An Open Letter to Women Considering a Hysterectomy
This article will have it all - the good, the bad, and the ugly, details about pre-surgery appointments, my thoughts and feelings leading up to surgery, and what the recovery was like.
Do not feel obligated to read this part. If you just want to know about the recovery, scroll down, I have it all laid out nicely by week. If you're with me through the whole process, I think the story is quite fascinating. I will try to keep it brief, even though the process has been anything but.
It all started when I felt this overwhelming need to reach out to my doctor. Thank goodness I did, because it turns out a hysterectomy was just what the doctor ordered.
We’ll start with my very first appointment - the ultrasound to determine if I was even a good fit for a hysterectomy. OK, if you're a man reading this, you should probably just click out. I’m going very in-depth into women’s health and just how fun, invasive, painful, and awful all these appointments are. And how being a woman is just a huge pain in the ass. A vaginal ultrasound, a constant probing with a camera for what seemed like a lifetime. My results came back rather quickly via an online message. A 5+cm fibroid on my uterus and an ovary that could not be located (we’ll get to that part in a bit).
To be very real, I lost it. I had not the slightest clue what a fibroid was, but it was terrifying. I spent well over a month until my next appointment worrying and Googling (don’t do it) and I was convinced I was dying. For those of you who know what fibroids are, you’re probably laughing at my overreaction, because they are quite common. However, they can cause a slew of issues and can be quite painful depending on location.
I won’t get into too many details on the timeline, but my appointments were VERY spread out, and carrying the stress of the unknown for so long is SO overwhelming.
My next appointment was finally here, just a simple follow-up with my doctor to discuss my options. At this point, she had convinced me NOT to get a hysterectomy. Stating I was too young (I’m 35) and that the surgery was very invasive. Not to mention, for one fibroid, there are a ton of non-invasive options nowadays to shrink them. I started to feel myself coming back to earth. I was no longer freaked out and was ready to get this thing tackled, in the most non-invasive way possible. I convinced myself at that point that this was my best move and that maybe all the pain I had been dealing with would finally go away without having to do a hysterectomy. It was a sweet little breath of fresh air that did not last long.
The next step is an MRI to confirm that there was only one fibroid.
The MRI was quick, but not painless. They pumped my body full of crud and shot dye up my hoo-ha. If I remember correctly, the crap they injected was to slow down my metabolism so that they could get a clear view and the dye was to get better pictures of the area. I, unfortunately, cannot remember what it was called, and to be very transparent, I was extremely disappointed not to get a heads-up that all of this would be done to my body. I was expecting your standard MRI. I left there feeling woozy, light-headed, bloated, and gross.
They wanted me to eat and drink sugars and dropped off a bunch of snacks, and that would have been fabulous if I could eat gluten. When I let them know I was gluten-free, they brought me the one option they had for me, nasty crackers. Can I vent for a second? It’s 2023, how do hospitals not have more gluten-free options?? I mean, I get more options on a freaking airplane. Moving on…
My MRI results came back and I got another message online. I will never forget how my heart dropped when I read the word “teratoma.” Tell me it doesn’t sound terrifying! Enter full mental breakdown and stupid Samm Google mode -- AGAIN.
Here’s a slight glimpse into my thoughts that day: What the hell is a teratoma? OMG, It’s a tumor!!! A rare tumor that grows hair and teeth? WHAT THE SERIOUS F#%@? I started Googling more and trying my damnedest to educate myself. I have a 7.7cm mature cystic teratoma on my ovary. Mature means LIKELY benign. Whew.
Wait, how big is an ovary? Approximately 3.5 cm at my age! What? So, this thing is BIGGER than my ovary? No wonder they “couldn’t locate the ovary.” That calmness I just finally started to feel was now completely gone. I was beyond overwhelmed and felt very alone! When can I see my doctor again? Two months!!!!! WHAT?
I reached out over and over again begging for a sooner appointment and fortunately, they were able to move me up a bit. It was still far longer than I hoped, but I was finally able to get in there, ask my questions, and feel a little relief knowing a game plan.
Thanks to this fabulous teratoma, my new hopes of having a non-invasive surgery were no more. I had two choices - I could do a removal of the fibroid and teratoma OR I could have a hysterectomy and have the teratoma removed at the same time. Both having very comparable recovery times.
While sitting in there, I could not make that decision. I needed to go home and write up a pros and cons list and do some research.
So much for keeping it brief… A few things that stuck with me from my research: fibroids are hereditary AND CAN COME BACK or you can develop more. I have family members who have had multiple surgeries to shrink or remove fibroids. Why the hell would I want to subject myself to potentially more surgeries in the future? The other fact, more than 90% of women who get a hysterectomy are happy with this decision. I felt this weight lift when I said out loud, "I think I want to get a hysterectomy." Not only will I be eliminating this pain I’ve been experiencing for entirely too long, but possibly all these other random symptoms I’ve been dealing with since I was a teenager - Sign me up! I went from wanting to have a hysterectomy to wanting to avoid it at all costs and then back to my original game plan.
