The problem didn't go away, and she started experiencing extremely heavy periods, so she went back to the doctor for an X-ray
Toya Wright met rapper Lil Wayne at age 12. They had their first baby together at 15, married, and divorced nearly two years later. Since then, she’s starred in her own reality TV series, written a New York Times’ bestselling book, and opened three clothing boutiques. This October, she released her first memoir, In My Own Words. Now, Wright is speaking out about her painful fibroids—and her concerns about ever being able to have another child.
Toya Wright was about to turn 30 in June 2013 when she started having sharp pains in her lower abdomen—especially when she was ovulating or on her period. She visited her ob-gyn, who said she was just having cramps. “I’d never had them before, so I didn’t know what they felt like,” she says.
But the problem didn't go away, and she started experiencing extremely heavy periods, so she went back to the doctor for an X-ray. It revealed two small fibroids—non-cancerous tumors made of muscle cells and connective tissues—growing inside her uterus. Suddenly, all the warning signs lined up.
Fibroids usually begin developing in women in their thirties or later; in addition to the cramping and heavy periods that Wright experienced, they can cause frequent urination, painful sex, lower back pain, infertility, and recurrent miscarriages.
“At the time, I hadn’t even heard of fibroids. I was so scared,” says Toya. But the tumors are actually very common, especially among African-American women. Research shows that 70 percent of Caucasian women and 80 percent of African-American women have at least one fibroid by the time they're 50, and African American females are more likely to get them at an earlier age.
Doctors don't know exactly what causes fibroids, but according to the Office of Women's Health, research has shown that they tend to run in families, and hormones—including estrogen—make them grow. Science has also shown that a low-dose birth control pill can keep them in check, says Steven R. Goldstein, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University School of Medicine. That’s because the Pill replaces the estrogen and progestin you naturally make with a lower dose of synthetic hormones, exposing you to fewer hormones overall.
So Toya’s doctor put her on birth control to help minimize the symptoms. And while she says they lightened her bleeding, she believes they also caused her to gain weight. So she stopped taking them after three months.
When her doctor found out Toya had stopped taking the pill, she suggested a myomectomy, a surgical procedure that would remove the fibroids. But once Toya learned that fibroids have a 30 percent chance of coming back within 10 years, she passed. “I don’t like surgery, and I didn’t want to have one and then do it all over again if they came back," she says.
Toya was also concerned about the possibility of needing a hysterectomy—a big issue given that she wants to have more children. “My aunt had about 26 fibroids, and when she went in to have the myomectomy she ended up needing a hysterectomy," she says. "That’s my biggest fear. I’m just afraid that something will go wrong and will mess up me trying to get pregnant.”
While every woman who gets a myomectomy has to sign a form acknowledging that a hysterectomy may be necessary in a life-saving emergency, it's "highly, highly unlikely," says Goldstein. “A hysterectomy could be possible if the fibroids are extensive or if there’s excessive bleeding that puts the patient’s life in danger, but that risk is so low that it isn’t really a reason to not have the surgery.”
But that wasn’t Toya’s only fertility concern. The reality is that anytime you're dealing with surgery in the uterus, there's the potential for fertility issues. And although it's rare, a myomectomy can leave scar tissue that can cause problems. But, on the flip side, Goldstein says leaving fibroids intact can also cause infertility issues, or create problems during pregnancy.
“Fibroids grow with estrogen, which you make a lot of during pregnancy,” he explains. “If they get big enough, they can cause preterm birth, or increase the odds of miscarriage, C-section, breech birth, and placental abruption."
Still, Goldstein says many women have fibroids and experience perfectly normal pregnancies. “Fibroids are like fingerprints; no two are alike,” he says. The odds of pregnancy complications depend on the location of the fibroids, too. Goldstein says they can grow in the wall of the uterus, outside of the uterus, or in the uterine cavity where the baby grows. “A small one in the cavity can be much more serious than one that’s outside of uterus,” he says.
Since Toya’s fibroids weren’t in her uterine cavity, didn’t feel too painful, and the bleeding was under control, she and her doctor decided to postpone the myomectomy surgery until after she had another baby.
But Toya’s symptoms got worse. Just before her 33rd birthday in June 2016, the cramping became much more painful and her periods went from lasting two to four days to a full week of heavy bleeding.
That prompted Toya to visit her doctor in October. At that appointment, her doctor discovered three new fibroids and realized the original two had each grown to about the size of a grapefruit. “I looked five months pregnant and it felt like there was a baby in there,” she says. “I could feel the two largest ones when I laid in bed; when I pushed on my lower abdomen, it was almost like I could push them around. It really freaked me out.”
Still, Toya wasn't willing to go in for surgery. Goldstein says that other than birth control and myomectomy, there aren't currently any options for treating fibroids. Other treatments (radiofrequency ablation, uterine artery embolization, magnetic resonance imaging-guided ultrasound surgery, and gonadotropin-releasing hormone agent drugs) are all meant to control the size and symptoms of fibroids, and doctors don’t use them in women who want to get pregnant. “They don’t enhance fertility, so we don’t offer them to people who are still looking to get pregnant,” he says.
For now, Toya is taking the wait-and-see approach as she hopes to start trying for more children in summer 2017. While she still has quite a bit of pain around her period, she's learning to manage her symptoms. When the discomfort peaks, she finds temporary relief in a heating pad and an NSAID pain reliever like Aleve. She also wears baggier clothes to cope with any bloating, and takes the time she needs to rest and relax.“And, of course, I’ve opened up to my 18-year-old daughter Reginae,” she says. “She’s helping me through all of this day-by day.”