ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JULY 1, 2016
It’s not about words this time, so I’m posting on wildcard day (Friday.) This post is over 3000 words, so skim to the TL;DR at the bottom if you don’t have that kind of time, or don’t like reading biological/health stuff.
A year ago today, I had a laparoscopic hysterectomy. But I will back up…
During “period week” every month from 2010-2015, it was a lot like having a stomach flu. I was running to the restroom constantly. It was as if my system “woke up” during this time and decided it was a fine time to have a liquidation sale: “everything must go.”
I was anemic, bloated, and gassy. I got horrible sleep. I wore the biggest pads, but I was still paranoid about leaks. Tampons were a joke and I gave up on them long ago. I slept on a towel just in case.
I was achy. Ordinarily I would just take NSAIDs for 2-3 days and the worst of the pain would be over. If my NSAIDS weren’t working, I’d use a heating pad.
I hadn’t worn white pants in 25 years. I haven’t gone swimming much at all. When I was near a pool, it was inevitably “period week.” It wasn’t worth the hassle.
By 2014, periods lasted longer. NSAIDS weren’t working so well. There would be other aches (not cramps) that, like lightning, came and went. I thought it would stop happening; it didn’t. So I went to my gyno in the Fall of 2014. I got a ultrasound, and that’s when I learned I had a fibroid. This happens to 30-something women. A lot of them: to the genetically predisposed, to women of color, and to the more voluptuous ladies among us. But I didn’t know about that happening in my family.
I had the option to do nothing about it. I could bear with it, and it *should* stop growing once I was in my 40s.
I opted to have this one pedunculated fibroid (looks like a hornet’s nest dangling from the top of the uterus) removed in January 2015. Then I had a followup scan two months later.
The new ultrasound revealed that there were rapidly growing fibroids that weren’t even detected months before. Apparently, my uterus was a fibroid farm, with different types in different locations. And maybe more were growing on the outside that the ultrasound wand couldn’t possibly detect.
There was a lot of thinking to do.
I could keep getting these things cut out every few months, in the hopes of still keeping the “still have kids” window open. Each surgery, if I didn’t have insurance, could cost at least $30k. But to what end? How costly would all those repeated procedures add up to be? If I got the whole thing taken out, this would be over quicker, and less expensively. I just had to let go of the biological offspring option idea.
It would be really hard to get on with our lives if I had to get repeated surgeries several months or years in a row.
For added complications, we’d seen TV ads for lawsuits about fibroid removals that led to cancer. I didn’t want to take the steps to fix the situation, and just make it worse in the process. The more fibroids a woman has, the more I would suspect one of them could be a “rancid tomato” whose contents are capable of spreading cancer around the abdomen. So it seemed even more risky to have repeated morcellation procedures.
We talked to my doctor on two separate occasions before I decided to have the hysterectomy. He/she affirmed that the devices used in those recent lawsuits aren’t in use anymore. My procedure would use a DaVinci.
There’s an animation here. In this procedure, they took the whole uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix out of a very dilated vagina. The vagina was sewn shut at the top. The ovaries are still in place, but they release eggs with nowhere to go. All released eggs are absorbed by the body. The patient does not experience menopause until her ovaries have run out of eggs.
So I had that done a year ago today. I went in very early, so once I proved I could walk around the hall and use the restroom, I was free to go. I was in and out the same day.
At first I was forbidden from lifting things because it could tear where the vagina was sewn shut, and organs could fall through. Yuck.
I had to walk a lot. I was easily fatigued. But it got better over the course of a couple months. I didn’t have to take a lot of pain pills. I haven’t had complications in followup appointments. I made a point to eat more fiber and stay hydrated so that for any pain meds I did take, constipation would not be an issue. I had read about the procedure and aftermath at Kronda.com. Kronda is a woman who had been through the same procedure a couple years before me, whose blog I discovered online. [If you know somebody taking painkillers awhile, stool softeners, laxatives, and a bouquet of broccoli or fruit are a nice gesture. You would think the hospital would provide these, but even if they do, they are quite possibly stupid-expensive.]
