuned for the day-by-day breakdown, triumphs, pitfalls, setbacks, and “Today I could do this” entries which I’ll publish as soon as I’ve transcribed it. If I typed those here, this blog would go on FOREVER (and it’s already sooo long)!

Update 7/4/20: it’s been nearly 8 weeks since surgery. I have VERY little surgery pain. If I do, it’s mostly discomfort of low levels. If I overdo things, the discomfort can become pain, but it fades quickly. I DO HOWEVER still have pain when I poop: gut-splitting pain. And I’m curious how my July period will be. June’s period had 2 days of intense pre-op pain on the lower left side. We’ll see!

Surgical Photographs

As promised here are the surgery photographs! Please be aware that the scans are low quality; the Endo on the colon is MUCH more visible, almost a dark purple blotch on the hard printouts. If I get higher-quality scans, I’ll be sure to update these. You can click on them for a larger image.

Did you actually read all the way to the end? OMG. You’re amazing!! Not only is this blog meant as a tool to help others with their surgeries, recoveries, etc., but it’s absolutely a tool for myself: If I need to have another surgery, I can come back to these notes and refresh on what I may need or expect. So, thank you for enduring an incredibly lengthy blog entry!

And if you have your own upcoming surgery, I hope it provides long-lasting relief, that it is a easy recovery, and please feel free to reach out to me if you ever need anything.

*Updated 7/4/20*

Today is my one-year resectionversary!

One year ago today, I had my bowel resection surgery to remove to visible lesions of Endometriosis off of my small intestine. A section of my right intestine, as well as appendix and cecum were also removed. All biopsies came back as Endometriosis, including microscopic Endo on my appendix, and cecum.

I documented my healing process with photos! If you follow my personal page on Facebook, you already knew that. BUT I made a one-year anniversary video of my healing process!

How has my quality of life been since my surgery? Once my body recovered from the trauma of the surgery, it’s been pretty awesome. I mean, I’ve had to make some adjustments to diet, monitor my alcohol intake, stumble along the way.

BUT…I haven’t endured a single painful poop since my surgery! In the past, it’s felt like I poo’d glass and razor blades and barbed wire. The guts felt like they were packed with the sharp objects and just cutting along the interior as I poo’d.

That is long gone. Good riddance. Never come back.

I cannot say it enough: Thank you Dr. Schultzel and Dr. Kurtulus for your expertise, professionalism, and genuine desire to help your patience!

And my words of advice to you? Always track your symptoms. Write them down. Voice them to your doctor. Bring in copies of your pain journal. Find a doctor knowledgeable in Endometriosis and excision. Pursue answers and proper treatment!

Here’s to hoping the rest of my body stays Endo-free, too…

My First Colonoscopy

If you’re in the Southern California area and need a colonscopy, may I recommend The Endoscopy Center in Encinitas with Dr. Seeger? Everyone there was incredible and super friendly! What I was afraid would be a painful experience wasn’t painful at all. And it was sooo easy. Truly the hardest thing is drinkin’ the bowel prep and enduring a few hours on the toilet.

Why did I need a colonoscopy at 40 years old? My colo-rectal surgeon sprung it on me: one is needed a year after a bowel resection; just to make sure everything is okay inside.

Okay, on with the findings: a small polyp was discovered inside my sigmoid colon and removed for biopsy. The rest of my guts looked great! Wanna see?

Colonoscopy photos of my guts

My favorite thing I learned from your colonoscopy? I still have my ileocecal valve! I thought that bad boy was removed during my bowel resection. Seems like I still have it, according to the photos! I’ll ask my colo-rectal surgeon when I see him. Yay! And I like that they could see, and photograph, the section where my guts were stapled together!

Drinkin’ my Suprep

Thursday night’s bowel prep was…a lot. I thought I poo’d a lot for my November 2018 bowel resection? Oh my god…I poo’d 32 times. Thirty-two!

And more Suprep Friday morning

And Friday morning’s prep? I crapped 41 times! Including 20 minutes before the camera went up my bum! Apparently my rectum is competitive and had to beat the record from the night before. One day I’ll log the times, etc., but not today.

The plan? Wait for the biopsy results, discuss with my physician, and have another colonoscopy in five years!

