This is going to be a long one so I hope you’re sitting down and have a nice cup of coffee! If you’ve been following the blog, or me over on Instagram then you’ll know that in January this year I ended up having a hysterectomy at 40. Well, I say ended up, it was actually an 18 month process that I went through starting in December 2021 but I’ll get into that in more detail in a minute. I always knew the whole ordeal would end up as a blog post because I’m forever chasing that content but as time went on and the more people I spoke to, I realised that writing this, whilst being cathartic for me, might actually be helpful to others too. Or at least answer some of the questions I would have liked answered before my surgery.
Now, obviously, everyone is different and I’m no medical professional so all I can really do is talk about my own experience but you know never know, it might help if you’re going through something similar and you’ll definitely learn what to say and what not to to someone going through something similar. And I’ll try and keep it as brief as possible.
In August 2021 I noticed a distinct change in my periods in both pain and quantity. I’ve always suffered bad cramps on the first day of my period but they always went away with some ibuprofen and only ever lasted a day. Now though, they were agony and heavy and the cramps lasted pretty much the full 4 days. I went to my GP basically to get some drugs stronger than ibuprofen, which I did, I was prescribed Mefenamic acid but as a precaution was also sent to for an internal ultrasound just to rule out endometriosis. Sometimes you learn to deal with things, periods are a part of life, you take some painkillers and you get on with it. But as they became for debilitating, it made me think of all the times they had taken the shine off a holiday or a night out. Here are just three examples of the many times that happened. And a reminder that not everything you see on the internet is the full picture:
I have to admit I wasn’t impressed with the Mefenamic acid. It was better than ibuprofen but it only just took the edge off the pain. To be honest I was putting it all down to having had both doses of the COVID-19 jab as reports of links to menstrual cycles were starting to come through. At my ultrasound, which was in the December of 2021, the radiographer told me there was a cyst on my left ovary, and it wasn’t one that was going to go away on its own. This was obviously quite a shock but explained a lot. I have to say my GP surgery were amazing, the nurse who referred me for the ultrasound called me the next day when she got the results and swiftly got me in that day for a CA125 blood test which basically tests for cancer. If that was positive I would have been on the 2 week cancer pathway to get this things seen to. Thankfully my levels were normal and I was referred to a routine consultant appointment, which eventually came round in March 2022
At the hospital appointment we met with a registrar to talk through options which ranged from doing nothing (watchful waiting) and just having regular scans to keep an eye on the cyst, to having a full blown hysterectomy and having the lot taken out. I have a strong family history of ovarian cancer on the maternal side, and have often worried about if and when in life that might affect me. So the option of having everything out and therefore eliminating any change of that type of cancer completely, whist also preventing agonising pain a week a month was quite appealing. There were options in-between which involved removing only certain bits, including the cyst however it would have meant I still got periods, still needed smear tests and would still be high chances of more cysts coming back so in my mind it was going to be all or nothing.
We took all the information and had a long hard think about everything. I knew at the very least I wanted the cyst removing. I looked into what that surgery would entail, the recovery time etc. and it wasn’t massively different to a full hysterectomy so I very quickly came to the realisation that if I was going to go through an operation anyway, kids definitely weren’t on the cards for us, and to prevent any kind of emergency surgery in the future when I’m older and perhaps less fit and healthy in order to recover well, let’s just get it all over and done with in one go.
One of the positives of this operation is that they intended to keep my right ovary (the good one!) so as to prevent me going through early menopause. Apparently sending younger women through menopause unnecessarily can cause health issues such as osteoporosis and cardiac problems – nether of which sound pleasant so that sounded like an added bonus and one for the pro list in terms of full surgery. I called my consultant about two weeks later and was added to the routine waiting list.
It’s cliché to say but the waiting really was the worse bit. I wasn’t keen to have the surgery too soon as 1. it wasn’t an emergency and 2. we had a few thing planned which I wanted to be well for, like my 40th Birthday in July and our long awaited trip to New York in September. I’d been told the routine waiting list was about 8 months so had figured I would be all done and dusted by Christmas 2022. Come November I still hadn’t heard anything so chased up with my consultant’s secretary. She confirmed I was still on the list but was now classed as a long waiter so I should hear soon. She’d asked if I wanted to be on the cancellation list which I originally agreed to, but soon realised that meant I could be called in literally any time for the next day and didn’t feel that gave me enough time to either mentally or practically prepare so I took myself off that.
