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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”. 

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How it started vs how it’s going: 2 weeks post surgery

Exactly two weeks ago, I was in the hospital in South Austin, recovering from the hysterectomy my gynecologist performed. To be exact, I was in the recovery room with my husband, Bryan, trying to wake up from the anesthesia. I stayed in the hospital overnight because, in fact, I couldn’t wake up and my bladder wasn’t cooperating.

This two weeks has flown by so fast. In a word, I feel GREAT compared to back then. I’ve been focused on recovery so I intentionally chose to use food and rest as the medicine my body needs to heal. This is a disclaimer that I may go into some detail providing updates on my anatomy so please continue to read if you’d like. As I’ve navigated information over the year on the hysterectomy, all it entails, and menopause, it was this kind of information I’m sharing that I longed to read about, but there’s not much of it. I hope this will be helpful for some of you.

Some signs of progress are I no longer have the giant, scary, black bruise on the left side of my waist, my four incisions are healing, I have lots of energy, I’m able to prep meals for myself, I can get in and out of bed effortlessly, and the previous sharp pain in my abdomen is now a dull afterthought. My bladder and bowels are operating smoothly. I can cough, sneeze, and laugh without holding my abdomen in pain. I can bend over and put on my shoes. Bryan was doing this for me. I’m able to do light exercises, including using free weights which I started on Sunday. I’ve gotten four days of exercise in already. Byran and I took a 20 minute walk in our neighborhood today. It’s gloriously sunny with temperatures in the high 60s.

My resting heart rate is back to presurgery levels which is a relief because it’s lower than it was in the days after I had the surgery. My last blood pressure (BP) reading at home was about 116/62. My BP has always been low and doctors have told me over the years it’s excellent, but it’s been lower than my normal. My Fitbit recorded 9 hours and 13 minutes of sleep last night, which is a far cry from my averages in December and early January.

I have not had a single menopausal symptom I can think of aside from no longer having a menstrual cycle. I point this out because I had a complete hysterectomy with my uterus, both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and cervix removed. As Bryan said, “I guess the body needs time to heal when you literally have organs removed”. The little blood I shedded in the days after surgery has disappeared. At this point, my use of panty liners is just a habit.

I mentioned in my blog post Fight I was on a hormone medication for four months in 2021, which was aimed at shrinking my fibroids prior to the surgery. That medication also causes menopausal symptoms and I displayed most of them from July through December 2021, specifically hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, memory problems, weight gain, and mood changes. I haven’t experienced any of the symptoms since the surgery and I hope it stays that way. Even if not, I’ve done some research on menopause and what lifestyle changes I need to prioritize to manage it because hormone replacement therapy is not an option for me due to my breast cancer history. I learned women who no longer produce estrogen are at higher risks for heart and bone problems, and even dementia, so I wrote down a plan for myself.

One of the best things I’ve done for myself was practice a mostly vegan/plant-based diet for over 7 months prior to the surgery. It’s second nature to me now and I’ve gotten into the habit of viewing how food can heal me. I’ve also increased my water consumption. Though I still eat foods like salmon and chicken on occassion, I’m reaping the benefits of eating a variety of foods of all colors, which fuels my body with the nutrients it needs. I’ve learned women in menopause need foods mostly composed of antioxidants and flavinoids. We also need nutrients like Vitamins C, D, E, K, and magnesium. We need iron and calcium. We need supplements like probiotics, evening primrose oil, and collagen. This is not a comprehensive list, but what I prioritize for my particular body.

Exercise has also been very important to me for over twenty years. It’s more than a habit…it’s a lifestyle choice I decided to maintain. My fitness level prior to surgery may be a factor in why I’m healing so well. Plus, I just can’t got for long periods without exercising. I enjoy it and it keeps anxiety in check.

I do need to reduce stress in my life. Although it took me having a major life altering surgery to do it, I’m so grateful to have four weeks off work to recover and destress. If my doctor says I need longer, I’ve earned the accumulated time at work to recovery for as long as I need to. Work is at the top of the list of the most stressful areas in my life and I’ve been taking notes on how to better manage when I return.