Days after my surgery, I called my family to tell them what happened. They were sad I did it alone without telling them beforehand, but they were glad I was okay now. In talking to my sibling, I learned who else in the family had had fibroids.
My spouse, always a wonderful support, was really good to me. My best friend and family sent flowers, which is always nice.
Months later, I could lift anything that I could pre-surgery, and I was back to normal. Actually, probably better than normal given the drama I used to have every 30 days. I don’t miss buying pads or NSAIDs.
My fibroids could have been so much worse. I feel lucky to have the doctor I did, and to have sought the procedure when I did. Some are not as lucky.
NEW PHASE, NEW HAIR: I’ve given up coloring my hair dark chocolate once a month and that’s saved cash, time, a messy sink, and the packaging trash. With this procedure and turning 40 soon, it just felt right. I think it will be much easier to maintain as we travel more.
I grew my roots out from July until December. Then I got a pixie haircut so I would look nice (okay, nicer) in holiday family photos. Who’s that in the short salt and pepper hair and glasses? Oh, right.
After a year of growing it out, my hair is salt and pepper gray with several white streaks around my face. I’m not a master with wax and product. I haven’t mastered a faux hawk or gel-based pompadours. I haven’t updated online avatars just yet.
I just might buy white pants and a swimsuit.
THE BIGGER PICTURE:
Since the procedure, I have thinking of all the other ways this has been a positive change and happened for the best.
Since I’m not anemic, I can get back to donating blood on a regular basis. I have a desirable donor type. It’s a good thing that I’m comfortable with needles. [I don’t know how someone could be lifelong hypothyroid and not comfortable with needles. I get blood drawn pretty much every GP visit.]
Seeing tampon, birth control, pads, and cramp meds on TV is strange: wow, that doesn’t apply to me anymore.
HYSTERECTOMY ON TV: Sister Evangelina on Call the Midwife had this procedure (albeit more difficult and with a longer convalescence in the 1950s; they made a bigger cut into a woman’s abs back then.) Like a lot of Evangelina-isms, her observation was priceless: “No need for any great fanfare. It’s just an old pocket in some apron that I’ll never use.”
THE MEDIA & SOCIAL SCENE: IS IT JUST ME? Evangelina was a nun, though, living in a home with nuns of all ages, and working with young midwives, in a tight knit small town called Poplar, in postwar England in the 1950s.
In the real world, in the 2010s, in the US, it’s not easy to find same-age peers who’ve gone through a hysterectomy, except online. So many women around me have babies and kids, and they identify and hang out with other American women with babies and kids.
Hollywood women between 30-50 are having kids left and right, all over the globe. So let’s just say this procedure is alienating in that regard. Am I one of the guys now? Is it time to join the Red Hat Ladies? Another group?
Fibroids and hysterectomies don’t usually make it to (non-PBS) primetime TV, the web, or the news. Most likely there isn’t going to be a The Real Hysterectomy Honeys of Homosassa, or Barren in Bismarck, or other drama series anytime soon.
So I, and other women who’ve been through this, have to hunt down common ground on message boards, websites, and blogs. Because it’s the internet, we have to type in the just the right subject keywords to find information on the subject. It doesn’t just appear in our inboxes, or get delivered by a godmother, or stork. I just learned this year that July is Fibroids Awareness month.
This sucks because it’s not just me, or any other woman that had this procedure, or will have this procedure in the future. But it can definitely feel like “just you” when your culture that doesn’t acknowledge hard things, or disorders, nearly as much as it does life’s “happy” milestones. Or it acknowledges women’s issues mostly in March (women’s history month), or pink-laden October. Medical challenges don’t happen during a convenient PR month, though, they happen all the time.
