How does the saying go? I wish I weighed what I did when I first thought I was fat? Well – I wish I were as in shape as the first time I thought I was out of shape. But at 25, I had no clue what being out of shape meant.
But now I do, and I am partly putting the responsibility for it on my sedentary work writing, and sedentary Day Job, and partly on menopause.
Menopause happens for a reason. Women’s bodies stop preparing for pregnancy (thank goodness!). But with that, comes a loss of hormones. Our bodies gain weight in weird and unpredictable spurts even when we’re doing everything “right” in order to protect us while we go through this transition.
When you add stress to that situation, which includes everything from aging parents, adult children who will not leave home, death or divorce of a spouse/parent/child/other loved one, job issues, and so on, the normally sane woman can easily find herself munching on anything she can find in the middle of the night, as well as downing a bottle of wine. Or two. Depending on the circumstances and the
enablers loving family around her.
So here I am, post-total abdominal hysterectomy (August 2012), post-hormones (because they went up to $100 a month and nobody got time for that), post-emotional growth spurt last year…without the benefit of a gym membership – and here I am, once again. Staring at myself in the mirror, and thinking, oh hell. I am so out of shape. Not only that, but my balance is beginning to erode again. Sigh.
Is there vanity involved? Hell yes. I have great feet and great legs, and I’d like to look respectable in clothes that will show them off. Which means I need to get back into the gym and start walking on the treadmill (did you know that CARDIO exercise can help keep you mentally sharp? Go here to check it out). I would also like to be able to take walks with my husband without getting dizzy and having to hang onto him.
It also means that I need to get back to ballet. Simple barre exercises, stretching, balancing exercises, eventually the joy of moving a bit across a wooden floor, even if it’s in socks and yoga pants and a big, enveloping t-shirt.
My first day back to the Barre was on Friday evening. I was fine until I attempted grand plies. I have decided that at my age, I no longer need to do grand plies. I am hoping my right quadricep will forgive me soon, and we can continue this odyssey.
(And when I’m not at the gym, I’ll be doing yoga in my front room.)
So, yes. There’s vanity involved. But I also want to be healthy for as long as I possibly can. My father is 87; he has a bad shoulder and a bad ankle. His hands are twisted with arthritis, and he hurts every single day. But he’s walking, his mind is clear, and his arms are strong enough to give me hugs when I see him.
I want to be like my dad, only stronger. And without the pain. I think it’s a worthy goal.
Welcome to the last installment of The Uterus Chronicles! If you need to get caught up, here’s Episode 1 and Episode 2.
As mentioned at the end of Episode 2, I had found the right doctor for me (who ended up being a surgeon), and had scheduled my hysterectomy for August 7th 2012, a week and a day ago.
(There are other places to go for in-depth information on hysterectomies, alternatives, risks and whatnot – one of the best places being the HysterSisters, celebrating their 14th anniversary this month. I learned a lot at their site, though I wasn’t a frequent contributor. )
So, last week I had my hysterectomy. I actually walked into the operating room – wow, what an experience! I tried to catalog as much as I could with my writer’s brain. It’s true, operating rooms are very white, very bright (even without those huge lights over the bed turned on). Two nurses were counting surgical instruments (of which there were LOTS – like, way too many to be used on my body); the Chief of Anesthesia was there doing his thing prior to giving me an epidural; a couple other nurses were busy doing something (but they were behind me, so I couldn’t see what they were doing).
As soon as I felt the numbing go down to my toes, I swung up my legs and settled on the operating table before the epidural settled into my butt. And that’s pretty much the last thing I remember before waking up in recovery.
Soon, I was happy to get settled in my own room. The doc took pictures of my incised uterus (which I am NOT sharing here – you’re welcome!) and showed the hubs before I got to see them – and I must say, the photos were impressive. As reported elsewhere, the typical female uterus is 6-8 cm. Mine was 22 cm. I liken it to the size of a little kid’s soccer ball (for four-year-olds). Plus, my uterus held over 40 fibroids of all sizes and calcifications, the largest of which was 8cm. Apparently, my OR team was impressed (and I ended up being the talk of the doc’s office staff, as well, lol). All in all, it needed to come out. I’d made the right decision.
After some hemoglobin issues during recovery (my body recalibrating itself), and some pain med issues (they bumped me up to percocet), I finally came home Thursday evening. Grateful to be here, despite the heat.
One of the takeaways from this experience for me is, surprisingly, the pain management. I had a low, bikini-cut incision that was carefully stitched internally and seamed with glue on the outside (kinda neat, I think). I can tell when I’m in pain (besides, you know, the pain) – the area around the incision gets hot. It never got hot in the hospital, nor did it when I was on the percocet. (I switched over to the vicodin when it became apparent that I’d never eat solid foods again while on perc.)