I felt so great yesterday after a workout and a shower that I took a couple of photos of myself sans makeup. I don’t think I look like I had this major surgery merely two weeks ago. As I told Bryan, I’m not at 100% of myself yet, but I’m getting there. I’m also pacing myself. I’ve experimented by not taking pain medications for a few days, but I needed them yesterday, so I took them. I’m still not able to lie down flat, but I’m working towards it. I got a little winded on our walk this afternoon, but I sat down when I got home. I’ll get back to me soon enough, day by day.

Whatever you’re facing, I hope I’m empowering you to face your fears and take the steps you need to make your life better….whatever that is. In an exercise program I do occassionally on YouTube called BodyGroove, the instructor jokingly says to the effect of , “No one can shake your booty for you…only you can do that”. So do what you’ve got to do cause only you can do it. Speaking of which, I hope to be shaking my booty with some Zumba fitness in a couple of weeks.

Until next time…

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Day 8: Post Surgery

It’s hard to believe I’m this far along into my recovery. The days are running together. Today felt especially like a long day with the frigid and icey conditions causing surrounding areas in Texas to shut down. We don’t need to brace ourselves for the fiasco that occurred last February, but it will get very cold tonight. I know our friends and family in Illinois and other states are feeling the cold also.

Our iced tree in Buda, Texas 2/3/2022

My new normal is to lay in bed most of the day, take frequent walks to the rest room, and doze off in between binge watching something on the laptop. I did prep my own meals a few times which is definitely a sign I’m feeling better. In fact, in my 48 years of living, I’ve experienced several medical procedures that required some time for me to heal so I know when I’m on the mend. With this hysterectomy, there are several signs I’m doing better. Keep in mind I’m still in pain overall. Some items on the list maybe TMI (too much information) so read at your own risk.

  • I can laugh without my stomach hurting as much. I do brace myself for the laugh by holding my stomach which helps. Last weekend, my husband, Bryan, said things to make me laugh, but I couldn’t take it at all because I was hurting so badly. I turned off a video of a comedian providing commentary because it hurt too much to laugh.
  • I’m awake for longer periods. Since I’m up, I do more things like prepare a meal or smoothie and take walks around the house, but once I do those things, I get back in bed to rest. I do get tired and will take a couple of naps throughout the day.
  • I can get out of the bed completely without help. I discussed this in my previous post and it keeps getting better. I’m able to prop myself up and slide my legs around to get out of bed. It’s not without some strain and pain, but I can do it.
  • My bladder and bowels are fully functioning. My bladder started off as an issue so I was discharged from the hospital with a catheter. It’s been smooth sailing since it was removed the second day post surgery. My bowels became active by the fourth day post surgery and since I eat mostly a plant-based diet, I have a couple of bowels throughout the day like I did prior to surgery.

In the next week, I’m hoping to be able to lay down flat. I think this will help me sleep more deeply throughout the night. For now, I have lots of pillows propping me up. I want to give my core a little more time to get stronger. Also, some time next week, I will start incorporating more structured exercise into my day. I will start off slow, of course, with maybe 10-15 minutes.

It can only get better from here and I’m looking forward to how much better I’ll be in a few weeks. In the mean time, I’m taking it day by day and am grateful for the time I have off work to rest and heal.

Until next time…

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Day 3 & 4: Post Surgery

MAMA BEAR has been down, but I’m slowly getting better. The recovery process is in full effect. For two days straight I’ve layed in the bed for most of the day, dozing off periodically as I attempt to binge watch shows on Netflix. With each day, I’m more alert. Though it hurts (pain is concentrated in my abdomen), I’ve gotten quite good at getting myself up out of the bed to go to the restroom with no help. I use my strong arms to prop me forward then I turn my legs around and push them down. Our bed sits way higher than the hospital bed so it’s a challenge. It also hurts to get back in the bed and to walk, but I know the pain will ease with time. My husband, Bryan, has been caring for me nonstop. If he’s busy, I’m able to get my kids to help with things like pouring some water into my water bottle on my nightstand or pouring a glass of prune juice for me. I’m so thankful I have the help and feel very loved.

