Renegade Health Story of the Month: Laura Ricci

Tuesday Aug 5 | BY |
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LauraGraduation 2

Through a myriad of health problems including cancer, Laura hung in there looking for solutions, and found out she was a lot stronger than she thought.

The Miracle

LauraChristmasI should have died when I was two years old. My appendix ruptured three days before it was removed during an emergency appendectomy. Doctors were astonished that the poison had not spread throughout my body and killed me. A true miracle. Little did we know that this would only be the beginning of a lifelong journey in the pursuit of health and wellness.

My Health Challenges

As a child, I complained of stomachaches and pain after eating. I saw several doctors and GI specialists who couldn’t find anything wrong. It became a habit for me to use Pepto-Bismol or Tums antacids on almost a daily basis after eating. This was normal for me growing up. It wasn’t until I turned 20 that my health issues dramatically started to take a turn for the worst.

During my junior year of college, I started suffering from daily headaches, insomnia, and extremely painful and irregular periods. The headaches continued to get worse and progressed to frequent full-blown migraines when I started physical therapy school. I remember studying for exams with an ice pack strapped to my head—this, unfortunately, was my norm. I had tried just about everything under the sun to get rid of them: almost every prescription medication you can think of; nerve blocks; acupuncture; massage; Rolfing; dry needling; physical therapy; meditation; biofeedback; magnesium IVs; Botox injections to my scalp and neck; a week-long hospitalization at the Houston Headache Center; and removing MSG, aged cheeses, nitrates, pickled foods, chocolate, alcohol, luncheon meats, and aspartame from my diet.

Finally, I decided to try a brachial plexopathy surgery. Unfortunately, it didn’t help. I was heartbroken when my headaches/migraines remained.

I pressed on and continued my studies, pursuing a physical therapy degree. Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I made it through PT school feeling so sick with daily headaches and frequent migraine attacks, but I did it. I was so proud to graduate with my doctorate of physical therapy in May of 2008. Two weeks later, I married my college sweetheart, and we moved to San Antonio. It was on our honeymoon in Hawaii that we discovered something was seriously wrong, and I had more problems than just the headaches.

Pelvic Pain Turns to Cancer

I had severe pelvic pain, so painful that I could not tolerate intercourse. At first, we thought it was because we were both virgins and inexperienced, but we quickly realized this was not the case and something was definitely wrong.

The best way for me to describe the pain is a raw burning, like acid being poured on your skin or putting salt on a wound. I knew this needed to be addressed and went from doctor to doctor searching for answers. Many didn’t know what to do. One told me it was “all in my head.”

I saw 12 doctors before I got a diagnosis: vulvar vestibulitis, or vestibulodynia. I had never heard of this before. Basically, it is a condition in which you have severe pain in the vestibule of the vagina. The vestibule is where the vulva (area of the skin on the outside) meets with the vagina. I was heartbroken. Pelvic pain is very different from other types of pain, because it doesn’t just affect you; it affects your partner as well.

Here I was, 24 years old, newly married, and I was not able to consummate our marriage. I felt broken, like I wasn’t a real woman. I felt alone and ashamed. I am so very blessed to say that my husband was amazing and supportive. He always believed me, even when doctors didn’t. I don’t think I could have made it through this journey without his unending love and support.

I did many different treatments for the pelvic pain, including pelvic floor physical therapy on and off for several years, gabapentin, lyrica, different creams, lidocaine gel, hormones, valium suppositories, and two surgeries (a partial and complete vestibulectomy), with little improvement of symptoms.

I started getting sick: frequent yeast infections, urinary tract infections, bacteria vaginosis infections, upper respiratory infections, sinus infections. It was terrible. I was in the doctor’s office almost every two weeks with something going on. The vaginal and bladder infections would make my pelvic pain flare. It was very challenging to say the least.

More symptoms developed: I started gaining weight and couldn’t understand why. I also became extremely tired. I had no energy and found it hard to even stay awake at work. After work, I would come home and sleep for 12 hours straight, but never felt refreshed upon waking. My skin turned very pale. I knew something was wrong. I thought it was an issue with my thyroid.

Pelvic SurgeryIt turns out that I did have hypothyroidism, but my doctors also discovered a mass. The biopsy came back benign, but it was recommended I have it removed because it was so painful. On October 11, 2011, I had the tumor removed. In the three weeks between the CT scan and the surgery, the tumor had grown from golf ball to softball-sized. It was so big, they had to place a large piece of synthetic mesh on the left side of my abdomen, because the tumor had eaten through my left rectus abdominis muscle.

