A Survivor’s Guide to Having a Hysterectomy

It’s been a few months since I’ve written about this topic, in part because almost 5 months post-surgery there isn’t really anything to further discuss.  Life is back to normal and I don’t really think about my surgery anymore.  The door is closed and I’ll (hopefully) never have to open it again.  But I almost feel it is my duty, since I did use some blog space during my recovery to talk about what was happening, to conclude with one final post.  A survivor’s guide, if you will.  So here it is, my final hysterectomy post:

Although it’s really not possible to summarize this ordeal in a list of 8 items, for clarity and ease of reading, I’m gonna do it.  We all like lists, yes?  I think they help our brains segregate and process information more easily.  So here they are, the 8 most important things, in my humble opinion, that will help you through a hysterectomy.

1. Do your homework.

This goes without saying.  And chances are before you even decide to have a hysterectomy you will have either read at least something about the procedure or you will have talked with someone who has been through the experience.  If you haven’t?  Then do it.  Check out the resources here if you are seeking a hysterectomy to treat endometriosis.  Find women who have been through the surgery and talk to them.  Many will be happy to share their experiences.  Once you’ve done your homework, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor lots and lots of questions.  They are there to serve you and put you at ease about any hesitations you may have about the surgery.  Once you’ve asked your doctor questions, continue to do homework.  If you are having your ovaries removed, ask what kind of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) you will go on after surgery, if necessary.  Learn the potential side effects and ask more questions.

It took a couple of months to figure out, but I finally realized that the main side effect of my HRT is flatulence, and plenty of it.  I’ve always been a bit of a gassy lassy, especially since my diet is primarily vegetarian and full of fiber.  But after the surgery things took a dive south.  Hubby even asked me one night if my doctor left some organs inside to rot, it was that bad.  I had read about some of the potential side effects associated with my HRT: weight gain, hair loss, and yeast infections were among the commonly reported side effects.  But there was a separate section that discussed the less prevalent side effects, and apparently this is where I fall–I’m one of the 8% or so of women who experience excessive flatulence.  It’s uncomfortable, and quite frankly, embarrassing because it’s um, character, has definitely changed since I began taking the drugs.  Ironically, highly processed foods don’t seem to bother me as much.  But I am not going to give up my veggies for the dark side of the processed and preserved.  No way.  I haven’t yet talked with my doctor about it because it’s not negatively affecting my life to the point where I can’t deal with it, but it may be that all I need to do is take a different dosage of the drug to help alleviate this particular side effect.  Which brings me to my second point…

2.  Stay in tune with your body

If you aren’t self-aware of your body, it’s processes, how you feel on a daily basis, what triggers certain emotions and reactions, then now is a great time to start listening more closely.  Your body is a great communicator, but many of us don’t listen to it very closely.  So take this opportunity to get to know your body more intimately.  You may find your medication has an undesirable side effect, but you may not associate it with the surgery or your drugs unless you start paying attention to what your body is saying now.  Also, if you go on HRT, you will need to be very diligent about self-breast exams, as there is a slight increased risk for breast cancer associated with HRT.  So go ahead, cop a feel and get to know your boobies a little better.  It may just save your life.

3.  Get in (better) shape

Unless you are an Olympic athlete, there’s probably room for improvement.  I was trail running, but not long distances, and even though I did my sit ups after my runs, I knew my core strength could be better to help me recover more quickly post-surgery.  That was a big motivator for me to join the gym with Hubby last November.  So if you are in fairly good shape and not overweight, focus on strengthening your core right up until your surgery.  If you are sedentary, not in good shape and are overweight, start exercising.  NOW.  You don’t have to go on an extreme diet or exercise regimen.  Just make some small changes.  Start walking.  Then attempt a few core strengthening exercises, if possible.  Every little bit of work you do prior to surgery will pay big dividends for your recovery.

4.  Buy something soft to wear after surgery

This is a splurge, but you deserve it.  It doesn’t have to be cashmere.  For me, I found this incredibly soft and very comfy long-sleeved t-shirt.  I knew the moment I touched it that this was a snuggly shirt I would wear for much of my recovery period.  And I’ve worn holes in it from use.  I bought a few skirts with elastic waistbands at the thrift store to wear in the hospital and around the house, too.  I actually ended up wearing yoga pants most of the time, but I wear the skirts to work now, which was the intended dual purpose when I bought them.  So if you do one frivolous thing before your surgery, let this be it.  You will appreciate this little gift to yourself in the early days post-surgery when you just want to be surrounded by comfort.

5.  Have at least 1 close support member

This is important both before and after surgery.  Before surgery you will need someone to just talk to about the upcoming procedure.  Someone to help you remember to pack the essentials when you go to the hospital.  Someone to go with you to the doctor.  Someone to drive you home after your pre-surgery lab bloodwork.  Someone to comfort you and reassure you that yes, you are making the right decision and don’t worry, everything will be just fine.  After surgery you will need someone to help you with just about every mundane daily task for the first few days you are home.  Need a hot cup of tea?  Ready for dinner?  Need an extra pillow?  Did you drop your book on the floor?  Need some clean laundry?  Let this person do the heavy lifting because it will be a long time before you will be able to do it.  Everyone will recover differently and within the first week of my recovery I was making myself tea and doing a few other tasks.  But if you don’t feel up to it, DON’T DO IT.  Have someone who can dedicate some time to helping you for the first couple of weeks.  Many women attempt to do too much too quickly post-surgery.  This is yet another reason why it is important to listen to your body.  It will tell you when it is tired and when you are doing too much.  Although I was in the kitchen very quickly post-surgery (it is where I love to be, after all) I knew my limits and I took a break when I knew I needed to take a break.  I didn’t try to lift the cast iron Dutch oven, and I didn’t unload the dishwasher.  I didn’t do laundry.  I didn’t shovel the snow from the sidewalk.  Hubby was there to take care of me, and I let him take care of me.  My friends were there to hear my accomplishments, no matter how small, and to encourage me on during my recovery.  It was huge to have that support.

6.  Keep Busy

Be sure to have things lined up to do during your recovery.  Read.  Watch movies.  Learn a new language.  Write.  Or try coloring!  If I’d known about these adult coloring books right after my surgery, I definitely would have been doing a lot of this:

IMG_8884

7.  Keep moving

When you feel like it, get up and walk, walk, walk.  In the days immediately post-surgery it will help ward off blood clots.  You won’t feel like walking very far right after your surgery.  I did good to get in a couple of laps around the nurses’ station while I was still in the hospital.  When I made it back to the gym, on my birthday 4 days post-surgery, I walked 5 laps on the indoor track, which equates to about 0.2 miles.  But within a week I was able to walk a mile.  And within 2 weeks I was walking 2 miles.  It wasn’t long before I was walking 4-6 miles every day.  Just make sure it is safe to walk.  My surgery was in the middle of winter and the sidewalks were not safe for part of that time.  I was able to go to the gym and walk on the treadmill.  If you don’t belong to a gym, find somewhere, a mall, a school track, a big-box store…and just walk.  And make sure that wherever you walk you can make it back home or to your car—don’t leave yourself exhausted and stranded!

8.  Stay focused on the end goal

Don’t lose sight of the big picture.  Your surgery will mean your eventual freedom from pain, periods, and pads!  No matter how miserable the surgery and recovery, it will get better.  In the end, when you are healed up and back to normal, your new normal, you will be glad you went through with it.

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