A huge thanks to The Endoscopy Center crew for making my first colonoscopy wonderful: the receptionist, Tanya, the nurses (Elaine, Allison, and Lia), and Dr. Seeger. I wasn’t gassy or sore or bloated or anything I feared afterward. It was truly a pleasant experience (well, except for the prep ha!).

PS – if you’re ever afraid that you’ve still got some liquid-poo inside your guts and you’re going to just poo all over the staff during your colonoscopy, rest assured: they’ve got suction at the end of that li’l camera! It was my one big fear; and they alleviated it by explaining the suction! YAY!

Stronger Than Endo : Merritt, An Endo Warrior Interview

Words that read Stronger Than Endo

Over a year ago, you may remember we shared a sneak peek of a project we were involved in: Stronger than Endo. We interviewed a few women with Endometriosis, as well as my excision surgeon.

Well, my friend Exxes has completed and released the first of the three full-length videos. This one is an interview with my beautiful friend, Merritt.

It’s about 50 minutes of her Journey with Endometriosis. Her spouse, Jess, pops on and offers the perspective of a partner with endo. It was a long, rough, but beautiful morning for all of us, including Exxes. We also discussed what we, as individuals and a community, can do to help others. Raise awareness. Be there for one another. And don’t be afraid to share your story with others.

Thank you Merritt, Jess, and Exxes, for making yourselves available, vulnerable, and for allowing this to happen. I love you guys.

Here’s the video! For some reason, it starts close to the 2-minute mark; you may want to rewind it a bit when you watch it. Enjoy and share!

And, please stay tuned. As soon as they’re available, we’ll be releasing the videos of another EndoWarrior, Heidi, and my surgeon, Dr. Mel Kurtulus.

We’ve got a big announcement to make!

Breaking news announcement

It’s with great pleasure that I’d like to announce that Bloomin’ Uterus has partnered with the local San Diego-based non-profit, Gifts 2 Help, for 2020’s Endometriosis Awareness Walk.

Not only is Gifts 2 Help a local organization, but it’s run by a fellow EndoWarrior! Amy started Gifts 2 Help in honor of her mother who passed away in 2007 as a way to continue her legacy: helping those in need however she could.  Ongoing projects include an annual CHP Appreciation Day, EveryDay Heroes Appreciation Day, and Christmas Miracles.  There are many more projects that Amy would like to take on through Gifts 2 Help, and I was thrilled when she suggested helping with our annual walk.

Donations toward the costs of the walk (and expenses of any future events) will be tax-deductible!  All donations that Gifts 2 Help receives on behalf of Bloomin’ Uterus will go into a separate account, the funds to be exclusively used for our future walks, events, workshops, and projects!

Together, we’ve recently secured the City of San Diego permit for our March 28, 2020, Endometriosis Awareness Walk at NTC Park at Liberty Station!  So, it’s official!! Expect a registration page and details soon!  But please do mark the date on your calendars!

Thank you, Amy, for your passion to help others, even as you have your own battle to win.

Blood and Poop and Headlamps … OH MY!

Proctoscope, gloves, and a blob lube
That’s gonna go…where?!?

So, over the past two months, I’ve been experiencing some bleeding when I poo. I’ve taken several first aid and civilian medical classes, so I knew it wasn’t anything to worry about: the color and texture was well within the “don’t freak out” range.

I noted these incidents on my food & symptom journal and booked an appointment with my PCP to discuss and get a possible referral to my PoopChute doctor.

Although I blog about poo and guts and all kinds of other lovely and taboo things, going into the doctor’s office to actually have them examine my bunghole is not my idea of good time. It’s even more horrific than having to buy pads or tampons when there’s only male cashiers…although I finally grew out of that trauma in my 30s.

Butt, I mean but, sometimes you just have to go to a professional and have them stick their finger in your but, I mean butt.

After a lengthy discussion of my symptoms, my diet, my fiber and water intake, and (lack of) exercise, there was the dreaded visual inspection and internal exam. Nothing abnormal was seen or felt, and I received the referral to my colo-rectal surgeon with the suspicion of tiny hemorrhoids or a possible recurrent fissure. And my PCP, Lauren Campagna, is freakin’ amazing and always makes me feel at ease.

A few weeks later (aka this past Wednesday), I repeated the process with my colo-rectal surgeon, Dr. Matthew Schultzel. I feared I was wasting his time. He did major surgeries, like my bowel resection. And here I was asking him to examine my bleeding arse. He assured me that this was a huge part of his practice and that I wasn’t wasting his time.

