Karen Studders knows her way around a doctor’s office. A cancer survivor who struggled for years with fibroids, heavy bleeding, and anemia, Studders has seen a few physicians in her day.
In Carrie Terrell, M.D., Studders found her ideal provider: a sharp, skilled, inquisitive gynecologist with an open mind, alert to changing data and new possibilities.
Studders, an attorney and scientist who served as commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency under Gov. Jesse Ventura, interviewed dozens of physicians over three years after being told by her oncologist that her uterine fibroids called for a radical hysterectomy.
“I said, ‘You saved my life, I love you, but these are benign fibroids—not cancer. Why do you have to take my uterus out?’ And he said, ‘Well, it could turn into cancer.’ And I thought, there’s got to be another way,” Studders recalls.
Studders did some research of her own and concluded that if she could shrink some of the fibroids in her uterus nonsurgically—mainly through dietary changes—she might be a candidate for myomectomy, microsurgery to remove the fibroids imbedded in her uterine wall. Those are the fibroids that cause heavy bleeding, but given the size of Studders’s other fibroids, they would be nearly impossible to access.
“Carrie was the last doctor I interviewed,” Studders says. “The minute I met her, I knew that somehow we were going to work together.”
Terrell was somewhat skeptical of Studders’s hypothesis but agreed to consider a myomectomy if the size of Studders’s other fibroids was indeed reduced. So Studders, believing the fibroids to be exacerbated by “estrogen dominance,” began taking bio-identical progesterone and embarked on lifestyle changes—including switching to organic foods—designed to decrease her estrogen intake. She also took up yoga.
Over a period of months, the fibroids shrank. ” I watched my belly get smaller,” Studders says.
Terrell agreed to perform a hysteroscopic myomectomy, which is done via the vagina with no incisions. The 6-hour surgery was successful. And during the procedure, Terrell was able to take a biopsy of ovarian tissue to check for ovarian cancer: something that none of Studders’s other physicians, despite her cancer history and her family history, had ever done.
Studders appreciates Terrell’s willingness to question conventional wisdom—and that she’s teaching medical students to consider the alternatives as well.
“She will tell you I’m not your average patient,” Studders says. “And I will tell you that she’s not your average doctor. What I like about her as a doctor is that she admits when she doesn’t know something. She’ll listen to me. She answers my questions and provides options. She’s going to go out and find her own data, her own science, to see if what I’m saying is correct, but she’s open.”