Every woman fantasizes about the day she no longer has to worry about maxi pads, tampons, or cramps. If you are a female and don’t then you must be in the 1% category of women that believes menstruating is a glorious thing. I am not in that 1%. Being plagued with ovarian cysts for most of my adult life and often having conversations with my OB/GYN about a hysterectomy in the past, I was not a fan. Like any good doctor he tried to guide me into holding off more towards menopause. For me, when I had the left ovary removed and pathology came back with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer the choice was made for me to have a full hysterectomy.
Not going to sugarcoat this, part of me was like hallelujah, thank you! The other part of me, the larger part of me, the one that had to sign a piece of paper acknowledging that I would be sterile gulped and I gulped hard. It was NOT a glorious moment where gates opened, glitter fell, rainbows shooting, no parade, none of that. It was emotional, perhaps it’s because it wasn’t really my choice but I would likely think any woman would feel the same way. It’s a cold and broken hallelujah. I have made my way, no expert at all, but I’ll shed some light on my journey in the last 9 almost 10 months after having a hysterectomy.
With having the left ovary removed it had thrown me into early menopause so I got to experience hot flashes for the first time then. The best way to describe hot flashes is that it is a warmth that radiates from the inside outward and it covers every inch of your body! Ever tried to sleep during menopause? Hahahaha, good luck getting comfortable. I have battled the covers on/covers off rhythm since November 14, 2016. I also believe that when you rejoice that your kids finally sleep through the night that your payback is sleepless menopause nights, yup that’s where I am at. They also never come when you want them to. Too many cold winter days I thought, “please kick in and give me a hot flash,” only to be welcomed with nada. Nope, those bad boys will hit you in a self check out register when you have bagged the damn item but it tells you that you haven’t and you are ready to strip naked in the middle of the store before the clerk ever realizes that, yes, that red light does indeed indicate that you do need help!! Been there more times than I can possibly count. Invest in fans, dri-fit clothing, and a good cabernet is the best advice I can give you.
Next up is the weight gain. Everyone reassured me that the weight I picked up during chemo was due to steroids and that it would melt right off of me after chemo. Well, chemo ended at the very end of May for me, still waiting, and it is the middle of October. A hysterectomy changes so much for a woman, chemical balances, hormones, and it can mess with your metabolism. For me, I noticed I gained a butt that I never had before and unfortunately that butt did not come pre-squatted with an amazing curve either. I have heard others talk about gaining junk in the trunk too, it’s real.
The pouch. I think hysterectomies are known for giving a woman the historic woman pouch. The reason for this which is often never discussed is that your other organs will eventually shift to fill the empty space. The other thing is that between the rib cage and the pelvic bones you can shrink due to the uterus and ovaries being removed. Magnificent right?! No. I believe you can work hard with exercise to minimize this but please note that it takes a LOT of dedicated exercise to overcome this. I am not in the latter of that category (hard exercise that is), I am just hopeful to one day be there. I will be there. I must be there. Or at least I want to be in that category.
You will cry. In a hysterectomy you are taking away the biggest estrogen producer in your body. Talk about hormones. I still find myself at times crying for no reason at all. I am also more easily moved to tears than I used to be. You could chalk that up to everything I’ve been through but I like to think I am one tough broad. It’s a killer for sure and hard to manage. I have no real advice for this except try biting your tongue, the pain factor usually outweighs the feelings of wanting to do a hard emotional ugly cry. My other key note advice is ugly cry the crap out of it, you have earned it! Life can be hard AF, cry about it.
Recovery is long and often rough. You will need to find the comfiest pants ever and then get them in a couple sizes larger. Since your stomach is being cut open please do not try and fit yourself into jeans. Comfort is king or shall we say queen! This is your time to Netflix and chill. My advice is while you may have a ton of series you want to catch up on or see have books on hand too. I personally got so tired of TV that I almost couldn’t stand to look at the thing. The thought of watching anything on Netflix, Hulu, or even regular TV was a big turn off for me. It’s likely one of the reasons I don’t watch much TV to this day. Have a solid back up plan.
Gas pains. They are real. Right after surgery do EVERYTHING they tell you to do in order to get your bowels moving again. Drink the prune juice, take the walks, don’t ask to increase your diet too fast even if you are starving. I did all of those things and was still hospitalized with an NG tube forced down my nose which I welcomed for any sort of relief. The day you welcome an NG tube into your life is the day you know you are truly miserable. I had never wanted to pass gas or have a bowel movement more in my life than I did during that time.
Your hips can widen. Hate to tell you this but just like everything else your hips can change. Your body is going through a major shift and this is just one of the many places that it can happen. You’ll likely look at your closet one day and think, “well, those are now my, lord, I hope so, one day pants.” After delivering kids I made three piles for clothes. The first pile was the “never again pile” that was going to be donated. The second pile was the “lord, I hope to one day fit in those again pile” that I desperately wanted to see again. The third pile was the “I can almost button those and it wouldn’t take too much work pile” this was the pile where dreams became reality again. A hysterectomy is much the same with a much wiser approach.
Your bra size can grow! For those of us women like myself where Victoria’s Secret was always our secret with the must have push-up bra this was a welcomed surprise. No one ever mentioned this to me, but holy crap I looked it up and others experienced it too! It might not be a boob job but it was much welcomed and nothing I’ll ever complain about. I’ve never had a large enough cup size to ever feel like I have too much, bring on the boob.
Hysterectomies are no walk in the park, you don’t bounce back like it’s nothing. You may think after the 8 week recovery that you’ll be fine. I am here to tell you otherwise. You likely won’t find that kind of honesty in a brochure. After having one would I opt for one with just the ovarian cysts, you bet I would not. Would I if diagnosed with cancer, you bet I would and I would make that same choice over and over again. No regrets here, just a new normal. It’s life after cancer, life after a hysterectomy.
Raise those cabernet glasses, I’ve had three this evening! Not all things in life are easy yet we are forced to embrace the not so easy things, the things that change us, shape us, and forever mold us. Those are the moments where you might savor the taste of a good cabernet or you might gulp it like it’s Kool-Aid!