We talked about my symptoms and diet, he examined my incisions and pushed on my guts to check on my post-op healing, and then we got down to the real nitty-gritty.

He slipped on a headlamp, I assumed the position, and it truly wasn’t as uncomfortable as I’d imagined. First was the finger exam, followed by the clear duck-bill lookin’ device that taunted me from the exam room table (I later learned it’s called a proctoscope!). Again, it wasn’t too uncomfortable. It was awkward, but there wasn’t any pain. And Dr. Schultzel’s constant reassurances and jokes made the awkwardness far less than it could have been.

Lo and behold, I’m an overachiever: I have three various-sized hemorrhoids inside my guts. THREE! And a tiny skin tag, likely the remnants of a prior hemorrhoid.

The plan? There’s an in-office technique known as band ligation.

“Like rubber bands on a pig’s balls?” I asked.

“Exactly,” he laughed, and said he usually reserves that example for his Texan patients. Score one for growin’ up in Arizona!

So, I go in on July 31st for the fist of my three banding procedures. He’ll be slipping a tiny rubber band around the base of one of my three stowaways..and in several days it will just fall off. I’ll bleed or spot for a bit. Then 4-6 weeks later, repeat the process. Then repeat it once more! BUT his office is currently checking on the latex-content of the bands since I have an allergy…hopefully there’s an alternative if one is needed.

I most certainly don’t strain when I poo. Everything just kind of falls out easily since my surgery. And I drink A LOT of water all day, as well as take a fiber supplement every morning. So why do I have hemorrhoids? And three?? He let me know that it’s not uncommon for the body to go through weird changes after a bowel resection. I’ll take that theory!

So if you ever find yourself poo’ing and finding blood on your toilet paper: please contact your doctor. There are MANY different causes for bloody stool. And it should never be taken lightly.

That being said: it’s poop. And poop is embarrassing. And nobody wants to talk about it. But, as a friend of mine said to put my mind at ease, “Remember that your doctor purposely spent years and years and many thousands of dollars for the honor of looking up your bunghole. Whatever happens, it’s his privilege to experience!” So, talk to your doctor!!

I’d love to hear about your experiences! Feel like giving me a little insight into your poopchute? Have you had fissures or hemorrhoids before? How’d it go? Do you use something like the Squatty Potty? Or what’s your favorite fiber or stools softener? Share with the class 🙂

Saying Farewell to an EndoSister

Kristen Cavanaugh
Kristen Cavanaugh; Oct. 3, 1985 – June 27, 2019

Written by Heidi Baurmann, Speaking on behalf of all of our Bloomin’ Uterus sisters.

It is with a heavy heart that I announce one of our own has lost their battle with Endometriosis. Kristen Lynn Cavanaugh will always be a part of our Bloomin’ Uterus Sisterhood.

Kristen found me on Facebook in March during Endometriosis Awareness month. In the little time I knew her, it was obvious what a strong advocate she was for us all, sharing her story openly with the community & supporting chronic illness sufferers.

On Wednesday, June 27th, I was devastated to hear the news that Kristen had lost her life due to medication complications (the medications are listed at the end of this blog entry). It feels so unjust to loose a sister this way. Kristen’s friends and family are focusing their energy on spreading awareness in hopes to help others who are suffering in pain.

In loving words, her mother writes, “Kristen had a passion for helping those with chronic illnesses, and through her small business of health care products, she reached many women who suffer with endometriosis and fibromyalgia.“ Here is the link to her obituary. https://horancares.com/obits/kristen-cavanaugh/

Her dear friend opened up to me about her great sense of humor & expressed that what she “loved about her was how selfless she was. She quit a 6 figure job at DISNEY, to make boxes for each endosister. She carefully thought of each item while adding them to the boxes. She had such a big heart.”

Her family is asking for donations to the Endometriosis Foundation in her name. (There is a section where you can state who you are donating for.)
http://www.endofound.org

Here are the links to her Instagram endo page as well as her personal page, if you would like to say some words on her behalf.
@witsendocornerapothecary
@forkristenforeverago

Kristen will always be remembered in our hearts as a woman who fought hard & gave back. I hope you are looking down at all of this love and smiling. We send love to her family & all those who are feeling her loss.

