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11-Month Post Surgery Update

The holiday season is upon us and before the year ends in a blur, I’m doing some self-reflection. There’s something to be said for memorializing one’s life. I gained a new appreciation for maintaining my blog while watching a youtuber passionately explain how important it is for everyone to document their lives in some way so as not to forget and to get the lessons. I wholeheartedly believe this. Not long ago, I was rereading my previous posts and in Take a leap, which I wrote as a mid-year reflection, I reminded myself of my “whys” and to keep going. My past me reminded the present (at the time) me of what the future me needed to do. A couple of months ago while in Chicago, my niece and I got on the topic of my blog and that conversation encouraged me to keep it going. So here I am again.

At the beginning of 2022, I was optimistic about my hysterectomy recovery. It feels like so long ago with all that’s happened this year. In my post Feeding my soul: 6 months post surgery, I shared some updates on my progress. I will keep the same format in this post by focusing on my surgical recovery, menopause symptoms, and general health.

Surgical recovery – In January, my gynecologist completed a laparoscopic hysterectomy with oophorectomy (ovary removal) on my body. My uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries were removed. Translation: I no longer have these organs in my body. In the months leading up to the surgery, I thoroughly (so I thought) researched the procedure, but after the fact, I’m still learning about the implications of the surgery. The main takeaways are that I’ve healed well internally and the scaring from the 4 incisions are fading. However, I didn’t fully conceptualize how my body would adjust to the missing organs. Let that sink in. I do have more lower back pain than anticipated, especially within a few months post surgery. I didn’t realize my uterus and ovaries were supporting my frame and lower back. I’m more mindful about not overdoing it with exercise and other activities. That’s not to say I don’t overdo it sometimes, because I definitely do. However, I make it a point to soak in the tub and allow myself some extra rest whenever my lower back does hurt.

Menopause symptoms – Not much has changed here. I do get hot flashes throughout the day, but I still think they are manageable. I’ve learned to dress in layers and I keep a fan near me or on as much as possible. My husband, Bryan, says the ceiling fan irritates his sinuses so he’ll turn them all off. I have to gently remind him my body NEEDS the fan. But I do have a general sensitivity to being too hot or too cold, so sometimes a fan is too much. I’ve experienced cloudy thinking for years and what’s helped this last year is drinking an expresso or cappuccino a few times a week. In my research on the best foods for women during menopause, I learned that expressos are beneficial to women in menopause due to the antioxidants. I find that drinking one during the work day keeps me alert and more focused. Who knew that it wouldn’t be until I reached my late forties I would gain an appreciation for a form of coffee? I’ve spent practically my whole adult life not liking or drinking coffee at all. But there is a difference between coffee and expresso and my taste buds and body prefers the later. I enjoy them a few days a week because I’ve also noticed too much caffeine can ignite the dreaded hot flashes. I would probably drink more if I didn’t forget to make them by 2pm. My rule is if I don’t drink it by 2pm, then I’ll forego because I don’t want the caffeine to interfere with my sleep.

General Health – In the summer and fall, I’ve met with my oncologist, primary care physician (PCP), pulmonologist, and neurologist. That’s a lot of specialists for this little ole body. Overall, from an oncology and general medicine standpoint, I’m healthy. My blood work is impressive – all “between the lines”, as my oncologist would say. However, I’ve gained a new diagnosis – asthma and there is an outstanding issue that seems to be a residual consequence of the surgery (occasional stuttering) that needs to be addressed….hence the neurologist. I will have an MRI in a couple of weeks. Also, I’ve gained 10 pounds since the surgery. I’m not happy about it, but I know it’s a consequence of the hysterectomy. My PCP thinks my metabolism is low and she’s probably right. I’ve been working on extending myself some extra grace and have been intentional about focusing on other markers of health. I still continue to eat healthy, watch my portions, exercise 5-6 days a week (dance, yoga, HIIT, weights, stretch), and educate myself on what the right formula is for me. I refuse to give up, and though I could, I don’t want to engage in any extreme tactics. One thing I do not have under control and what I’ve been struggling with for years is the sleep. Perhaps that is the secret sauce that may help my hormones. I have developed a lovely nightly bed time routine, which includes filling my scented oil diffusers, lighting a candle, listening to music (Neo-Soul or meditation mostly), pampering my face, showering or bathing, and putting on one of my favorite lotions. Also, a big change is once I sleep, I tend to stay asleep (except for going to the restroom to pee); whereas in the past, I used to awaken in the middle of the night ruminating about things like work.

