A Personal Account of My Hysterectomy: Arriverderci Big Red!

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: November 15, 2011

menopause booksWhen Big Red moved out, I can’t say I was actually sad to let go of the days of belted pads and tampons. How embarrassing it used to be when Big Red would take over my mood, my emotions, my life. I know I am dating myself but, yes I wore those uncomfortable pink elastic belts and always had boxes of Modess and Kotex that overflowed from my bathroom closet. It truly was a benefit to me to have moved onward and upward from wearing those silly devices of protection. Oh, the joys of womanhood! I embraced the next journey of my life into menopause. Much has changed for me, and much of it for the better.

My personal hysterectomy included the removal of my ovaries, known as an oophorectomy. For me, it meant the end of chronic pelvic pain, worries about unusual bleeding and it opened up a greater self discovery and freedoms. This year marks the 20th anniversary since my surgery. I was 40 years old when I had my oophorectomy. My decision to have this operation was decided upon after having a series of consultations with my gynecologist, as well as getting second and third opinions from other gynecologists. Each visit with the gynecologist lasted about 15 minutes in duration and the consultations covered basically the pre-operative information – what would be removed, possible complications, etc. After these discussions, things went pretty fast and before I knew it, I was in the hospital recovering from surgery.

That is when suddenly I felt the impact of the surgery and so ignorant that I failed to prepare myself for the recovery issues that followed – pain control and menopause symptoms that suddenly appeared which were quite distressing for me. I was not armed with knowledge about treatment options to alleviate those symptoms and I felt flustered and discombobulated. It became very apparent that I was not properly prepared for the surgery and the recovery period thereafter.

My immediate symptoms were particularly problematic – hot flashes, night sweats (which I call the devilish duo), heart palpitations, insomnia, fatigue and major forgetfulness. I felt like my mind was lost somewhere far at sea, like in the dark abyss of the Bermuda Triangle. I simply could not find the solutions to abate these symptoms. For me, I couldn’t just sit there and suffer aimlessly. My doctors, family and friends were all supportive but I needed to take my own initiative if I really wanted to manage those disconcerting menopausal symptoms. I was like a detective, looking for all sorts of clues as to how to resolve my symptoms.

So, when returning home from the hospital, a friend drove me to the local book store. I needed to find an answer. What was happening to my body and emotions? There was only one book at the store, (remember, that was 20 years ago, before The M Word came out of the closet). The book was written by Dr. Lila Nachtigall. Back then, I was quite embarrassed to stand in line with other customers at the store exposing my purchase of a book on menopause. So, I placed a magazine over the book to hide its cover and left the store.

When I returned home, I read this book, inside and out using it as my only resource to help me understand why I was feeling the way I was. I studied that book until the cover was tattered and the pages were falling out of the binding. Equipped with the basic knowledge of menopause that was supplied through my book, I slowly returned to life and work. Being a public official at the time of my oophorectomy, many women in my local community heard about my surgery. My phone began ringing.

Women began calling me in quest of information about menopause – natural and surgical menopause. They asked about my symptoms and were interested in knowing if I was experiencing what they were. They asked what I was doing to sleep, how I got my mind back after surgery and if they would eventually get theirs back as well. They were opening the dialogue and breaking the silence of menopause!

As a result of my experience, I knew that a new direction needed to be taken in women’s healthcare because needs were not being adequately addressed by doctors, community and society in general. For that reason, I developed Red Hot Mamas – to specifically help women obtain necessary information to equip them to communicate more effectively with their healthcare providers , so they could enhance their quality of life at menopause and beyond.

Today, Red Hot Mamas programs and website provides resources to help women understand the effect menopause has on their body and emotions. With this information, we can evaluate our options to alleviate symptoms and prevent age related diseases, so we can live long healthy lives.