**

Update: July 9, 2019: Suzie, Kristen’s mother, has given us permission to share the medications that Kristen was prescribed, which may have contributed to her death. We are sharing this information with you to implore you to verify with your physicians (and do your own research) regarding any potential drug side effects or interactions.

On June 24, 2019, Kristen was prescribed Dilaudid, Valium, Xanax, and Ambien. Suzie wants to stress to you that these medications, if taken together, can cause respiratory distress. Kristen and her family were not made aware of this danger. She would like to remind each of us that, “combining those meds is very dangerous.”

If you’re worried about your multiple over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, and/or herbal supplements having potential risks (or even death) when taken together, please talk to your doctor. And you can check out drug interactions on this amazing database.

Looking for All Natural Bath & Beauty Products? Look No More!

Jar of raw honey and freshly cut handmade soap by Special Flwoer Oil, Co.
Beautiful handmade soap by Special Flower Oil, Co.

Friends of mine, Raul and Yuliya Montes, have started a small company creating and selling natural bath and beauty products (and a few other things!). I’ve purchased and fallen in love with several of their items and wanted to sit down and pick their brains for a few minutes and share the news about Special Flower Oil, Co.

…pssssst…they make CBD oil bath bombs…

Looking for all-natural bath bombs, soaps, lip balms, and more? Read up a bit on who these guys are, what they make, and then go peruse their wares!

Lisa: Special Flower Oil, Co.?  That’s a great name! How’d you come to be?

Yuliya: We have this inside joke between the both of us that we’re a bit “special” two peas in a pod and all, and we came up with this saying “You’re my ‘special’ flower,” when one of is being a little on the – well… less than intelligent side. We always knew we wanted to own our own business, and at the same time wanted to do something that we both enjoy that benefited other people that we could do together – so one day while taking a shower together, we noticed how many ingredients were on some of the items – and we decided to work on something more natural.

Raul: It pretty much started with this weird rocking side to side, that kind of evolved over time. Our company name is literally our way of making fun of ourselves and each other, even though people outside, likely think that it has to do with the oils we use and such. As far as the start – we woke up one morning thinking, “wouldn’t it be nice to quit our day jobs do something we enjoy more?” Well, we haven’t quite quit our day jobs, but we’re doing what we enjoy.

Mason jar filled with shower steamers by Special Flower Oil, Co,
Organic shower steamers by Special Flower Oil, Co.

Lisa:  What do you feel sets you apart from the endless stream of competition out there?

Yuliya: We do hours of research over every single ingredient that we use, we refuse to take shortcuts. We believe that we need to be producing a product that we, ourselves would use before selling it to others, and having integrity in the ingredients that we use.

Raul: I think it’s unique that you’ve got a small business co-owned by a married couple, one being a woman, one being an OIF war vet. My background is in combat medicine, and in that I’ve discovered that improvised treatments and at times alternative treatments can have huge impacts on quality of life. Aromatherapy in and of itself isn’t just about chakra crystals and weird blessings, there’s some solid science behind it, including cognitive improvement in Alzheimer’s patients who have used rosemary, lemon, lavender and orange.

Lisa: As a person who suffers from a painful chronic illness that is often influenced by chemicals, parabens, and hormones, I appreciate your dedication to pure and body-safe ingredients in your products.  I see you guys use organic and locally-sourced ingredients.  Why is that important to you?

Yuliya: Back in 2013, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s – an autoimmune disorder that attacks and destroys the thyroid, and because of it I will be on supplemental thyroid hormone for the rest of my life. The more I did research, the more I found that body care products are ridden with harsh, endocrine-disruptive chemicals, affecting the body – and being a woman, I was using these chemicals all over my body. I threw out a lot of my stuff and began seeking out items that were natural or organic – but these are expensive, so I decided to make my own. I mean, with the skin being the body’s largest organ, and it absorbs a lot (up to 64% of contaminants from water alone), it’s easy to see that what we use on our skin ends up in our bodies – often in our blood streams and lymphatic systems, and it seems like the majority of mainstream body care products contain a horrible cocktail of carcinogenic chemicals, allergens, and irritants. Knowing who makes our ingredients, knowing how they are sourced, and using them ourselves first, always ensures that we’re creating the perfect product.