Overall – My body is adjusting and I’m still learning what will work best to keep me functioning at optimal levels. The surgery was the right choice for me. And as a 49-year old woman with no period, I have to say it’s quite empowering. I didn’t realize how much planning for, being on, and caring for my period occupied so much of my life. Now, I have other things to occupy my time. Additionally, I’ve been undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts. I suppose this is common in mid-life. Despite no longer having a uterus which is the epicenter of creativity, my creative juices have been flowing. More to come on that.

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Before I head back to work…

Hello world. In my almost 5 weeks of recovery from surgery at the end of January, I’ve been healing wonderfully. I’m proud of myself for taking time for the rest my body desperately needed. Rest does not come easy for many people and that needs to change. And technically, I’m still healing, but I’ve made some great progress. I can honestly say this surgery (hysterectomy) was one of the best things I’ve done for my body! Remember, I was suffering from heavy bleeding, fatigue, and anemia. The only complication from the surgery is the stuttering (mentioned in 4 Week Post Surgery Update), but it’s occurring less often. I’ve been monitoring it.

So far, the only menopausal symptoms I’ve noticed are some occasional mild night sweats. At 48 years old, I view menopause as another passage of life. The most significant passages in my life (from my experience not my mom’s 😊) were my teenage years, becoming an adult, working towards my education and career, getting married, and having children. I see menopause in a positive light. (Look at me sounding like I’ve got this all figured out! Ha!) In some regards, it is scary to charter into this unknown territory, especially at a relatively young age, but I hope to THRIVE during this phase.

Once I got through the initial 2 weeks post-surgery (the most critical time), I took advantage of the down time and did some much needed self-reflection. I mentioned in my post How it started vs how it’s going: 2 weeks post surgery that I developed a plan for how I will manage menopause. My plan includes living a healthy lifestyle through eating mostly plant-based foods (not dieting), exercising, meditating, practicing deep breathing, getting ample sleep, and reducing stress. I could have started with reducing stress because I believe it’s had the most negative affect on my mind and body. I’ve struggled with stress for years and I’m determined to manage it much better.

A true sign of progress is last week my gynecologist approved me to return to work on March 2. And because I’ve enjoyed the less stressed, more centered person I’ve been for the past 5 weeks, I want to maintain this state of homeostasis (as my therapist calls it). My job and work environment are the greatest sources of stress in my life and I am determined to not let it erode my progress. Therefore, I wrote a SELF-CARE work plan to manage my work days moving forward. I also worked with my therapist on a plan for how I transition back to work. For example, I spent only 30 minutes Sunday, 30 minutes on Monday, and 1 hour on Tuesday catching up on the nearly 1,000 new emails in my in-box. In the past, I probably would have spent 2-3 hours per day, over several days reviewing emails until I had read them all. My therapist practically scoffed when I suggested 2 hours. The objective is not to get sucked back in and wear myself out. Not to mention, it’s not realistic.

I also created a template in a Word document for my direct reports to provide their updates and asked them to complete it by Monday, so I can know what transpired and what I need to prioritize. This was a much better approach. I will be catching up for a couple of weeks, but at least I won’t go into my first day completely blind. This process may not work for everyone. Some people working in certain establishments may not need to do this sort of preparation, but considering the fast paced environment I work in, I feel more in control when I return to work armed with information.

I used to despise the saying, “work smarter not harder” because in my current work environment, the expectation is that you work hard. In fact, working smart and hard go hand in hand. After all, I work for state government and resources have always been scarce in my area. However, I’m changing my perspective on this. Working smart means using all the resouces at my disposal and setting boundaries.

The main light lesson from this post is to be PROACTIVE. You do have control of your health. You can change (add, omit, modify) things that are within your control. Seek the help you need. Create processes that work for you. Do the things to ensure the best quality of life outcome for you. That’s it.