I know I’m living a privileged life because I have everything I need at my disposal. I’m a planner so I made sure some things were in place so all I would have to do is rest and heal. Some things I did in the days leading up to the surgery which put my mind at ease were:

  1. Cleaned my spa-like bathroom – Bryan is capable, but no one cleans our bathroom like me.
  2. Watered/pruned my 60+ plants – This is one of my favorite mindful activities because it puts me in a zen mental space.
  3. Prepped a few more nutritious smoothies – It’s a priority for me to feed my body with healthy options. The cover photo shows a mug of my warm almond milk drink with turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup. This drink is soothing and healing.
  4. Took inventory of my vegan/plant-based options in the freezer – Same reason as previous…months ago I began freezing nutritious soups/meals.
  5. Laundry- I wanted to make sure my comfortable items were freshly laundered. Bryan bought me several, comfortable loungewear outfits.
  6. Packed my hospital bag- The only thing I used from the bag was my waist trainer.
  7. Took off work the day prior to surgery – I could have used at least 2 full days to decompress from work, but I at least had one. January has already been a stressful month so the one day was better than nothing.
  8. Met with my therapist the day prior to surgery – This session helped me talk through some things and get my mind focused on surgery and recovery.
  9. Exercising – This was important because I knew exercising would be off limits for several weeks post surgery. I wanted to release some of the anxiety with dancing and strength training.

In the coming days and weeks, I’ll provide more information on the steps I took to plan for this major surgery….a hysterectomy. One of the best light lessons I can give in the midst of fear of the unknown is to arm yourself with information. Knowledge is power and I used that to quell my fears.

Until next time…

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Day 2: Post Surgery

With these posts, I’m chronicling my experience of undergoing major surgery to remove my uterus and other female productive organs due to fibroids. The purpose of this procedure is to improve my quality of life. My gynecologist, who performed the hysterectomy on Wednesday, said I did great. I can tell you I don’ feel great just yet. In fact, I’m mostly in pain despite taking pain medications. BUT a milestone happened today that I’d like to share.

I spent one night in the hospital mostly because I had a very difficult time waking up from the anesthesia. My surgery started at 8:00 am & it was a 3 hour procedure. Hours after the surgery, I still kept falling asleep and my bladder was very sleepy also. The doctor didn’t want to release me until I peed on my own which was something I couldn’t do after trying several times. My husband, Bryan, told me there were 30 surgical procedures performed that morning but, only 2 patients were ordered to stay overnight….I was one of them.

To my dismay, the nurse inserted a catheter for a second time and discharged me with an appointment to see my gynecologist Friday morning. One good thing about the catheter is I didn’t have to get up to use the restroom in the middle of the night. I was already in pain and it takes a lot of effort to get me out of the bed. My appointment was early. It was an ordeal to get me in the car. Thankfully I planned ahead and ordered a waist belt to wear under my clothes to keep my tummy steady. I also ordered a pillow that attaches to the seat belt in the car which helps shield the impact against potentially bumpy car rides. Bryan passed a couple of speed bumps that made me holler due to the pain but, we got to the doctor’s office safely.

While walking to the office once we parked, I got really dizzy and disoriented a few times. The nurse checked my catheter and inserted fluids to see if I could pee on my own and GUESS WHAT??? I did it! No more catheter. All day today I’ve been getting out of the bed alone to go to the restroom. I’m so looking forward to getting passed this initial pain.

I will be on bed rest for the next couple of weeks. Bryan has been taking great care of me. If you’re interested in my progress I plan to post a few lines everyday as long as I feel up to it. You can review my previous posts to learn about what led me here.

Overall, I’m proud of myself for undergoing this major move to improve my quality of life. So many people live in suboptimal conditions because they’re afraid. And I was afraid of the needles, cuts, blood, pain, but, I did it anyway. See you next time.

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Day 1: Post Surgery

My gynecologist told me the hysterectomy went well. The anesthesia kicked in on the way to the operating room so I don’t remember anything about the surgery. When I had my breast reconstruction surgery, I actually got to see the operating room before I was out. I don’t think I dreamed about my beautiful dancing uterus either for this surgery…oh well. When I woke up, I was in the recovery room and laid eyes on my husband, Bryan, and a couple of nurses.

Yesterday was rough because I was so drowsy from the anesthesia, in a lot pain, and my bladder wasn’t cooperating. I tried to walk to the restroom with the walker several times but I wasn’t steady. The nurses got me to the toilet, but I would sit down, forget what I was doing, and fall asleep. So my doctor said I needed to stay the night in the hospital. I slept well with the pain medication.