Raul: I completely echo everything Yuliya said. I think that knowing where an ingredient is from, how it’s sourced, and having a relationship with the ingredient producer is important. Case in point, our Goat Milk, Honey, and Oats soap uses organic goat milk and oats, and raw honey from a local beekeeper, who also happens to be a fellow combat medic. Up to that point I’d never had fresh raw honey – and my god does it taste amazing. These are just glimpses into the items that we’re using in our soaps and bath bombs. I want people to feel as good about the product and the way it’s made as they do while they use the product.

Bath bombs by Special Flower Oil, Co,
Bath bombs made by Special Flower Oil, Co.

Lisa:  A lot of our readers suffer from chronic pain.  I see that you have “hemp isolate” bath bombs; can you tell us a little bit about what that means…and how your bath bombs may help someone in pain?  

Raul: CBD. It’s CBD plain and simple. I’ll be really honest – its really hard to sell items online that contain them, regardless of the farm bill passing. As such I wanted to make sure it was something that if someone said, “oh what is hemp isolate powder,” that they could type it in and the first thing they would see is CBD. We’re covering ourselves while trying to afford a completely legal and THC free item to those who need it.

While researchers don’t entirely know how CBD works yet, they think that it interacts with receptors in the brain and immune system. Moreover, it helps as an anti-inflammatory as well as can help those who suffer with chronic pain, and associated insomnia without adverse side effects. Now – when its combined with other anti-inflammatory and pain relief oils such as lavender, yarrow, eucalyptus, and chamomile – and of course Epsom salts, it creates a beautiful pain relief cocktail that you can literally just envelop yourself in. I’ve also got some CBD soap curing right now that I whipped up earlier today using the goat milk oats and honey base. I’m excited to use it!

Yuliya: CBD is nature’s way of affording us a pain relief option that doesn’t involve using drugs, while being able to indulge in the experience. Imagine it, you pour a hot bath, enjoying the hot steam – you toss in one of the bombs and soak for a half an hour, letting your skin absorb these pain relief oils and CBD… Oh you’re ready for painless sleep.

Lisa:  If someone doesn’t want a “hemp isolate” bath bomb, do you offer them the option?

Raul: Of course, we understand that CBD is still considered one of those edgy, experimental type of products – because of that we have the same bath bombs and soaps completely hemp free.

Yuliya: All of our products are customizable. If you see an item of ours that has hemp, and you want a hemp free version, just reach out – we’re more than happy to make custom products.

Bowl of bath bombs by Special Flower Oil, Co,
Bowl o’bath bombs by Special Flower Oil, Co.

Lisa:  I’ve gone through numerous pain management and stress-reduction workshops over the past five years and I’ve learned that sometimes to help reduce symptoms and pain, we need to try to calm our nervous system.  Take a moment. Breathe. Meditate.  There’s a great connection between pain and a heightened sense of “FUCK, EVERYTHING HURTS (and I wanna die!)”.  That being said,  I know you make scent roll-ons.  I’m partial to the “Palomar Skyline” blend as I find it very soothing, calming, and the scent jettisons my mind up into the mountains.  Are your essential oil roll-ons intended to aid in relaxation and calming techniques? Or just smell good? How can your customers better use your roll-ons to help calm and de-stress, both physically and mentally?

Yuliya: Absolutely, I deal with constant anxiety. I’m currently testing an experimental mixture that I’ve named “Natural Xanax,” Which I use pretty regularly to reduce my overall stress levels. Our oils are designed to both smell nice (and not overpowering) while helping the customer come off the proverbial edge. They also work amazingly while meditating. Our goal here was to help the customer find peace in the moment.

Raul: I’ve got some that I’ve made just to act as a cologne, such as the GWOT Christmas, but by in large the scent oils are designed to help center someone. Dealing with PTSD, I’ve learned that sometimes a couple of dabs of the Palomar Skyline can help pull me out of a moment – whether its dealing with chronic pain due to spinal compression (or a recent shoulder surgery), or dealing with the existential hell my mind likes to throw me into. I always recommend using the oils on pulse points – or if you so choose, diffuse them, close your eyes, and focus on the smells. As odd as it sounds, I personally practice a verbalization of what I “see” when I close my eyes and focus on the scent. It really helps to pull me out of the mind-storm and places me on a mountain, in a lavender field, or in an orange grove…

Soap and essential oil roll-on by Special Flower Oil, Co,
Roll-ons and soap by Special Flower Oil, Co.