The surgeon told me, “We got it all, and it’s not cancer,” but two weeks later we found out they didn’t get it all, and it was cancer. I was diagnosed with a desmoid tumor, or aggressive fibromatosis. Only 3-4 out of 1 million people get them. They are the rarest type of sarcoma. I was 27 years old and had cancer. I could not believe it. After all I had been through, now I had cancer as well.

After consulting with the MD Anderson Cancer Center, we decided to take the watch-and-wait approach, and I was told I would have scans every 6 months for the next several years.

Unfortunately, the challenges related to my desmoid tumor did not end after removal. The mesh herniated twice, and I had to undergo a complex abdominal wall reconstruction on May 2, 2013. All of the mesh was removed, and a 12 cm hernia was repaired using my own abdominal muscle. The constant pain I felt in the area with the synthetic mesh was finally gone! It was the first time in my health journey, besides when I had my appendix removed, that I found surgery to be truly healing and to improve my health situation.

You Are Not Broken

It was around this time, through divine intervention, I found an amazing woman, Jessica Drummond, and started working with her as a client. She is a women’s health and pelvic physical therapist, a certified health coach, and a certified clinical nutritionist. She was the first person who told me that I was not broken, which was a profound statement, and something that I needed to hear.

More importantly, she gave me hope that my body could heal. She taught me how to find my vision, how to find the right medical providers to be on my team, how to trust my intuition, and how to nourish my body with the right foods. I removed gluten and dairy from my diet and started seeing improvements within three months. For the first time in my life, my periods regulated and the painful cramping went away, which was nothing short of a miracle for me! My acne went away, and all the multiple types of infections vanished! In fact, it has been over a year since I started working with her, and I haven’t had an infection yet!

My constipation improved, I started sleeping better, and the frequency of migraines decreased, as did the severity of my daily headaches. I was no longer taking daily medication for my headaches/migraines, and when I did get the occasional migraine, one dose of my migraine medication seemed more effective than before, and would typically knock it out. I was astounded and amazed!

I learned a Paleo-ish type diet worked best for me. Working with Jessica and implementing her recommendations has helped me more than anything I had tried in the past. I was so impressed with the results, and became passionate about nutrition and helping other women with similar issues, that I joined Jessica and started working for her Integrative Pelvic Health Institute.

Hip Surgery, Too

Hip SurgeryI am still on my quest to health and wellness. It was recently discovered that I have adult hip dysplasia, which basically means my hip sockets did not form correctly since birth, something that definitely could be contributing to my pelvic pain.

I underwent a large hip preservation surgery, a periacetabular osteotomy, to build me a new hip socket with good coverage and hopefully prevent the need for hip replacement in the future. I had this surgery on April 21, 2014, and am recovering very quickly. I can only attribute my miraculous recovery to the things I have learned from Jessica: good nutrition, appropriate exercise, and the mind-body techniques to manage stress.

Life Lessons

I have learned to accept where I am right now, be in the present moment, and stop worrying about the future. You cannot take care of others, until you take care of yourself; plus, taking care of yourself is not selfish, it is an act of survival. Your health is priceless! Anyone can be your friend when things are going well, but it is during the trials and tribulations that you find out who your true friends are. It is also during your darkest moments that you find yourself and find out what you are made of, and you know what? You are stronger than you think.

MarkLauraYour body talks to you and will alert you if something is not right, at first in whispers, and if you continue to ignore it, it will begin to yell. Listen to the whispers. Slow down and check in with your body once a day. How are you feeling? Are you having any pain? If so, where? Can you do some deep breathing and reduce the pain? How stressed are you? Is your tank empty or full? Have you been having pain in a certain area for a while? Why not go get it checked out and find out what is going on?

Your body is divinely created. You cannot fool the body. Trust it. Trust yourself.

The answer to, “Why me?” is: “Why not me?” We will all go through struggles in life. Right now, mine are health related, but there are others who are struggling with the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, trouble at work, etc.

I have also learned that happiness is not a destination; you can choose to be happy on the journey, even if your circumstances are not ideal. At times, it can be very hard to see the blessings when you are in the storm, but by staying grateful, you can stop feeling sorry for yourself and realize that there is still good in the world.

Going through this journey has strengthened my faith and made me take a deep look at myself and set me on a path of self-discovery. I can now look back and find the good that arose from the bad, and I realize these challenges didn’t happen to me, but for me.

I wanted to leave you with a quote that I feel is so true for me and where I am on my path:

Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be. ~ Rick Warren

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.

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