My Story (Part 2): Padma Lakshmi Talks to PPM about Treating Her Painful Endometriosis

The Top Chef and Food Network producer shares details about her surgeries – and her fight to educate young girls and women about the chronic condition.

In the first half of her story Padma Lakshmi, author of the memoir Life, Loss, and What We Ate and host of TV's Top Chef,  told Practical Pain Management (PPM) about the pain and distress she lived with during the years before she was diagnosed with endometriosis. Now, in the second part, she talks about the surgical treatment that has helped alleviate her pain, what she learned along the way, and how her experience motivated her to speak up – and speak out –about this condition that affects an estimated one in 10, or 176 million worldwide, and is a major cause of female infertility.  

When she left the New York City office of Tamer Seckin, MD, a board-certified gynecologist and laparoscopic surgeon and founder of the Seckin Endometriosis Center, in the fall of 2006, Padma Lakshmi was somewhere between rage and relief. In her 2016 memoir, she described the feelings that enveloped her that night.  “I looked back on my past with a new understanding,” she wrote. “This sickness, the ‘endo whatever,’ had stained so much—my sense of self, my womanhood, my marriage, my ability to be present.”  Because of her undiagnosed endometriosis, “I’d lost so much time,” she told PPM. “For me, it was very demoralizing. One week out of every month I was bedridden,” she said, “I had headaches, nausea, spasms fatigue and pain.”  She also had pain during ovulation, an important symptom, she added, that is not often discussed. And she suffered from digestive issues. “For someone that eats for a living on a TV show, I did not have a regular digestive system,” quipped the Emmy-nominated host of Bravo’s Top Chef.   

 

Padma Lakshmi (Source: 123RF)Padma Lakshmi shares details about her endometriosis surgeries.

Along with that clarity, Lakshmi felt a “sense of overwhelming relief. Finally, I knew I wasn’t crazy. There really was something wrong,” she said.

The Long and Winding Road 

How wrong, would become clear on November 23, 2016, the day before Thanksgiving, when Dr. Seckin operated on her for the first time. The planned 90-minute surgery stretched to over four hours. Dr. Seckin found multiple endometriosis implants and lesions. “My kidneys were in stents, I had stiches on four major organs,” she wrote in her memoir. “Of the 19 biopsies performed, 17 came back positive as deeply infiltrating endometriosis tissue,” she said. Dr. Seckin also informed her that during a previous surgery, part of her left ovary had been removed, a “detail,” the prior surgeon had neglected to share with her.  

That previous surgery to remove two ovarian cysts had taken place years before in Los Angeles. Although her Beverly Hills gynecologist had described one of her cysts as “endometriotic,” (blood-filled), he never said the word “endometriosis,” Lakshmi explained in her memoir. And he definitely never told her that she had a disease that, if left unchecked, would continue to wreak havoc on her internal organs. According to Dr. Seckin, ovarian endometriomas, also known as “chocolate cysts,” are large, fluid-filled cysts that form on and may encapsulate the ovaries. These cysts may be present in up to 30 to 40% of women with the disease. 

Sadly, that ovarian surgery wasn’t the only time a surgeon had missed or simply not recognized her endometriosis. About six months before her first consultation with Dr. Seckin, Lakshmi had called an ambulance to her home. She was in excruciating pain that had worsened over the course of the night and led to a fight with her husband who accused her of using it as an excuse to avoid intimacy. During emergency surgery, a gastroenterologist removed what he described as “just scar tissue, perhaps from your earlier surgery for ovarian cysts, but you should be fine now,” she wrote in her memoir.”  Later, she came to understand that the true culprit was endometrial-like tissue that had wrapped itself around her small intestine “like a tourniquet,” she wrote.

Endometriosis is a ruthless trespasser that repeatedly invades the rightful territory of other organs. This endometrial-like tissue is thick and sticky. It can wrap itself around an organ, the intestines or the bowel or the urethra, for example, constricting the organ like an angry boaconstrictor and can cause the organ to bleed. The endometrial growth must be completely excised, which is why “Laparoscopic excision [complete removal] is the gold standard of treatment,” said Dr. Seckin.  Depending on the location of the lesions, removing these growths can be extremely complicated. “The surgeon must be assisted by surgeons from different disciplines be it gastroenterology or urology,” he added. The good news is that “whatever is removed doesn’t grow back,” said the author of The Doctor Will See You Now: Recognizing and Treating Endometriosis.

Relief and Refocus

Months later in the spring of 2007, Dr. Seckin operated again on Lakshmi to excise more endometrial tissue. A year later, during yet another surgery, Dr. Seckin “told me gently that he’d had to remove my right fallopian tube,” Lakshmi writes. With her fertility in question, she decided to freeze her eggs, an option not open to women without the financial means. It’s a disparity that Lakshmi addresses in her role as co-founder with Dr. Seckin of the Endometriosis Foundation of America (EndoFound.org) established in 2009 to educate, advocate and provide resources to women with endometriosis.

A year or so after launching the Foundation and despite the dire predictions about her fertility, Lakshmi got pregnant “naturally” and gave birth to her daughter in 2010;  Krishna will turn 9 in 2019 and shares her mother’s adventurous culinary palate.

Lakshmi, now 48, is a tireless advocate leading the drive to educate young girls and boys about women’s health. “I want to destigmatize the topic of menstruation,” she told us.  In March of 2016, she set out for Washington, DC, to lobby lawmakers for more funding for endometriosis education and research. She met with Senators Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand according to The Washington Post. And during a meeting at the National Institute of Health, she told the officials, “I’m going to be talking about my vagina but… it will be okay,” she declared and then went on to say that,  “No young girl should feel guilty, and no young girl should fall through the cracks.”

Lakshmi was one of those young girls – and women – who fell through the cracks. “We need more money to fund research to understand the underlying causes,” she told PPM. “We know it’s hereditary. We know that it is an inflammatory disease.  We know it’s one of the three leading causes of female infertility, and we know that it diminishes greatly the quality of your life,” she stressed, adding, “We know that it involves very serious chronic pain and this can be very debilitating.”  

Life, Uninterrupted

Today, Lakshmi is feeling much better. Endometriosis “still rears its ugly head from time to time,” she said. “I have Stage IV endometriosis. There’s treatment but no cure for it. I still have some issues now but they are nowhere near where they were,” she continued. “I’m very lucky that I was able to get the surgeries and the help that I needed.”

Those excision surgeries alleviated her pain. When pain does flare up, she relies on teas, heating pads, and acupuncture. “I’m a big believer in it,” she told us. “It won’t take away all the pain but it diminishes it,” she said. A few months ago, while in Colorado, she tried a cannabinoid cream that she rubbed on her abdomen and that seemed to help a little bit as well, she said.   

The anger she felt toward the disease and how it impacted her life has dissipated. “I don’t get angry anymore because I’m in good company,” she said.  “Now I just want to make sure that the next generation of young girls and woman don’t go through what I did and do,” she told PPM.  Her passion is evident and so is her optimism. “I believe that we have the technology and brain power to find a cure.”  

 

 

 

 

 

Updated on: 10/19/18
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My Story: Padma Lakshmi Talks to PPM about Living with the Emotional and Physical Toll of Endometriosis
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