I feel it’s important to mention my other pre-surgery appointment. I’m not going to lie to you ladies, this one was by far the worst! I hope post-surgery, I can say that it was all worth it, but right now, I’m just so angry at how much they downplay these appointments.
Before I go too far into this, I want to say that I have AMAZING doctors and nurses. I am beyond grateful for them. I do, however, feel that something needs to change! The appointment: a uterus biopsy. Because of how they remove the uterus, they need to confirm there are no signs of cancer that could spread during surgery. Ugh. So, my doctor tells me this appointment will be quick and rather painless, mild cramping, similar to an IUD placement. I felt like I was going to throw up. Pause: did you just use the words “painless" and "similar to an IUD placement" in the same sentence?? I don’t know a single soul that would describe having an IUD placed as painless!!! Cool, so take that for face value, because what other options do I have?
About a week before this biopsy, I was having a conversation with a friend who works in the medical field about my frustration and anxiety around this particular appointment. She suggested I reach out to my primary to get some anxiety meds. My primary is the best and prescribed it that same day. I took it, Ativan, about an hour before the appointment. It helped a bit, but I’m not going to lie, I was still freaking out. I almost passed out when they placed my IUD. I knew exactly what I was in for.
I’m laying on the table with a stress ball in one hand, my husband’s hand in the other, essential oils on my chest, a heating pad on my stomach, and some numbing cream on my lady parts - they can numb the exterior, but NOT the uterus, so who knows if it helped or not. I am woman, hear me roar. Here we go, a giant straw-like instrument to scrape the uterus and get a sample.
Mild cramping, my ass… If you're a woman who has gone through one of these appointments or any sort of scraping, I commend you, I feel your pain. You guys, I’m covered in tattoos, and I have a very high pain tolerance, but I cannot handle these types of appointments, I just can’t. Just tell us it’s going to suck! Let us mentally and physically prepare for what’s about to happen to our bodies. Stop with the “mild cramping” BS. You know when I felt “mild cramping?” About 2 hours AFTER the appointment.
An Open Letter to Women Considering a Hysterectomy:
I'm two weeks from surgery and I'm feeling a lot of nerves. To be honest, I didn't expect this to be such an emotional rollercoaster. Let's be real, I can't wait to get rid of something that has done nothing but let me down... for years. So, why do I feel this way? Is it the reality sinking in? The screeching halt to a long battle with my ticking clock? Don’t get me wrong, I’m at peace with my decision to end our attempt at having kids. I can’t be a good wife, stepmom, dog mom, auntie, and so on if I’m lost in the abyss of darkness. I know this. I feel ok with this. Why as a woman, even when our choices seem so right, does it also feel so wrong and so hard?
Let’s rewind a bit. You may remember that I put out the most honest and open blog I’ve ever written about my infertility struggles. Click here if you want to read it. It took me days to find the words and courage to hit that publish button. It took me years to even put those thoughts to writing. But, I did it and it was so liberating. I had other women reaching out to me thanking me for speaking my truth reminding me that I’m not alone. While it’s so amazing to have someone who could relate to the pain I was feeling, my heart ached for these incredible souls who too so badly wanted to be a mom.
Fast forward to today, about a week from having all my baby-making parts completely removed. I'm not going to lie, I've had a few panic attacks. The thoughts keep creeping in. Mostly thoughts about officially-officially closing the door to the baby chapter. Again, a door that has already been closed for years. Why do I feel this way?? I also keep thinking, what if I lose that one thing that has added the title “mom” to the long list of my duties? That is, what if my husband and I don’t last? This is a real thought that I’ve had so many times over the past few weeks. How dumb! I’m serious! Not to sound corny, I believe my husband is my soul mate. He’s my best friend, my rock, the good to everything bad in my life. There’s nobody on this planet I’d rather do life with. So, why is it as I’m about to do this huge thing am I having this creeping thought? The thought of, if I lose him, I most certainly lose my stepson….
I have an incredible relationship with my stepson. To be honest, I hate calling him my stepson. I don’t want him to think I could love him any less than I would love a child that was biologically mine. But, that’s reality. I hate the idea of stepping on toes or making his mom feel like I want to take her place. Ever! The fact is, I’m forever grateful to her for giving me the gift of a child. A child that I love so much it hurts! Sharing that incredible soul with me. I can’t imagine having to share something so personal with someone else.
Fun fact about my kiddo, I had a psychic tell me that we have shared many past lives. I 100% believe it too. I feel like I’ve known him forever like he was meant to be in my life. We have been close since day one.
Surgery day is here! The day was kind of a blur, but I will try to fill you in on some of the highs and lows of the day. First of all, longest. Day. Ever! I checked in a 7am and didn't get to go home until around 4-430p. My team was absolutely incredible. Can we just start by shouting out all the nurses out there? Goodness, they are so fantastic. I literally would not have made it through that day without them. The surgery went as planned and I believe it was about a 4.5-hour procedure. I have 4 incision sites including one in my belly button. Now, this may be a little different than your standard hysterectomy since I had the teratoma removed at the same time. It's also important to note that I had everything removed, but my ovaries. They took the uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix.