“Staying on top of the pain” is more than mere med-speak. It’s real, it’s vital, and it’s damned hard to do. Do I sleep, or set my alarm to take my meds at the right time? I’ve gotten all discombobulated the past three days, which has made the pain management difficult. The boys are working with me, and I’ve got a whiteboard telling me what to take when, but still getting the right pills inside me at the right time has been interesting, frustrating, and an intellectual exercise (how in the hell do soldiers, who live by “toughing it out”, deal with pain meds?).
Other writers may write really well on drugs – I, however, am not one of them. It’s too hard for me to keep my story in mind as I write, so until the pain meds get tapered to just ibuprofen, I’m sticking to reading and blog post writing (because that’s about my attention span, lol).
As my doctor said, the body heals slower when in pain (which is why he advocates an epidural during surgery – keeps a lot of the pain at bay those first 12 – 24 hours). Staying pain-free is imperative to healing, at this stage. I’m also learning that just because I might not be in immediate pain (when the vicodin has kicked in and I’m floating) doesn’t mean it’s okay to haul around cast iron pans, or gallons of milk, or that I should bend over to feed the cat. My old
nemesis friend, patience, keeps patting my hand and telling me to relax and about an hour after the meds kick in, I do relax. But I’m looking forward to this part of the journey being over.
The big takeaway for me, however, is to encourage everyone to pay attention to your body. When I was in my twenties, I kept a couple pages in my day planner to detail my monthly cycle. Days I started, how heavy the flow, etc. I only wish, now, that I had kept it up through the years. If I had, I might have caught that my periods were getting heavier; that I was gaining weight without changing my eating habits; that my stomach seemed hard, and bulgy (because, you know, it wasn’t my stomach).
I wish I had mentioned the heavy periods to my doctor; that I’d complained more about the little things that could have led them to a diagnosis of fibroids sooner. More than anything, I wish our culture wasn’t so afraid to talk about uterus issues. I wish I had had a community of women to turn to when things started to change (the curse of being in a small nuclear family without an extended family).
I have that community now. Women I’ve been friends with have opened up to me and shared their experiences. They’ve taken me under their wing and assured me all will be well and I believe them, completely. But not having that community is why I posted such a deeply personal topic on this blog in the first place. I didn’t know where else to go, didn’t want to whisper about it, and saw no reason to hide an issue that may face every woman (or her friend) at some point or another.
Speak up. For yourself to a doctor. To a friend in need. Reach out and help where you can, and ask for help when you need it. Women’s health, while it has come a long way, is still in many ways a shadowy part of medicine (in the fact that uterus issues aren’t openly talked about) and it doesn’t have to be that way. It SHOULDN’T be that way.
Plus, we’re all getting older. PAY ATTENTION to your body. Make notes of how you feel, maybe once a month. I’m not advocating being paranoid; I’m advocating being aware. Its so easy to ignore stuff that may be bothersome; but if you can catch a health issue before it becomes an emergency, you and your loved ones will be far better off.
Okay my chicks, lecture over! Back to our regularly-scheduled Wine Fridays…thanks for listening.
~ ~ ~
This concludes Christine’s two years of health issues. She will be back to her regularly healthy self very soon, and appreciates your patience with her. She has renewed her warranty for the next 50 years, to her hubby’s satisfaction.
Episode 1: Does My Uterus Make Me Look Fat?
I had an illuminating gynecology visit last week. I had to go, because I had originally gone to my GP for blood in my stool; he examined me and said he thought I had fibroids in my uterus. I had a CT scan, which confirmed a diagnosis of “an enlarged myomatous uterus”. My bowel, as well as all my other organs, were peachy fine. The GP set me up with a Gynocologist and a Gastro-intestine doc, just to be on the safe side.
This post is about the Gyno visit, and the state of my uterus. (I’m thinking at this point the GI post will be positively tame. Tame, I tell you!)
So, I met this nice doc, probably in her mid to late 30’s. We talked for almost twenty, maybe thirty minutes. After she went through my symptoms (I’ll spare you the details), I then complained that for the past three or four years, when I turn sideways, I am not thin. I’ve always – always been thin sideways, and not so much straight on.
But I’m not thin anymore when I turn sideways. I’ve gained weight, but it’s out of proportion to how I’ve been eating. Even with The Menopause hovering on my personal horizon, there is no real reason for the weight gain.
Plus, my energy is low. I wake up a lot at night, I have to pee ALL THE TIME, and I get indigestion – something I never have had, with the exception of the two times I’ve been pregnant.