Sometimes daytime TV touches on women’s issues. But how many women are home during the day, and even if they are home, are watching daytime TV like previous generation did with their afternoon stories?
It’s the avoidance and refusal to talk about hard things in primetime that are less than perfect/ideal that’s a problem. When you get bad news about your body that you didn’t see coming, it’s like being hit by the proverbial bus. When you don’t hear about it happening to anyone else, I reiterate, it’s alienating.
My motivation for this post was to talk about hard things, and encourage other people to talk about hard things with their younger family members. A lot of people go through life with the attitude bad things can’t happen to him/her, until those things happen.
If you are a young woman and want to have kids someday, your aunt blogger here hopes you discuss fertility, fibroids, thyroid problems, and breast and any reproductive organ cancers that run in the family with your parents, just so you know what you’re potentially dealing with. If you can afford a genetic test, it probably can’t hurt to get one. If you are adopted, I hope your biological parents had some documentation about family history to share with you because you deserved to know. If they didn’t, a genetic test is the next best thing.
Broaching the hard things with our moms, the family history of fertility and cancers is something the grown daughter is more likely to bring up to the parent, not the other way around. I didn’t, I should have. The wonky periods. Fibroids. Cysts. PCOS. Infertility. Midlife chin whiskers. Cancers. Thyroid flip outs. Rapidly declining metabolism. Other estrogenic Murphy’s (Murphette’s?) law type stuff. Please talk about it.
Some women don’t get a lot of time to detect these things and get it dealt with. As of this writing, the youngest woman to be diagnosed with breast cancer was 10. Linda Creed, lyricist behind Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All, died of breast cancer at 37 after fighting it for years. You might recall that Angelina Jolie had multiple procedures because she learned she carried the genes for reproductive cancers. In prior years, Jolie had lost three women in her family to those cancers, including her mother, who was 57. Was that ever gonna be front and center on E! ? Was that going to come up on the red carpet? Likely no. Jolie wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times. Then it was entertainment news.
When Generation Y (today’s adults), Generation Z (today’s young adults), and the Alpha Generation (today’s little girls) want to be moms, I think they should know some things. For all the cute babies in media that everyone’s having (like its easier than tying a shoe), the truth is fertility has been difficult for a lot of Generation X moms, mom’s siblings, and mom’s friends. It happens to the famous and not famous. It happens to princesses, and royalty is chronically, singularly obsessed with offspring more than the average in-law. How does this aunt blogger know? It’s gleaned from newly released books, interviews about those books, and just digging around on the web. I guess because I don’t have kids I have this kind of time. For some, kids just aren’t happening at all. For some “no kids” was a choice, but for others, it was inconvenient genetics.
It concerns me that once a decade is over, the issues get shelved and not brought up again, as if they won’t be repeated in some fashion if people just don’t bring them up. But they can, they have, and they do. And another generation of moms and non-moms gets hit by the proverbial bus because no one wants to talk about hard things in the family genes, or culturally. It appears like the only time you can bring up something hard is after something happy occurred after it. You know, the ubiquitous athlete mini-biopic type story.
We can’t prevent all hard things from happening, but communication about potential problems makes people better off about their choices, and working with what time is available.
In my view, based on more proactive conversations I could have had in my life, Moms and their grown daughters should discuss fertility and reproductive cancers in their family history sooner than later.
Thanks for reading.
TL; DR: Though usually benign, fibroids hurt, can be debilitating, and they can mess up fertility for 30-something women. I had several fibroids when they were discovered, and the best option to me was a hysterectomy, so I got one. Everyone’s decision is different.
Sources and Other References:
Kronda.com (especially if you are going to have a hysterectomy procedure)
May 18 is Fibroid Awareness Day (I had no idea before writing this post)
thenotmom.com (I am intrigued about this site and only heard about it 7/11/16)
Jennifer Aniston’s op-ed for Huffington Post, July 12, 2016
NEW! Refinery29 Slideshow: Childfree celebrities