Anna finds relief after minimally invasive surgery

Woman smiling next to man, both holding coffees and standing outdoors on a snowy day.
Anna with her husband, Joe.

Anna Phelan of Cottage Grove, Wisconsin spent the better part of her early 30s trying to overcome two large hurdles that affected her both physically and emotionally.

One was chronic pelvic and back pain, as well as gastrointestinal distress that frequently interfered with her life. The other was the fact that there seemed to be no explanation for these symptoms, despite seeking help from several medical professionals.

Anna freely tells her story because, thanks to UW Health, she finally learned the cause of her persistent discomfort — a condition known as endometriosis — and she hopes that other women who are struggling for answers might also find their way to a better place.

“I was dealing with nausea, back pain, hip pain and stomach irritability for about four years,” Anna says. “I was told that the cause was anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome. I know my experience is not unusual, because endometriosis is so hard to diagnose, and women often don’t learn they have it until at least a few years after symptoms begin.”

Endometriosis is a condition in which the endometrial tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows in unwanted places outside of the uterus. Once this tissue appears outside of the uterus, it reacts to hormones produced from the ovaries, prompting it to thicken and bleed. Endometrial tissue from the uterus is discharged following a menstrual cycle, but if similar tissue grows in other, it has no place to exit and gets trapped throughout the pelvic region. Severe pain, nausea and other uncomfortable symptoms are the result.

There is no cure for endometriosis, a disease that affects about 10% of the population. As Anna’s story bears out, the journey to diagnosis can be exhausting, but once identified, endometriosis can be managed to allow for a better quality of life.

Anna’s frustration only intensified after more than three years of tests, imaging, medications and incorrect diagnoses that led nowhere. After having pelvic surgery in 2022, she was told — wrongly — that she did not have endometriosis.

It was not until early 2023 that Anna was finally diagnosed with endometriosis. That’s when she met Dr. Camille Ladanyi, a UW Health minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon who has additional training and expertise in endometriosis and pelvic surgery.

Anna felt validated and heard

“After meeting with Dr. Ladanyi for nearly two hours,” Anna recalls, “I never felt so comfortable, validated and heard by any medical professional in my life.”

Endometriosis cannot be diagnosed without surgery, however Dr. Ladanyi was reluctant to take Anna to the operating room so soon after her previous operation.

“Initially,” says Dr. Ladanyi, “we hoped to make things better without surgery. We prescribed hormonal suppression to minimize menstrual bleeding, thereby decreasing the monthly triggering of endometrial tissue growth. We further discussed lifestyle changes to help Anna manage pain flares.”

Within six weeks, Anna felt better than she had in years. Yet, she says, “I knew something was still going on.”

By late summer 2023, Anna spoke with Dr. Ladanyi again and this time, Anna decided to have surgery that, she hoped, would confirm the diagnosis of endometriosis and finally put an end to the curse of not knowing.

In October, Dr. Ladanyi performed minimally invasive excisional surgery removing the endometrial tissue that was growing in unwanted places in the pelvic region.

“Unfortunately, we cannot make a definitive diagnosis without a tissue biopsy that is examined under a microscope,” says Dr. Ladanyi. “Surgery allowed us to confirm that Anna truly has endometriosis, as well as a related condition known as adenomyosis. While surgery did not cure Anna’s endometriosis,” adds Dr. Ladanyi, “having the diagnosis made it easier to treat her symptoms and maximize her quality of life.”

Six months since her surgery, Anna is feeling well on most days. Occasional symptom flare-ups happen, but she has a deep sense of how to manage them.

She has not needed to take time off from work because of the endometriosis in months and is thrilled that life is calmer with her husband Joe and young boys, Jack, 7 and Max, 5.

“Dr. Ladanyi and her team would not sugarcoat things, but they cared for me with empathy and respect,” Anna says. “I had a great connection with them right from the start and knew instinctively that they had my best interests at heart. I hope this is something that more women can experience.”