Lisa:  Do any of your roll-ons have pain-relieving capabilities?  My Mum buys me an essential oil spray that does the trick for acute pain.  And a friend of mine gifted me with a roll-on that also helps with surface pains.

Yuliya: Yes! Like Raul said, certain oils have pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties. Rolling or dabbing them on the skin can help with pain and inflammation in addition to the calming nature of each one of the oils.

Lisa: I’ve read your soaps use goat milk and locally-sourced honey.  Why is that better than ingredients that may be found in other soaps (handmade or otherwise)?  Sell me on their magic!

Raul: Goat milk alone is an amazing item. It contains Alpha Hydroxy Acids that help to unbind dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, giving a more rejuvenated look, vitamin A, which has been proven to reduce lines and wrinkles, cream – which keeps the skin moist (especially during those winter months) and minerals like selenium, which has been praised in recent years for its ability to prevent skin cancer.

Then honey helps to balance the skin’s natural bacteria, helping to reduce the appearance of acne, as well as speeds up the healing process of the skin.

Combined they can help with eczema, psoriasis, and even candida overgrowths on the skin.

Sugar facial scrub by Special Flower Oil, Co,
Lavender Charcoal Facial Scrub by Special Flower Oil, Co.

Lisa: I’ve never made soap before and imagine it’s much like making Jell-o: throw everything in a bowl and *tada* I have soap in a few hours. I know that can’t be true. So… how what all goes into creating a handmade bar of soap?  Help me appreciate the process and effort, please. 

Raul: Soap can be a real pain in the ass to be honest. It starts off with research and figuring out what items I want to use to make a soap – for example, if I want to make a beautiful swirly soap, I need to use canola oil, keep out the shea butter, and make sure my fragrances and essential oils aren’t going to accelerate the saponification. The next part is selecting my fats – which are oddly enough, often the same oils we use for cooking – coconut, canola, sustainable palm, olive, and the like – melting them down and mixing lye (yes lye) with either distilled water or goat milk (which has to be frozen to avoid curdling). Once lye mixes with a liquid, it creates a lye solution which is the basis for *all* true natural soaps.

Let me restate this: all real soap is made with lye – anything without it is a detergent and not a soap. Yes! Real Soap is made with lye. You might wonder where the lye is on the ingredients list of your favorite soap – “saponified oils of –“ or sodium followed by cocoate, palmate, palm kernelate, tallowate, or olivate. Soap makers know that people are afraid of the word “lye.” None remains in the finished product.

The lye is then blended with the oil, it begins something called “trace.” Trace is the point in soapmaking where the oils and lye have emulsified and the lye begins saponifying. Once this happens the lye and oil molecules combine and are chemically changed into soap and glycerin. From this point it’s put into a mold for a few hours or days, then cut, and left to cure for four weeks.

Soap and candle by Special Flower Oil, Co,
Handmade soap by Special Flower Oil, Co.

Lisa:  What’s been your favorite product to make?

Yuliya: Soap! Always soap. There are endless possibilities – from scent combinations to oil combinations. Each one of our handcrafted small batches is completely beautifully unique in its own right, and it should be, because it reflects us as people.

Raul: Soap. It might be a pain in the ass, but it’s totally a relaxing activity for me, and I can design each bar as meticulously as I want to. I can’t draw. I can’t paint, so this is my art.

Lisa:  Have you had any mad scientist concoction failures with any products yet?  Tell us a funny story…

Yuliya: My first round of lip balm. It was horrible! It was rock hard. Completely solid. We ended up scrapping the whole batch because I was being stingy with oils. It was like trying to rub a candle on your lips.

Raul: My first round of bath bombs. Oh God, they were horrible. I’m not even sure where they went wrong… well the worse part was – I’d made two batches – the first was great, and we had gotten our first order when we’d opened the Etsy. Guess which ones got sent? Yeah… as soon as I realized, I contacted the customer (who thankfully hadn’t used it yet) and sent out another set of bath bombs free of charge. I mean, we saved the day, but it felt really dumb.

Bath bombs by Special Flower Oil, Co,
Bath bombs by Special Flower Oil, Co.

Lisa:  Any sneak peeks at items you’re working on that aren’t released yet?

Yuliya: Massage candles, therapeutic body butters, tinted and flavored lip balms, face masks, and beard balm for the guys.