I woke up on surgery day feeling completely out of it - not unusual with pain meds and anesthesia. They also gave me a nausea patch behind my ear which was a fabulous help. There were two GF snack options on the operating floor, and fortunately, it was not those crackers again!
The hardest part of day one was using the bathroom. They put in a catheter during the surgery, and if anyone has had one of those placed, it’s not fun after the fact. I was told I had to go on my own and it needed to be a certain amount before I would be released. It was incredibly challenging, because I felt this extreme pressure in my stomach, but it burned when I tried to go and hurt like hell to push. Finally, after the 3rd try, I accomplished what they needed of me and I was sent on my way.
I was SO ready to be in my own bed. I was absolutely wiped! I mostly slept the rest of the day and didn’t really want to move as I was quite uncomfortable and dizzy from the meds. Going to the bathroom continued to be a challenge for a few days. Not only number one, but the constipation after the fact is no joke. Highly recommend stool softeners AND a belly binder, if you’re planning on doing this surgery. Imagine having a sprained ankle and trying to walk around without a brace, that is how my stomach feels. Without the belly binder, I feel unsupported and extremely weak. Another thing that was pretty bothersome for the first few days was my throat from the breathing tube - 7up made the world of a difference. I only had to take my pain prescription med two nights and the rest of the week was Tylenol every 6 hours on the dot, because I started feeling uncomfortable as soon as it wore off.
The first week had many ups and downs. I would feel pretty good one day and completely zapped and sore the next. I took a ton of naps throughout the first week and spent most of the days in bed. I would get up to use the bathroom or grab food and walk around my house a bit just to get the blood flowing. Laughing, coughing, and sneezing (OMG, sneezing) were all super painful. My heating pad was my best friend. I used the heating pad 24-7 for the first week, even while I was sleeping. I weaned off a bit the second week and started icing at that time as well.
Week two brought a new list of challenges, but nothing too overwhelming. I was starting to get a bit stir-crazy at this point. I REALLY wanted to get out of the house, but my energy level was still quite low. I started dabbling in some easy work things on my computer and my brain refused to cooperate. It was like my body was pushing all blood flow to my stomach to heal and not sharing any with my brain. I would also start sweating as soon as I started doing anything that required brain power. It was such a weird feeling. As I started to move around more, I was feeling it. I could do some light cleaning (no heavy lifting, of course) for an hour or so and then I felt like I had been hit by a bus and my bed was screaming my name. Week two was still pretty similar for pain meds - alternating between Tylenol and Ibuprofen every 6 hours.
Week 3: I returned to work this week, and by that, I mean I started back at the radio station after a 3-year hiatus. Starting a “new” job is tough enough as it is, but starting it just 2-weeks after surgery, yikes. It wasn’t all bad, but I needed a nap after every shift. Fortunately, I’m only part-time, so by midday, I was heading home and climbing back in bed. They recommend that you take 2-4 weeks off work, so I can totally see why some women take more time off. I was super pumped to get out of the house and back in the groove of a routine, but my advice, take it slow and listen to your body. This week, I’ve been waiting until I feel the need to take a painkiller. Most days I’ve needed it two times a day. I wouldn’t say that I’ve had a lot of pain necessarily, it’s a more uncomfortable and weird feeling. Crampy, bloated, weak, and sore are the best words I can use to describe it. Sometimes you’ll feel all of those at the same time and other times, it’s just one of those things. Cramping is the most prominent feeling and it’s been a pretty dull cramping feeling for the entire 3 weeks.
Week 4. I have one more week of not being able to lift more than 10 pounds and I have my 4-week checkup at the end of the week. Sadly, at my 4-week checkup, I found out the MRI I went through meant diddly squat. The results said no additional teratomas and no signs of endometriosis. At my checkup, they confirmed they found both during the surgery. It's super bothersome, because not only is an MRI very expensive, BUT what if I had gone with the original surgical plan thinking it was only one fibroid?
Week 4 was overall really good. I went on a trip to Nashville for a bachelorette party. Honestly, I didn't feel up to drinking much - not surprising. And walking a lot was quite exhausting. I still needed naps during my trip and I did not partake in any dancing. Because of my weight restrictions, I had to have some friends help me with my suitcase which made me feel like a princess lol.
Going into week 5 and I'm feeling really good. I've been promoted to a 20-pound weight limit. My biggest struggle at this point is trying to do things without my belly binder. I still feel very weak and quite sore without it. I feel like I'm at about 70% recovery. I'm not doing anything more than yoga and long walks. I can't wait to get back to my active lifestyle and hitting the piss out of the volleyball. I take pain meds when I feel uncomfortable. It's about once or twice a day depending on activity level.
What I will say at this point in my recovery is I'm grateful I did the surgery. Even more so after finding out there was more going on than I even knew. I feel better today than I did any of the days leading up to surgery this year. This is a long-winded version of the story - apologies. That's me in a nutshell. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me directly if you want to ask me any additional questions. I'm more than happy to chat with you.
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Gallery Credit: Troy Dunken