Wednesday 23rd November 2022 I got call from the secretary offering me a date of 22nd December, which I turned down (even she agreed that was too close to Christmas) so then offered me 13th December – only about 3 weeks later, again, that felt too soon for me to prepare and get my head round everything that was going to happen. We eventually agreed on 31st January 2023. I could have a nice Christmas then have all of January to get myself fit and healthy and would be (hopefully) all recovered by Spring.
What followed was probably the most agonising 2 months of my life. I got myself so wound up, mainly with worries about the anaesthetic and not waking up from it, that I almost cancelled the surgery at least twice. I was determined to have a good Christmas (morbidly convinced it might be my last) but it was marred with worry, similarly a weekend away in Liverpool in mid January 2023 which was supposed to take my mind off it all, didn’t. It was on my mind pretty much 24 hours a day, even to the point I was regularly dreaming about my surgery. I made sure I had a relatively healthy January by eating well and getting plenty of exercise and I stopped drinking alcohol 2 weeks before the op – the medical advice was only to stop drinking 48 hours before but being dry for two weeks made me feel better.
One thing I did do, which helped me loads when my anxiety level had peaked to an almost unhealthy level, was I rang my consultant with some questions. I cannot stress how important this is, if you’re in a similar situation. My consultant knows about my surgery and my condition and my circumstances and they can advise and reassure accordingly. I’d joined a UK based Facebook hysterectomy group which was a blessing and a curse; it was great when I had a question I wanted answering, but you also became privy to other peoples moans and horror stories which very much got in my head and made me convinced something was going to go wrong.
The surgery I was having was hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (snappy!) which essentially means in addition to removing the womb they remove the fallopian tubes and ovaries. Other than as mentioned above, one ovary was to be kept to prevent early and unnecessary menopause. And it was to be done laparoscopically (keyhole) where they go in via 4 small incisions (bellybutton, right and left hip and just above the pubic bone) and detach everything then remove it from your, well I’ll let you guess where they remove it from. So everything; womb, tubes, cervix and bothersome ovary were all going .
Funnily enough by the time the operation date rolled around, I was possibly the most calm I’d been in a while – yes I had a few tears on the Sunday and Monday before hand but that was partially relief that it was finally happening. I was in hospital for 6.30am on Tuesday 31st January 2023 and found out I was third on the list – which meant a long wait ahead of me.
And a long wait it was. Dave wasn’t allowed to stay with me being a gynaecology ward so I was shown to my bed and given to wet sponges to suck on as I was nil by mouth by this point – they’re every bit as disgusting as they sound. I met with both my consultant and the anaesthetist who were both fantastic at reassuring me. I snoozed throughout the morning and chatted a little bit with the lady in the bed next to me who was in suffering with severe endometriosis. As one final FU from my body, I was on my period that day, and it was a particular bad one – but I wasn’t able to take anything for it so just tried to snooze it off as best I could. If nothing else it was a reminder as to a benefit of getting this done.
Lunchtime was probably the worst; the hospital food in Newcastle’s RVI actually looked really nice, but alas I couldn’t have any of it. It was pretty much bang on 2pm when I was called down and a lovely nurse walked me down to theatre. Once down there I had one last little cry but the anaesthetist and her team calmed me right down by talking about San Diego (one of my favourite places). They gave me something to relax me a bit and asked me to lie down. I told them I was feeling a little bit woozy and they said to take deep breaths. I remember looking up at the air conditioning unit on the ceiling and then almost literally, what felt like the next second, I was being woken up in the recovery room.
My first words? ‘Am I alive?’ to which the new nurse looking after me giggled and assured me I was. I was in very little pain (hello morphine!), the worse bit really was that my throat was really sore from where the breathing tube had been. The clock on the wall said about 4.40pm which indicated I’d been under 2hrs 20mins which I believe is relatively normal – after all they don’t wake you up the second they’re finished and I think it can take about 20 minutes to come round from anaesthetic anyway.