Today, I was more alert and walked the floors of the unit with and without the walker. My main tasks were to drink more liquids and go the restroom. I drank a lot (for me), but I could only pee a little bit each time which was not enough. Unfortunately, my doctor ordered that I leave with a catheter. I see her in the morning to see how long I need to wear this thing.

In the mean time, I’m at home in my comfortable bed. I ate, took a very nice shower, and drank a green smoothie. These last few months I prepared and froze several soups and smoothies to ensure I have healthy, nutritious food while I’m recovering.

I’m looking forward to sleeping in my bed although I wish my bed was adjustable like the hospital bed. I’m going to make due with several pillows that will prop me up.

I’m so grateful for the medical team because they were so kind and patient with me. I’m so grateful for my husband, Bryan, because he is my caretaker throughout my recovery.

I’ll provide another update tomorrow.

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Fight

In a few hours, I will be checking into the hospital for surgery. I didn’t think I’d be here again because a little over 5 years ago, I wrote a similar post about my breast reconstruction surgery and I vowed no more surgeries. Well, sometimes despite your best efforts things don’t go as planned. So my life is on a temporary pause as I do what needs to be done to take care of me.

I now understand why cancer patients are referred to as warriors. I do think this applies to other patients too. I didn’t embrace this concept for a long time after my breast cancer diagnosis because I thought I didn’t have a choice but to fight. And it is most definitely a fight and a choice. For me, at times it’s a reluctant fight…a fight to stay postive, a fight to face fears, a fight to face the needles, a fight to heal, a fight to rest, a fight to get up, a fight to advocate for myself, etc. I’ve had to fight to live the life I want.

Do you remember the kid in elementary school who got so mad right before a fight with another kid that he started crying? Maybe you were that kid? Were you thinking this is the time for fighting NOT crying? Well, I think crying doesn’t necessarily mean you’re weak or you’re going to fail. I prefer to look at is as summoning up the courage for what’s about to happen. It’s the realization that you know what you’re facing. You know you have to gather up all of your weapons so you can be armored up to fight for your very life. And my therapist told me that crying is actually good for you. It helps cleanse you.

A few years ago when I began having problems with heavy bleeding during my menstrual cycle, my gynecologist presented me with options, one of which was a hysterectomy. At the time, she let me know it was my choice based on my tolerance for the symptoms. I decided I was not interested in undergoing another surgery ever again, especially after my lumpectomy and breast reconstruction surgeries in November 2016. I could live with this considering it occurred sporadically. I did have a couple of fibroids but they were not overly large or troublesome. My primary care physician also agreed surgery wasn’t necessary.

In about June 2019 (approximately 6 months after the visit with my gynecologist) my oncologist, with a very concerned look on his face, said my blood work indicated I had become anemic and asked me if I experienced heavy bleeding. I said yes and explained the situation. He prescribed iron pills that I’ve been taking every since.

Over time, the periods of heavy bleeding became worse in terms of being more heavy and occurring for longer periods. This was affecting my quality of life tremendously. At my gynecologist visit in December 2020, she told me a hysterectomy was my best option because the fibroids had multiplied and had gotten very large. One was pressing against my bladder. She said my uterus needed to go. She acknowledged I had tried other methods including an endometrial ablation two years after giving birth to my daughter. At that time, my periods were long, not necessarily heavy and I had a few fibroids then. However, the outpatient laser procedure was effective and I had normal periods again for several years after.

Fast forward to March 2021…I received a second opinion from my primary care physician and she confirmed the fibroids were very large and said the situation was only going to get worse not better. So I made the brave decision to go through the surgery hoping for a better quality of life.

I’ve been doing so much research on hysterectomies and menopause because I will be in a medically induced menopause at 48 years old after this surgery. In fact, I’ve been experiencing menopausal symptoms for months now due to a medication my gynecologist recommended I take by injection for 4 months to shrink the fibroids to increase my odds of the doctor performing the least invasive surgical approach. This would allow for less bleeding and less recovery time. My last injection was in November 2021. I’ve had no menstrual cycle since July 2021.

I’ve also made some lifestyle changes such as changing my diet to mostly vegan and plant based. I look forward to documenting my recovery and what I’ve been learning.

Starting 2022 off with major surgery means there is no where else to go from here but up.

Five years ago, I blogged about dreaming of dancing, flawless boobs while under anesthesia. That didn’t happen. This time I might dream about my dancing beautiful uterus. I’ll keep you posted.