Pregnant. That’s it. I feel – pregnant. But ugly-pregnant, not glowy-pregnant. I feel as though my bladder is being pressed on constantly. I often have a bit of difficulty breathing, and I’ll get odd aches and pains in my abdomen. Fibroids in the uterus. So technically I am pregnant, but with fibroids. Swell.
Plus, my periods. (Okay, I’m not sparing you the details.) The first couple of days, it’s like Niagra Falls. Every hour on the hour I need to change my extra-super-duper tampon. At night I have to wear a huge overnight pad along with my extra-super-duper tampon. And even then, there are mornings where I’ll wake up and find I’ve bled all over the sheets. Yeah – that makes a woman feel sexy.
My doctor was FABULOUS. Prior to the physical exam, she told me there are options – drug-wise, I can go on a drug that is fairly new here in the States and kind of expensive, but I would take it just for the two or three really heavy days of my period, 3 times a day, to cut the blood flow in half.
Or, I could go on the Pill, which would also lessen the blood flow, but with hormones involved, I’d have to go off them on a yearly basis for a few months in order to see where I am – because there is no indication of WHEN I’ll actually go into full-blown Menopause. It could be four months, or four years. There’s just no telling, and since I don’t have sisters…no help there.
Surgically, there’s an ablation that could be done (I think it’s called a hysteroscopy – where they go in vaginally). They can remove the fibroids via a laparoscopy, too – through a small incision near the belly button. Or they can go into my uterus through the veins in my groin to cauterize the blood vessels that are feeding the fibroids, which would at least cut off their blood supply. And the fourth option, of course, is a hysterectomy.
She then proceeded to the physical exam. And the minute she put her hand on my abdomen, she said “oh wow.” Um, okay.
Apparently the reason I am wide when I turn sideways is because my uterus is huge. Or, as she put it, if I had come in to see her and I was 25 instead of 52, she’d ask me if I were pregnant. Because to her, my body feels about 5 months pregnant. Let me repeat that. FIVE. MONTHS. PREGNANT.
Yeah. Knew it. Okay, but there’s a bright spot – it’s not FAT! It’s my fibroid-filled uterus making me look big. That’s a plus, right? Right? Sigh.
So, the surgical options have narrowed because my uterus is so damned HUGE. (She didn’t even see the need to do a vaginal ultrasound – she could FEEL it. And then, suddenly, so could I.)
Surgically, I could go with the cauterizing of the blood vessels in my uterus to cut off the fibroids. But this will not get rid of the fibroids – it will merely stop them from growing (which would be, I’ll admit, a total blessing).
OR: I could go with the hysterectomy (with a low bikini incision). My ovaries would be left in, because I don’t have any family history of cancer at all and, according to the doc, our ovaries have an important role to play as we age. They don’t know what it is, exactly, but it’s important.
This last option would give me my figure back (such as it is). The medication options will help with the blood flow, but it won’t shrink the fibroids into non-existence, from what I understand. (Even after menopause, the fibroids don’t just go away, and I’ll be my normal, slightly fist-sized uterus girl again. Oh, no. That, of course, would be too easy.)
When I told my husband, the first thing I did was help him feel my abdomen. Almost from hipbone to hipbone, from pubic bone to just below my belly button – my uterus fills my abdomen. Considering it’s supposed to be roughly the size of my fist, it’s beyond ginormous. I feel awkward, ugly, huge and impossible.
Tom, my love, wants me to do whatever will give me the best long-term health outcome. He doesn’t care if I don’t get my figure back. (I think a main part of it is he doesn’t want me going in for any surgery, at all. I can totally understand that.) But me? I’m tired of feeling huge. Of being 5 months pregnant. I’ve been this way, steadily growing, for four years now. And I’m tired.
I don’t know what I’ll end up doing. I’ve got research to do. The doc took a biopsy of the fibroids and we should get the results back in a few days. Then we’ll sit down, the three of us, and figure out what our next step should be.
Why am I writing about this here? Because it didn’t dawn on me that when a GP doc gave me an exam in 2010, that she might be wrong when she pressed on my uterus and said, “What’s your bladder doing there?” I’ll never know how different things might have been, if this had been caught in 2010.
Things change in our bodies as we women age, and we need to be alert to the changes. The Niagra Falls part of my period didn’t really get bad until about 3-4 years ago. That should have been my first clue. But I wasn’t paying any attention. I had assumed that everything was as it should be.
I was wrong. Learn from my mistakes. Pay attention to your health. It’s important, and no one else can possibly do it for you.
Thanks for stopping by! I love your opinions. If you’ve got (or had) a uterus, talk to me – what do you think about this? And if you’re a guy, what do YOU think?