After about another 20 minutes I was taken back to the ward by a lovely porter who I groggily yet enthusiastically talked about football with and my appreciation for Callum Wilson – I could hear myself spouting utter nonsense but also couldn’t seem to stop myself!). Once back on the ward I immediately texted Dave to inform him of my apparent immortality and telling him to come on down – visiting hours technically didn’t start until 6pm but another lady who’d had her op earlier in the day had her husband in so I told him to just come in anyway I would cause a morphine induced scene if necessary! .
Time for more liquid morphine. That stuff is just amazing. I had some as well as some codeine once back on the ward and by the time Dave arrived about 20 minutes later I was probably the most chilled out I’ve ever been living my best morphine life. I was given a sandwich (probably the nicest egg sandwich I’ve ever had) and told as long as I could manage a big wee, I’d be able to go home that night.
Cut to me drinking as much water as humanly possible. Of course having not had anything since 8pm the night before, a wee was not as forthcoming as I would have liked but I did manage a little one about 3 hours later and then a slightly bigger one 45 minutes after that. I was just so thankful to not have a catheter and also heeded some advice I’d been given about running a tap in the bathroom to help you go – that worked a treat!
Thankfully I was discharged at about 10:15pm. Dave had been allowed to stay, albeit in the family room so as soon as I got my discharge papers and drugs, I was able to leave straight away. I would say all things considered it was a positive experience. The consultant and anaesthetist were beyond brilliant and I felt in extremely safe hands. It was evident however how stretched the nursing staff were. A couple of times I was referred to as ‘her’ or ‘she’ when a nurse didn’t know I knew they were talking about me. When I went to the loo for the first time, I was helped there by a nurse, but practically pushed into the cubicle and the door shut behind me. I had no idea at this point whether I was even able to get up or down to the loo, and how much they were expecting me to produce. That all felt a little bit frightening.
When I was home, snuggled in my own bed, before midnight on the same day though, none of that mattered.
I had read so many horror stories about things that can go wrong during your recovery from burst stitches to infections (of all areas) to prolapses so believe me, when they told me to barely move for two weeks post surgery, I barely moved for two weeks post surgery! Moving around wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, getting from up to down or vice versa was done gingerly to begin with but as long as I took to very, very slowly, I was fine. Pain wise, it was only sore when moving about, lying perfectly still I was in no pain at all – which was good. I had quite a bad cough for the first few days after surgery due to the breathing tube and coughing really made my tummy hurt so I struggled with that but again, just made sure I coughed really gently! I was alternating paracetamol and ibuprofen every 4 hours for the first 2 days, but to be honest, by the Friday (day 3) I was so preoccupied with the fact I hadn’t had a poo yet, I forgot to take any painkillers at all.
Speaking of poo, one of the big things you can’t do – because it hurts and you could burst your internal stitches – is strain on the toilet. I was discharged with some stool softeners which do work but work slowly. So by day 3 of feeling pretty backed up, I tried every single thing available to get things moving; stool softeners, over the counter laxatives and prune juice (which is disgusting). Still nothing by mid morning on the Friday. Then the heavens sent me my friend Emma with a creamy Starbucks latte at lunchtime and that was the cherry on the cake that got everything moving – and I felt about 3 stone lighter afterwards! From there I just kept up on the softeners and prune juice and that prevented any further major issues in that department.
I spent all of my early days (about the first 3 weeks or so) on the sofa re-watching Greys Anatomy from the beginning, with everything I needed in a little basket on a coffee table in front of me within easy reach. I wasn’t massively hungry for the first few weeks because the thought of my tummy being full, filled me with dread. But, Dave was brilliant with making sure I was eating and drinking enough – and not lifting a finger. I was also loving that every day for about 3 weeks there were get well soon flowers, presents, cards and visitors arriving, which really made me feel loved and helped loads with my mood.
