It is a weird anniversary to be sure but October 26 is the thirteen year anniversary of my hysterectomy. The pain of not being able to have more children still crops up every now and then, growing less with each passing year, but it still amazes me that the biological urge is such a sharp tug.
I am grateful every day for my son who is almost 17 and was truly a blessing as I had no idea that he would be the one and only. Plus, I get to gather my brother’s three kiddos close as if they were my own.
Thirteen years ago, I had a lower left abdominal pain that came out of the blue and stayed … and got worse. Within 2 days, I was gray – literally – and on my way to the emergency room. As a health care worker, we always believe we can diagnose ourselves so I waited for it to resolve. I came up with all kinds of excuses – including the flu and I began consuming Vitamin C at an exorbitant rate. After four full days, a 4am in the morning, the pain became too intense and intolerable and to the hospital we went.
I went to the hospital where I worked so they zipped me into ultrasound. I watched the tech’s face as she went from a cheery smile to glancing at me nervously and backing out of the room, telling me she was getting the doctor. Surgeon would have been the correct word. I promptly turned the screen, as soon as she was out of the room and my jaw dropped. My ultrasound looked like I had a cantaloupe-sized mass on my ovary. The doctor walked in and confirmed – I had a tumor on my left ovary. The tumor had caused the ovary to tortion which was causing the pain. My only option was surgery … immediately.
Once the procedure was explained – an oophrectomy (removal of an ovary) – I told the doctor to take out everything if they got in there and saw that it was not just the ovary. I had one child and no plans to get pregnant. I was so blithe in that moment and so focused on getting the disease out of my body that I didn’t ask some of the questions that I should have – like, harvesting my eggs or options for my future self who may have biological urges.
I came out of the surgery with half of my right ovary intact. Half of a diseased ovary according to the pathology report. Fighting through morphine, pain and being gutted from side to side – I flipped out. Why had they left it? The doctor explained I was too young (29)and they wanted to give me a chance to get pregnant. Get pregnant with a diseased HALF ovary?? That is what a male doctor and a Catholic hospital will get you and still no one discussed options like harvesting any eggs that could be in that wee, little half ovary.
I recovered from that surgery just in time for the tumor to regenerate within 3 months. I found a new surgeon and we scheduled a hysterectomy. Hindsight is 20/20 and I wish now that I had discussed harvesting my eggs if indeed there were any viable. Apparently, there were some viable eggs because I did have one final period, ironically the 3 days preceding the surgery.
That is the clinical story. That is the easy part of the story. The other part of the story is what women go through with a hysterectomy (no matter what age) – the emotional ups and downs; fighting my own body that was thrown into surgical menopause because I did not want to take hormone replacement due to the high percentage of breast cancer in my family; explaining to my 4 year old that he could never have a brother or sister; feeling like I was not a woman anymore … that I was broken; refusing to date because since I was in my very early 30’s, new couples talk about things like having children; physical pain that turned into an emotional ache that always stays with me.
To complicate issues, I was diagnosed with lupus about 9 months after the surgery. Apparently, the trauma of the surgeries triggered off the sleeping lupus. I felt like I spent years in tailspin after tailspin.
Thirteen years later, I am here. I am fine. Life happens but my son is healthy and way taller than me, my lupus is in remission and life is good. I have great friends and a business that I love and I am growing. I never went on hormone replacement so, technically, I have to go through menopause AGAIN. The joy of power surges and the bill that comes from keeping my house like a freezer to prevent too many hot flashes.
The optimist in me is grateful for the large tumor that crushed my ovary and caused the pain. It could have been ovarian cancer and spread through my abdomen and this could be a very different story. So I am grateful … always.
I am recognizing this anniversary for a few reasons:
- Women need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. It is called the silent killer and I had a very near miss with NO symptoms other than pain from the size of the tumor.
- Women need to be their own advocates or have a someone that can step into that role. Ask lots of questions – if you find yourself in childbearing age and in this situation, ask about harvesting your eggs for future use. I had hours to digest my situation (barely) before I was whisked to the operating room. Slow it down and take time to formulate questions.
- Find other women that will support you in this time – hormones running amok and emotional issues will come up – THIS IS NORMAL. Don’t feel like a freak and always, always reach out for help to talk through it.
- Gratitude is an attitude – while it may take some time, feel blessed for what you DO have.
- Put a positive spin on it – for me, I now consider that I have astral ovaries and that this is part of a plan that the Goddess has for me. Whatever works for you! But, also realize that the positive spin does come with time.
For those women, who are going through a hysterectomy or have gone through, please reach out. Stay tuned in 2014 – through The MotherHouse of the Goddess, we will be doing a Hysterectomy Healing Course. Joining together will only increase our healing! Just know, you will survive and there is a corner to turn. The hot flashes are a different story – I highly recommend a fan or four.