After decades of living with unbearable pain every month, Amy Bowles was diagnosed with endometriosis and adenomyosis.
For most of her life Amy Bowles thought she just had “bad periods”.
Every month for several days the pain would be so unbearable that she couldn’t walk or function at all. Sometimes the pain was so bad she blacked out.
“I’ve had heavy periods all my life and a lot of pain and discomfort,” says Amy, 42, a musician and trainee music therapist.
“I’d go to my GP, but I’d just be given painkillers. I moved around a lot when I was younger so no one noticed that I was saying the same thing.”
For Amy, being bedridden with pain every month was normal, but in her late 30s when she met her partner, he became concerned at how much she was suffering.
“He would tell me what had happened because I’d black out or not remember things, and he became really upset about it,” she explains.
“I thought this was just how periods were – I’d really normalised what was going on with me.”
Amy was finally referred to a specialist after her partner attended a GP appointment with her and refused to leave until she was taken seriously.
In August 2019, at the age of 40 she underwent a laparoscopy and was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis and adenomyosis, with a number of cysts and fibroids discovered on her organs.
“It was a huge fight to get that diagnosis,” says Amy.
“It was a relief and hugely validating to suddenly find myself in a room with doctors where I spoke the same language as them, because previously women’s pain hadn’t seemed like it was taken seriously.”
But despite the validation of finally getting a diagnosis, the realisation that treatments were limited and services stretched, followed closely behind.
Amy has been on the waiting list for surgery since August 2019 and she’s not alone. Recent data revealed that since the pandemic, gynaecology waiting lists have soared by over 60 per cent. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, over 500,000 women are currently waiting for help.
Amy was prescribed liquid morphine while she waited.
“It does deal with the pain, but it’s highly dissociative,” she says.
“I don’t like not being present in my life just because I’m in pain.”
When she came across The Medical Cannabis Clinics, a private clinic prescribing cannabis medicines to thousands of patients in the UK, she feared she wouldn’t meet the criteria as endometriosis “isn’t widely acknowledged as a chronic illness”.
But despite her fears that she wouldn’t be taken seriously, her first appointment with Dr Farrah Ayob couldn’t be further from those she had experienced in her years of being dismissed by mainstream medicine.
“I think I cried during my first consultation,” says Amy.
“It was the first time I had had such a detailed conversation with a medical practitioner, who was interested in my pain, but also in my mental health and that was a revelation. She listened to me and it was hugely validating.”
Amy says her cannabis prescription has “completely changed everything”.
“Before my appointment I didn’t really know what to expect or what I was really asking them for, I thought I was asking them for pain management, but the doctor wanted to talk a lot about my mental health, which I thought was great,” she adds.
“I’ve never been asked by a nurse or doctor how I am.”
Amy is prescribed a sativa flower for pain management, but it has also helped with her anxiety.
She explains: “The main difference I have noticed is that I was trapped in a cycle of chronic pain, between the actual pain itself and the fear of the pain. Those two things just kept feeding into each other, so my symptoms were just getting worse and worse. Since I’ve started using cannabis it has broken that cycle.”
Combining medical cannabis, which Amy uses as and when she needs it, with an organic vegan diet, exercise and as much good rest as possible, some months she doesn’t even need to reach for the morphine.
“My endometriosis can be quite unpredictable and can flare up without much warning. With the best will in the world, I can get eight hours of sleep a night, eat really well and try to reduce stress, but then one thing can trigger it. The cannabis is there when I need it,” says Amy.
“I’m not saying it has got rid of everything. It’s part of a multifaceted approach that I have taken to my health, but that treatment has enabled me to connect to the body and mind and realise that those things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s enabled me to care for myself in a different way.”
And she’s now starting to open up more about her condition to those close to her.
“Endometriosis is a very lonely disease. It’s only those who have it who really understand what you’re going through, so it’s very, very hard for many women and their partners,” she says.
“I didn’t tell anybody about it for a long time, but I’ve become a lot braver in the last year and I’ve started sharing it with people wider than my immediate family.
“I’m being reminded of times when I wasn’t able to walk or screamed the place down and woke everybody up, which I can’t even remember because every month when the period is over, you store it away and forget about it because you just don’t want to be ill.”
She’s also sharing her experience with medical cannabis, in the hope of helping other women.
“I’m very vocal about it, but it’s important for people to make their own decision. There’s a lot of stigma around cannabis and until it’s more widely accepted within our society, I don’t think women will seek it out or even know about it,” she says.
“I’m very lucky to have been able to pay for this, but now I would sacrifice other things to be able to access it, because it affects my quality of life so much.
“There needs to be a more holistic approach to women’s health, the way things are, doctors [in the NHS] are only treating the pathology, not the person and that’s really what seems to be missing.”
Find out more at www.themedicalcannabisclinics.com
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