My Therapeutic Options In 1991

On a personal note, after my hysterectomy I had a precipitous drop in estrogen because of the removal of my ovaries. I opted to take estrogen therapy and it provided me great relief from my severe menopausal symptoms. At that time, the choices of what I could have taken were quite limited. Oral preparations were most often prescribed, and that is what I took. Due to the severity and frequency of my symptoms, it took a few months to reach the proper dosage that relieved me of my symptoms. I was not presented with a choice of transdermal therapy. And, there was no real option of alternative medicine available.

Today, if women have acute menopausal symptoms, they can choose from different types of estrogens, dosages, and routes of estrogen therapy. Estrogen therapy is not a one size fits all, like it was in the past. For those women, like myself, who have experienced an early menopause, before the average age of natural menopause (51 years), it’s important to continually talk to your clinician about the benefits and risks of estrogen therapy and determine how long you can safely take estrogen. And, remember, if you opt to take it, you don’t have to stay on it indefinitely. It’s also equally important to adapt a healthy lifestyle, incorporating healthy food choices and exercise daily. There are also alternative therapy options. Each type of treatment carries its own sets of risks and benefits. It’s important to know there are options for women. It’s important for women to do their homework to determine what is the right treatment which will provide relief for the vexing symptoms of menopause.

According to The North America Menopause Society “Due to the additional health risks experienced by women who go through premature menopause, hormone therapy is often recommended. Furthermore, these women should consider full-dose estrogen rather than lower doses until they reach the average age of menopause (age 51), at which time the decision to continue HT should be reevaluated. In fact, fewer health risks are seen in treated women than in untreated women”. What Can Women Do Now?

At the time of perimenopause and menopause, a fear for many women is the possibility of ovarian cancer. By having a hysterectomy with removal of ovaries (oophorectomy), this procedure eliminates the risk of ovarian cancer. Hysterectomy also puts an end to our fertility and the risk of unwanted pregnancies.

For any woman contemplating hysterectomy, it’s important to receive basic information before and after surgery. Make sure you fully understand the medical reasons for the procedure, the kinds of hysterectomy that is being performed and what you need to know to prepare. Prepare questions so you won’t leave anything for a surprise. Be aware of what happens in the hospital, how long it will take to resume your normal lifestyle, and life after a hysterectomy (e.g. when to resume sexual intercourse). Ask about hormone therapy and other treatment options.

I wish I had been provided this information in 1991 as I would have felt far more confident about my decision in having an oophorectomy and wouldn’t have felt so lost in the aftermath. I
n my case, my hysterectomy was a life-saving decision. I have a bleeding disorder, known as Von Willebrands Disease which makes any episode of bleeding difficult to control and potentially life threatening. Therefore, the hysterectomy eliminated the burden of repetitive, heavy bleeding episodes. It was the best option for me, and it improved my quality of life by eliminating pain and bleeding.

All women should have a thorough understanding if their doctors suggest a hysterectomy and always get a second opinion. Discuss the pros and cons of hysterectomy and the alternatives and how you can help yourself by managing your menopause.

Some questions you could ask before your hysterectomy:

  • Why do I need a hysterectomy?
  • Are there any other options than having a hysterectomy?
  • What happens if I choose not to have a hysterectomy?
  • What will you take out of my body?
  • What are the different types of hysterectomies?
  • What are the benefits and risks of this procedure?
  • Are you going to remove my ovaries, especially if I have a history of ovarian cancer in my family?
  • What kind of menopausal symptoms should I expect?
  • How can I adapt my lifestyle to minimize these symptoms?
  • What are the ways I can treat my menopausal symptoms?

I never want to lose sight of why I started Red Hot Mamas 20 years ago. I hope our organization leaves behind a strong legacy that paves the way for communication and advocacy, so millions of women can acquire menopause health information, change their behavior and make choices that will enable them to improve their quality of life.

Hysterectomy may be a valuable procedure that could not only save lives, but also improve the quality of lives to women. It certainly was a necessity in my life and was the best treatment for my condition. Finally, I can breathe a sigh of relief and reflect on my hysterectomy as a positive experience that left me thankful to say arriverderci Big Red!

Resources for hysterectomy:
The North American Menopause Society– many online menopause education materials Hystersisters– an online community with hysterectomy resources and large online message board