For years, Marie Tary had suffered with symptoms she dismissed as simply “part of being a woman,” including extreme pelvic pain and anemia due to heavy menstrual bleeding. Eventually referred to the care of specialists, including Dr. Elaine Mah, an obstetrician, gynecologist and surgeon at Langley Memorial Hospital, an ultrasound revealed a 15-centimetre uterine fibroid.
Shortly after diagnosis, while waiting for surgery, Tary was back in hospital: the fibroid had gotten so big her body was reacting to toxins it was creating. Dr. Mah surgically removed the fibroid using a process similar to a Caesarian section that let Tary recover in about six weeks, and share her gratitude to the Langley Memorial team:
“Listen to your body – just because they’re often considered ‘women’s problems’ doesn’t mean potential symptoms should be ignored,” Tary says. “If I hadn’t gotten mine looked at it could’ve gone very badly – I could have gone septic. We need to make women’s health less of a stigma and more normalized.”
Dramatic changes for women’s health care
From fertility support and maternity care to cancer diagnosis and innumerable other conditions like Tary’s fibroid, women’s health care is front and centre at Langley Memorial Hospital’s medical imaging and BC Cancer – Breast Screening and mammography clinic.
Site co-ordinator Tammy Karoway has worked in medical imaging for more than 30 years, and has seen the dramatic evolution in the diagnostic and treatment tools her team have to treat the women in their care.
“When I started, cancer was still seen as a death sentence for many. Now, advances in technology to diagnose cases and new, less invasive treatments have made a huge difference in survival rates,” Karoway says, noting that for patients waiting for diagnosis or treatment, where every minute feels like a week, tools to make those happen quicker are vital.
At Langley Memorial, in a typical day, the medical imaging team performs:
- hysterosalpingograms, looking for fallopian tubes blockages impacting fertility. In fact, sometimes the exam itself can actually become therapeutic if the contrast opens a blockage and resolves the issue.
- female-focused ultrasound exams – scanning breasts to review lumps and performing pelvic studies to help identify issues within the reproductive system.
- ultrasound supporting the hospital’s Fetal Maternity Clinic, to ensure baby is well and there’s enough fluid for baby to stay safely inside for a few more days.
- breast biopsies under ultrasound after a patient has had a suspicious mammogram.
- support for new studies showing the preventive health benefits of review images of dense breasts, which can be more prone to tumours.
The ability to care for women in their community goes a long way to easing the burden on patients and their families – reducing the need to travel to larger centres for diagnostics or treatment, Karoway notes.
To better support those efforts, Langley Memorial Hospital Foundation is working to purchase equipment, including hysteroscopes to help doctors conduct less invasive surgeries. To screen women for breast cancer, the MRI suite will have a specialized coil able to perform breast scans – an upgrade that the community generously supported.