Part I of “Surviving Hysterectomy With Style” series
My first period started when I was 10 years old. I took a time out from playing with my friends (literally, we were playing Capture The Flag) only to find a horrifying “gift” from Mother Nature when it was time to wipe. My reaction was that of a true Tom Boy:
“I don’t want it. Take it out!”
I can’t tell you how many times in the past 34 years those words crossed my mind, if not my lips. By 15 I was taking birth control to regulate my cycles after a handful of embarrassing moments at school. At 27, a uterine cyst ruptured, inducing a seizure and an ER visit. At 32, doctors surgically removed 2 massive fibroids that caused daily bleeding and pain. After a c-section, two more fibroids and two surprise yet benign tumors were removed (age 40).
By age 43, perimenopause symptoms had already kicked in and thyroid medication was necessary just to make it through the day. The progesterone stopped the hot flashes, upped energy levels, and somewhat regulated my cycle duration, but the pain and bleeding often left me feeling faint and unable to do things like go running — my favorite form of exercise.
My surgeon examined me and said nothing looked abnormal and that a hysterectomy would be the equivalent of taking a machine gun to an ant hill. My hormone OB suggested I up the progesterone dosage or get an ablation to stop the bleeding.
In September 2013 at age 44, I finally consulted Dr. Sherry Neiman. All of these surgeries and procedures resulted in masses of scar tissue that cemented my uterine wall to the abdominal wall, which Neyman could actually feel during the exam. It was the main suspect in the constant pain. Constipation was also a nagging problem, perhaps due to the restricted blood flow and lack of internal mobility.
By then, the bleeding was so heavy that going through 30 maxi pads a cycle was the norm. I rarely used tampons b/c they offered little protection and the risk of internal pesticide exposure scared me. An ultrasound revealed two more fibroids that were contributing to the mess and would need to be removed.
“Do you want more children?” Neyman asked.
“Well, why not take it all out?”
After previous advice stating that it would be overkill, the suggestion frightened me. Really? A hysterectomy was the best solution? Then it occurred to me:
“And why NOT??”
How many more fibroid surgeries were in my future? Tumors? Costly doctor visits, pain meds and feminine hygiene products? Missed work days and social events? Pounds gained from lack of exercise? Stress-induced ailments and sleepless nights? I asked for a post-holiday surgery date to mull it over.
Of course, this all demanded research on my part. A family friend in Michigan who is an OBGYN, said “If your doctor told you NOT to get a hysterectomy at this point, I would question her sensibility.” The Internet hosts thousands of stories about the good, bad and ugly of hysterectomies. Dr. Oz concluded that most hysterectomies were unnecessary and frivolous because many circumstances are non-life threatening.
My symptoms may not have been fatal, but let me tell you: my quality of life was not just threatened, it was already dying. My husband saw me perpetually suffering or in recovery. My son sadly watched as he played in the pool while I sat fully clothed on a chair. Bloating and bleeding dictated my outfit choices– not cool for an image consultant who prefers to dress for the occasion. I’m a can-do, glass-is-almost-full kinda gal, but this uterus was draining my life force.
The pros out-weighed the cons. I called the doctor and asked for the first available surgery. My hysterectomy was scheduled for October 17th, just one month away. Everything was going except the left ovary to prevent sudden menopause.
I’m not here to say that hysterectomies are for everyone. Indeed, other health factors and your values all come into play. But if you’ve exhausted other solutions and a hysterectomy can eliminate future risk, talk to a number of doctors and go with the choice that’s right for you.
Please share your hysterectomy experience, thoughts or concerns in the comments below. And, of course, contact me directly with your style questions. I’d love to hear from you!
Because You’re Going Places