I’m ready for work today. Thankfully, my commute is a walk into my home office. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Happy Hump day!

Beignet keeping my office chair warm for me.

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4 Week Post Surgery Update

I can hardly believe it’s already been four weeks since the surgery.  To think, around three years ago, I totally rejected the option of having surgery and two of my doctors agreed. However, as my symptoms progressively got worse, the hysterectomy turned out to be the best option. For just about all of 2021, I spent lots of time imagining what the experience would be like, and even put some things in my life on hold to plan for the procedure and attend to my health. Well, I tackled my fears head on for the prospect of experiencing a better quality of life. If you haven’t been following my progress, you can catch up on the background by reading my posts Fight and How it started vs how it’s going: 2 weeks post surgery. In this post, I will share some of my recovery progress. My disclaimer is as a squeamish person myself, I feel obligated to caution readers I will be sharing information which might make you squeamish, or which may be considered TMI (too much information).  And for the first time, I will share an unexpectedly odd complication from the surgery.

You can do a basic Google search on “hysterectomy” to learn about what the procedure entails as there is ample information on the internet. It is a major surgery. My surgery was the least invasive procedure called a laparoscopic hysterectomy (performed with the assistance of a robotic device and through my abdomen) and was completed in 3 hours. My uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and cervix were all removed. I was under anesthesia. I stayed in the hospital for one night. I was released with a catheter, so I had to go to the doctor’s office the next day to determine if my bladder would cooperate without the catheter. I was able to get the catheter removed at the doctor’s office. The first week was rough. For the first two weeks, I was primarily on bed rest, meaning I layed in bed all day, sleeping a lot, except for going to the rest room. I’ve been progressively getting better with each day.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, my pain from the surgery has been zero for at least two weeks. This doesn’t mean I don’t feel the dull aches from the four incisions on my abdomen because I do sometimes, especially depending on my activities in a day. I stopped taking the narcotic pain medication (it wasn’t very helpful anyway) about two weeks ago. I do take over the counter Motrin (Ibuprophren) on occasion, but if I do, it’s only once in a day. I’ve been exercising for a little over 2 weeks now. I went from walking 19,860 steps the week after surgery to walking 61,239 steps last week. I’m at full mobility without assistance in that I can finally lay down in bed to sleep, I can bend over, pick up items off the floor, put on my shoes, prepare meals, walk in the neighborhood, and do some light cleaning.

My energy levels have been increasing, which has been wonderful. However, I need to pace myself because I do get tired when I do too much. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t share sometimes the increasing energy goes to my head. Last week, I decided to do some minor cleaning out of my pantry, and as I attempted to reach for an item on the top shelf, I fell off an old stool that broke (while I was standing on it). The jar in my hand hit me in the head as I tripped against the kitchen island and grazed my abdomen. OUCH!!! I avoided falling on the floor though, but not without pain. I took some Motrin and got in the bed the rest of that day and the next day. Bryan was sure to tell my gynecologist about it at my appointment the next day.

Some things I haven’t started doing yet are driving, lifting weights (or any other items) heavier than five pounds, and working. I saw my gynecologist last week and she said I’m healing well. I did share with her since the surgery I’ve developed a speech stutter which is really odd. I’ve not had a problem with stuttering EVER IN MY LIFE. I’m obviously not a doctor, but I attribute it to the anesthesia because it does affect the brain and I had difficulty “waking up” from the anesthesia. I’m somewhat self-conscious about stuttering, but thankfully I’ve mostly only been talking to my family. It doesn’t occur all the time and even seems to be occurring less often compared to the first week of recovery. Bryan was sure to tell the gynecologist how bad it has been. Since the full recovery is eight weeks, my gynecologist plans to discuss an action plan at that time if the stuttering continues.

I’ve made so much progress in just four weeks, but I’m reminded I’m still in recovery and need to take it easy. I’m not at 100% yet and that’s not where I’m meant to be at this time. The main light lessons I’ve learned from this experience are “my health is my number one priority”, to have “patience”, and to know things will get better “in due time”.