Raul: A few more soaps. I want to have seven main “flagship” soaps, and run a special “soap maker’s” batch once every month or so – which will just be a few of our “left-field” ideas thrown into action

Lisa:  Do you take custom requests?

Not only do we take customer requests, we look forward to it!

Lisa:  Anything else you’d like to add?

Our goal is to give back to the communities. We like working with 503s and other small businesses. We also have wholesale options (we make it, you sell it as your own).

A li’l more about Special Flower Co.:

Early in 2019, we were discussing the prospect of having a wedding reception, and began discussing what kind of party favors we would use. Initially we settled on bath items, like soaps, bath bombs, and scrubs, but after looking, we felt like nothing really fit the people who had always been there for us. There were plenty of quality goods out there, but none that were uniquely “us.” 

That’s where Special Flower Oil Co. began. 

Personalization and uniqueness are what make an item special. It’s the time taken to make a unique item that isn’t mass produced and misleadingly called “handcrafted.” It’s about the time and effort we take to perfect our art, whether that be the scent in a bath bomb, the particular composition of a soap, or the one on one focus on customer service. 

We are Special Flower Oil Co.

Raul and Yuliya

Yuliya and Raul Montes kissing
The happy couple and Special Flower Oil, Co. founders: Yuliya and Raul Montes

NOT JUST ANOTHER “HANDMADE” BATH PRODUCT

Our products utilize top of the line organic, fair trade compliant, rain forest safe oils. Moreover, we source local products from goat milk to honey, as often as we can, utilizing veteran owned businesses where available. We also source our herbs from local, organic, pesticide free gardens – because you deserve to feel as good about a product’s background, as you do when you use the product.


You can find Special Flower Oil, Co. on the interwebs:

Email: info@specialfloweroil.com 

Web: https://specialfloweroil.co/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/specialflower/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/specialfloweroilco/


I want to extend a huge thank you to Yuliya and Raul for not only creating some amazing products, but for being the exceptional human beings that they are…and for taking the time to give us a sneak-peak into their lives and business. We wish you continued success in all endeavors!

*I was not compensated for this interview. It’s just something I wanted to do for them…and you.

Endo Diagnosis: Five years ago today

cake with a big number 5 candle on it
Birthday Candles by Andy Eick

My calendar has been reminding me every day this week that today is my five-year diagnosis anniversary…and I’m a maelstrom of emotions.

Sad. Happy. Angry. Vindicated. Excited. At peace. Hopeless. Blessed.

Years of pain, telling my doctors, taking meds, cancelling plans, missing work, and accepting it as normal. And five years ago today, I learned the cause of my pain had a name: Endometriosis. I never would have received my diagnosis if it weren’t for a series of ultrasounds, a competent doctor whom I now cherish, and the appearance of a persistent cyst on my ovary:

Feb. 2013: pelvic ultrasound

May 2013: pelvic ultrasound

May 2014: pelvic ultrasound – possible dermoid cyst

May 2014: pelvic MRI

June 30, 2014: exploratory, diagnostic, and excision surgery! SURPRISE ENDO!…not a dermoid cyst.

Sept. 2014: pelvic ultrasound

May 2015: pelvic ultrasound

Feb. 2016: flexible sigmoidoscopy to check out bowels due to pain

May 2016: pelvic ultrasound

July 2016: pelvic CT

Sept 2016: 2nd excision surgery

May 2017: pelvic ultrasound

August 2017: pelvic ultrasound

May 2018: pelvic ultrasound

June 2018: pelvic ultrasound

July 2018: 3rd excision surgery (Endo remained on small intestines to be dealt with ASAP by colo-rectal surgeon)

Nov. 2018: 4th excision surgery and bowel resection

April 2019: pelvic ultrasound

Pending July 2019: pelvic ultrasound to monitor a possible endometrioma…

The journey continues…and the spinning maelstrom of emotions also continue to fester: Sad. Happy. Angry. Vindicated. Excited. At peace. Hopeless. Blessed. Now with the possibility of the disease already being back already, add on: Scared. Nervous. Hopeful.

But my favorite part of today’s five-year anniversary? It led me to my Sisters and fellow Warriors, has given me new friends, and it’s brought me so much closer to my family. Endo given my a voice and purpose. It’s united all of us: Warriors and our Support. And we all fight together…not only for our own survival, but for one another.

Happy Big 5, Endo. Thanks for everything. ❤