Cheraw resident Kim Williamson has dealt with excruciating, unpredictable menstrual cycles for decades.
“Over time, the pain grew in intensity, to the point that I could barely tolerate it,” she recalled. “However, I perceived this as a normal ‘part of life’ for women and disregarded the pain.”
In spring 2017, the Rotary Club of Cheraw invited Dr. Sutton Boyd with McLeod OB/GYN Cheraw to discuss women’s pelvic health issues as a guest speaker. A Rotary Club member, Williamson’s timely encounter with Boyd would significantly change her life.
“Dr. Boyd’s presentation opened my eyes,” said Williamson. “For many years, I neglected important annual screenings, including my pap smear and mammogram, but when doctors diagnosed my sorority sister with breast cancer, I suddenly realized the dangers of delaying these screenings.”
With a nagging sense that she needed to take control of her health, Williamson decided to make an appointment with Boyd.
“I immediately felt drawn to her professional, caring demeanor during the presentation,” continued Williamson. “I knew she would provide the quality, compassionate care I needed.”
Williamson’s first appointment occurred in June 2017. Boyd performed a routine breast exam and pap smear. During the physical exam, Boyd felt an abnormality in Williamson’s left breast, so she ordered a diagnostic mammogram and an ultrasound of the breast. The results proved benign. However, the laboratory results from the pap smear showed the presence of atypical cells in Williamson’s cervix.
“When we discover atypical cells in a post-menopausal woman, we immediately proceed with further testing to rule out any possibilities of cancer,” said Dr. Boyd. She attempted two minor procedures to examine the cervix and uterus more closely; however, the size of Williamson’s cervix did not allow for the instruments to pass through.
Boyd then offered Williamson two options — repeat one of the procedures or undergo a hysterectomy.
“I opted for the hysterectomy,” said Williamson. “Though I do not have a family history of ovarian cancer, I wanted to eliminate any risk. I also wanted to enjoy life again without constant pain.”
Boyd then prepared Williamson for life after the surgery — from the downtime and what to expect during recovery to life without hormones and other changes that she would experience. “When discussing treatment options with my patients, I communicate both the pros and cons and explain that the benefits must outweigh potential risks,” said Boyd. “I have seen a correlation between ownership in the treatment process, both before and after surgery, and improved communication, patient satisfaction and outcomes.”
On Dec. 7, what began as a routine hysterectomy quickly turned into a more extensive operation when Boyd discovered an extreme case of endometriosis that had spread to tissues and organs surrounding Williamson’s pelvic region. Due to the complicated nature of removing the endometriosis from other non-reproductive organs, Boyd called in Dr. Salim Ghorra, general surgeon with McLeod Surgery Cheraw, to assist. The surgery proved successful.
“In Williamson’s case, our search for cancer led to an incidental finding of endometriosis, which explained a lifelong list of issues from which she silently suffered,” explained Boyd. “Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the endometrium, or lining of the uterus, grows in a different place. When this type of tissue begins to grow outside the uterus, we call this endometriosis. Tissue might grow in the fallopian tubes, bladder, ureters, ovaries or rectum.”
These tissue implants can grow and bleed, much like the lining of the uterus during the menstrual cycle, causing swelling, inflammation and irritation. When the tissue breaks down, scar tissue forms.
While symptoms vary from person to person — such as discomfort and even infertility — most patients identify pain and cramping with menstrual cycles as the primary symptom. In addition, properly diagnosing endometriosis often presents a challenge since pelvic pain can have many causes and even mimic other conditions.
“I cannot overstress the importance of making the diagnosis as quickly as possible so we can begin discussing treatment options to eliminate this very real pain,” said Boyd. “Many women have suffered this painful condition for years and have learned to live with the pain. In some cases, the people around them disregard their pain altogether.”
“Unfortunately, only treatment can provide relief, but I always walk through the process with my patients and give them a choice in their personalized treatment plan,” she continued.
In the weeks following her surgery, Williamson noticed such a drastic improvement in her quality of life. As she reflects on the past year, Williamson expresses deep gratitude for crossing paths with Boyd at the Rotary Club of Cheraw meeting.
“Because of Dr. Boyd’s excellent care, I now have the answer to the years of pain I suffered and can move forward,” recalled Williamson.
Williamson has undergone several successful follow-up appointments with Boyd since her hysterectomy and continues to enjoy life pain-free with her husband, Jimmie. She hopes that her story will encourage other women to seek treatment for their pelvic health issues so they too can experience a better quality of life.
Arielle Williams is director of communications and public information for McLeod Health Cheraw.