Sleep was peaks and troughs. Because I couldn’t lie on my side, I bought a 9 foot pregnancy pillow to wedge myself into to stop me rolling over (nicknamed Long Boi) which helped but I was snoozing through the day, which meant I wasn’t as tired at night as I should have been, which meant I wasn’t sleeping well, which meant to was snoozing through the day and on and on. But I just told myself to listen to my body and sleep when it told me to and eventually I would right the routine.
I went for my first walk – and first time out the house at all, on the Sunday after surgery which would have been 5 days and I literally just walked around the street – we must have been out the house less than 5 minutes but at least it was a starting point. A week and 3 days later we walked to the local Greggs half a mile away and a week after that we walked to the local pub about 10 minutes away. So I was taking it very very slowly. Each thing felt like a little victory though and whilst day to day I couldn’t really see much improvement, week by week I could, and that was encouraging.
As a wise man once said ups followed downs followed ups and that was definitely the case for me. I became significantly physically better quite quickly, certainly within a month I was out walking regularly and building up my steps week on week. I was able to go out for lunch with fiends or go shopping with my parents with relative ease, albeit it would then make me shattered for the rest of the day.
About three weeks after my operation I got a letter from the hospital confirming that the cyst was benign and that no cancer had been found. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a little tear. It was news I didn’t know I needed but the relief was overwhelming.
After two months I was driving again and back at the gym, again starting small with some light exercises on the cross trainer and walking on the treadmill. I ended up being signed off from work for 3 months in total. After six weeks when my initial sick note ran out, my GP signed me off for a further six. I thought at the time that was excessive but in hindsight I really needed that time. Yes I felt guilty as I could sit on the sofa watching Greys Anatomy for hours on end with no pain, and I was able to go out shopping and for lunch, but that is totally different to concentrating, and having to make decisions and manage people 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. For the vast proportion of my recovery I watched the the telly with subtitles on as it kept my concentration, if I didn’t I would fall asleep. That doesn’t sound to me conducive to putting in a full day at work. And as a friend said to me, you’re signed off work not signed off life. I would strongly recommend if you’re in the same position and are able to, take as much time off as you can. You will need it.
My mood was very up and down throughout. I was pleased to not have to reply on pain killers for very long but the biggest side effect for me was undoubtedly the tiredness. I would have a visitor for an hour or so in the afternoon and would then sleep for 3 hours, similarly if I went out for lunch or for a walk. This lasted well into month three and napping in the afternoon was something I needed to train myself not to do in the end, as I prepared to return to work.
I was told to expect slight menopausal symptoms for a while as my one remaining ovary adapts to life on its own. Remaining ovaries often go on strike for a little bit because they miss all their mates. That happened to me for sure, my hair started falling out, not in big clumps or anything, but definitely more than usual and my hairdresser even commented it felt a bit thinner. That, thankfully,
appears to have been temporary as it doesn’t seem to be happening as much now, or at least as slowed down. I’ve been making sure I take regular hair, skin and nails and vitamin D (for bones) supplements to make sure I’m getting all the stuff my body may be needing more of at the moment.
One side effect that I didn’t really really account for is other people’s reactions to my surgery. The people who needed to know before hand did, but otherwise I kept it pretty quiet on social media. Afterwards, the support and well wishes, were lovely, but along with those also came a lot of unsolicited advice and opinions. People assuming I was going through menopause and sending me a barrage of tips to deal with it and in some cases, completely trauma dumping on me, mere days after my surgery, about something I wasn’t even going through myself. And then there were people who barely know me, asking right out whether I realised this meant I wasn’t able to have children now.
I’m now 4 months post op now and all in all, looking back on it, I think it all went incredibly well and I got through it all pretty unscathed all things considered. I look back fondly on m recovery period where I was given this rare opportunity to fully switch off from work and focus on looking after myself. I was also very lucky to have it done in winter and be able to recover when it was cold, wet and miserable outside, all fit and well again to enjoy the summer.
Time will tell as what the long term effects may or may not be but I can already tell the difference it’s made to my life at least on a monthly basis. So in that respect I’m pleased I had it done, and I’m really looking forward to just getting on with the rest of my life now!