The topic of women's health is something that still goes mostly not talked about. Periods, cramps, mid-cycle bleeding aren't part of regular conversation. Many women live for years with debilitating symptoms that they are led to believe are normal. So in order to change that, here is an interview with Amber Lewis NTP. We were in the same class and when I heard her story I was amazed by what she’s gone through, including suffering with her symptoms in silence for years.
For my non-American readers, 3rd grade is 8-9 years old, 5th grade is 10-11 years old and 6th grade is 11-12.
The interview is below, please enjoy! If you have any questions for Amber please leave them in the comments or use the “contact me” page if you wish to remain private.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, where you were raised?
I was born and raised in Alaska. I am the youngest of 5 children. My Mom passed away when I was 6 years old, some family members say she passed away from pneumonia, others say it was drug-related. She had a long history with drugs and alcohol. I was then raised in a very dysfunctional house by my Grandmother.
What were your early symptoms like? You told me that terrible periods and cramps started affecting you pretty early on.
I had my first breakthrough bleeding in 3rd grade, but I didn’t get regular periods until 5th grade. They started out normal, but by the time 6th grade came they we so heavy and painful they would nearly cripple me. I was told by my Grandmother that that’s just how periods are and I had to deal with it. There were several times at school I bled through a tampon and pad and had to change clothes. I was not allowed to stay home from school no matter how bad it was. I kept several pairs of underwear and pants at school because I knew how heavy I was bleeding. My friend Morganne had the same symptoms and we were able to work together to hide it from everyone else at school. She has also been diagnosed in adulthood. In 7th grade I became a competitive cheerleader with 4 hours of practice after school and required weight training for PE in school, I also developed an eating disorder in high schools, my body fat percentage got very low, and my periods became infrequent, but when they would come they would be horrible. As I was able to resolve my eating disorder in college and my BMI went up the periods returned.
At what age were you diagnosed? Was it a big shock, what was going through your mind? Did it take a while for you to seek out a professional or to get diagnosed correctly?
I was not diagnosed until I was in my mid 20’s. When I was 19 I went to a Doctor in Anchorage that implanted an IUD in me. I bled every day for almost 2 years, with cramping that felt like stabbing. It turns out I should have never had the IUD, and several women in my family had similar experiences all resulting in loss of fertility. After getting the IUD removed (by a Doctor in Seattle) the daily bleeding stopped, I then began birth control pills. My periods were still horrible, but I had been told so many times that that is just how they are I didn’t bring it up to my Doctor. The Doctor that removed the IUD retired and his son took over the clinic. On my first visit with the new Doctor, he asked very detailed questions and told me that what I was experiencing was not normal. At first, he thought that I have had an untreated STI, but after all of the tests came back negative he suggested a laparoscopy because he suspected Endometriosis. That is when I was finally diagnosed and I began treatment.
How did you find out about the Nutritional Therapy Association [editor note - we studied nutrition there together], what led you down a holistic nutrition path?
I found out about the NTA through an ex-boyfriend. He was a student and he knew that I was looking to change careers, and thought I would be a perfect fit. I already had a background in conventional healthcare and a degree in culinary arts, so the NTA was a perfect way to combine everything.
Is there anything you wish you knew early on in your health journey that you have learned since?
After my experience, I wish I had spoken to more female relatives. I had really only talked to my Grandmother and Sister and they told me to suck it up. But, it turns out several women in my family had been diagnosed or were suffering in silence just like me. I wish I had also never gotten the IUD. I was a 19-year-old virgin, and although the Endometriosis has most likely caused my infertility, the scarring from the IUD has made it very unlikely that my uterus could support implantation of an embryo if fertilisation were to happen.
How have your symptoms changed with age?
The only time the symptoms would stop is right after surgery to remove the lesions in my uterus and body cavity that were contributing significantly to the pain. And I would take birth control daily to trick my body into thinking it was pregnant, so I wouldn’t produce endometrium. I routinely had to go back in for more surgeries and change medication, because my body eventually stops responding to treatment. I have been treating solely myself with a ketogenic diet for about a year now, and this is the best my body has ever responded to treatment.
Is there something specific that made the biggest change in your health for you?
There was never an “ah-ha” moment with my health, everything just sort of all built up to me finally getting a treatment plan that is currently working for me.