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Hysterectomy: the aftereffects

SAM HEADSHOT

 

My hysterectomy, following a diagnosis of cervical cancer, affected me far more than I had expected, but I felt as if I just had to move forward with life. I tried to keep my mind in the present but was unable to leave the house for three months, except for a couple of hospital appointments. I think I focused more on the hysterectomy rather than the cancer. When other people ask me whether I’m frightened it will come back, I often think, ‘What, my womb?’

Surgical menopause

I wasn’t warned in detail what surgical menopause involved, so I did some of my own reading by Dr Louise Newson, who was recommended to me by a friend. The menopause was my biggest challenge – it was like falling off a cliff overnight. I had hot flushes when I woke up after the surgery, but as it was summer I just presumed I was overheated. I couldn’t seem to think straight and was definitely not able to multi-task. I couldn’t even have a conversation without finding it unbearably intense, especially if it involved questions about myself or my condition. I felt as if the future didn’t matter because I was finding it hard enough to get through each day. My son, Jacob, aged 29, was really supportive, as were my friends, but I don’t think they could really understand how I now functioned. I didn’t really cry much but felt overwhelmed with anxiety. There is a flatness to my mood sometimes now, but I know it will pass, and recognise that it is very different to depression.

SAM QUOTE 1One of the things I found most interesting is that most literature about the menopause presumes that you have a husband or partner. I am single. Having a hysterectomy, lymph nodes removed, and my vagina length reduced by a couple of inches has left me wondering how I could possibly navigate a new relationship. Do I let someone know what they are in for on the first date? That I have a scar from my navel down my stomach and that I recently had treatment for cancer? Bit of a romance killer I would have thought. I would like to meet someone to share my life with again but I’m not sure if it will ever be possible.

Embrace new experiencesSAM DOING YOGA

So, my attitude to life now is to try new experiences and see what happens. This sounds like a bit of a cliché, but to be honest, it was the best approach I could have taken. I’ve started to do all the things I’d always wanted to but had never found the time or money to try. I’ve had a go at pottery, climbing, and travelled extensively, even going to Jamaica on my own. However, the exhaustion after the operation and going through the menopause does sometimes stop me in my tracks. Yoga, meditation, and laughing have all helped me get my groove back, and talking to other women about their experiences helps.

I had practiced yoga since my early twenties, on and off, and tried all the different types. I’d always loved it so trained as a teacher around eight years ago. Teaching every Sunday morning fits into my life really well and the students are lovely. When I returned to teaching after my operation I couldn’t even remember parts of the body due to the effect the menopause was having on my brain, so they would kindly shout them out for me! I was honest with everyone, without giving a ‘woe is me’ statement. I just explained that I was struggling with words, but as I mainly teach older women, they all said they were having the same problem! It actually made us feel like a team. I love teaching, it’s great fun, and I can really be myself. I don’t teach in studios; I book my own venue so that I’m in control. The students I attract tend to be local and not keen on flashy studios.

SAM QUOTE 2After my surgery, I seized the opportunity to train again under a brilliant teacher and to refresh my skills. I think I must have been crazy as I really was not ready, either physically or mentally, but he accepted me as a student, and I’ve just finished the year’s training. I passed the course, learnt a lot, and improved my own practice. In February, we all went to India to complete the training and it was hard but rewarding. I would love to teach more across the week now, particularly to women who have had cancer or hysterectomies to let them know there is a life on the other side. Although we aren't all married with an amazing partner who takes care of us and whisks us off to Bali post operation, we are individuals with some great stories to tell and vibrant personalities.

Taking advice

I’ve read several books about the menopause, including Menopausing by Davina McCall, and listening to Louise Newson’s lectures on the subject have helped me to become more informed and understand what is happening to my body and brain so that I can make good decisions going forward. I also found Dani Binnington’s podcast about cancer and menopause really useful initially. All these tools are good to get you back on your feet, but I was keen not to go down a rabbit hole of sadness. As I said, I prefer to discover new interests. Once I was taking oestrogen and testosterone, I felt as if I could do more and, although I have moments when I cannot leave the house or cope with decisions, they pass quickly.

My advice would to be keep exercising when you have the energy, but don’t beat yourself up when you don’t. Stop eating sugar and drinking alcohol. Focus on positive things. Make some plans and do something you’ve never done before. Don’t put off telling people you care about them.

When I was recovering from surgery I compiled an A-Z of the words that I had been feeling and the things that helped me, I hope you find it interesting...

A for Anger, Anxiety, Art

B for Big Pants, Blood tests, Blame, Beauty

C for Cervical, Colotomy bag, Constipated, Cycling

D for Disease, Downhearted, Depression, Dance

E for Energy

F for Frightened, Films

G for Grief 

H for Hospital bed, Hormones, Hot flush, Happy

I for Ignorance, Interests

J for Joint Ache, Jacob

K for Kindness of nurses and family and friends

L for Lymph nodes, Loss, Love, Love Island!

M for Morphine, Miracle, Menopause, Music

N for Nurse, Nerve Damage, Netflix

O for Oestrogen, Ovaries

P for Pain, Panic, Procedure, Podcasts, Pottery

Q for Questions, Queasy

R for Results, Reasons, Rest, Reading

S for Surgery, Surgeon, Scar, Stitches, Swimming

T for Testosterone, Travel

U for Uterus

V for Vault, Vagina, Vegan

W for Ward, Will, Walking

X for X Rays

Y is for Yoga

Z for Zenith

Sam is 54 years old and lives in South London. She was divorced twelve years ago. She worked as a photoshoot producer for thirty years and now runs a location agency with her son, Jacob, who is 30. In the last decade she has travelled to Jamaica, India, Costa Rica, and Ibiza, amongst other places. She has been a yoga teacher for eight years and has just completed a 500-hour teacher training course with world-renowned Stewart Gilchrist. Sam enjoys cold water swimming, which is something she never believed she would do, and swims in Brockwell Lido in the mornings. She feels it has really helped with her mental health.

 

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