I like reading other people’s experiences with things. I’m beyond guilty of searching for people’s blogs and race reports before events to get an idea of the experience and course. Sometimes it’s just nice to know others feel/see/whatever the same things I do. But one area is missing… and that’s finding out the experience of an early-30s-childless-athlete who had a laparoscopic total hysterectomy. So here’s my story… mostly just to document my recovery and story, and hopefully maybe someone else will stumble upon it as well.
The whole mess really started in the late winter 2016/spring of 2017 with nagging pelvic pain that would come and go. I trudged on, until the months of nonstop bleeding started occurring. I had been on oral birth control for nearly 15 years and had very regulated periods and what not, so I knew things were not normal. I finally scheduled an appointment with my OB-GYN in early August 2017, and she ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed a cyst on one of my ovaries and polyp in my uterus. I was put on “old school” high dose oral birth control pills. I stayed on the pills for about two and a half months, but then the side effects became too severe that I went back to my old, low dose formulation. My doc and I agreed on some watching and waiting, but by December 2017 the pain was becoming more intense. Another ultrasound was scheduled, and it showed the cyst was gone, but the polyp still remained.
I have never wanted to have kids, it was never in the cards for me for a multitude of reasons, so I was “ok” with having a hysterectomy, but my doctor did not want to jump to that right away. When I was 3 years old I had both of my ureters reimplanted onto my bladder, and she had concerns about anatomy and scarring that could make a hysterectomy high risk. So we agreed with proceeding with a hysteroscopy to remove the polyp and also take a better look at what was going on in my pesky uterus. I underwent that procedure in mid January 2018. Overall it was quite easy, I was ready to go home like 20 minutes after leaving recovery, and had just very mild cramping which I took ibuprofen for. The polyp was removed, but the doctor did see suspected fibroids.
Unfortunately the pain and bleeding increased significantly in the month following what was hopefully going to be a solution, so I decided to proceed with scheduling a hysterectomy with ureteral stents (to aid in visualizing my ureters so hopefully they would remain unharmed). By then I had waffled between “I’m not training at all!” to doing intervals on the trainer in the basement. Really my whole spring, and resulting summer race season, was in limbo and from an athletic point of view I was really lost at what to do. So I skied, kinda rode, and was lazy a lot. And naturally, I wasn’t feeling well, so motivated to really hammer on the training plan wasn’t there. A date was set, and suddenly there was just waiting. And hoping 5 weeks would be enough recovery to still race the Gunnison Growler…
Some people think that because I didn’t want kids that this was an easy decision to make, but let me tell you, it was NOT! It’s one thing to not have kids by choice, it’s another when it’s anatomically impossible anymore. I had more than several occasions where I seriously considered canceling the surgery, wondering if I was making too serious of a decision. I’m only 34, and have plenty of friends who had babies at 38, 39, 40… I don’t know what the future holds, and what might change. So it was tough. Luckily, I would keep both of my ovaries, which means keeping eggs so if I win the lottery, the chance is always there for a biological child. (Oh hell, who am I kidding… cats and bikes all the way!)
So after a hectic April of multiple work travel trips, personal vacation to Florida, one last ski day at A-Basin, surgery day came on April 20th. Pre-op was all the standard stuff, and soon enough I was in the OR and out within minutes. I woke up screaming that I had to pee and confused why I wasn’t on the beach anymore. My bladder was spasming awfully from the cystoscopy and stents. My amazing PACU nurse was quick to bring warm blankets to help soothe the pain and I finally really realized I wasn’t on a beach for reals, and that after months and months of tests, ultrasounds, pills here and there, and what not it was all over. There was no going back, it was done and done. Kinda freaky…
I eventually was transferred to my room that I would stay in overnight. So… I went into this surgery thinking the pain wouldn’t be any worse than finishing out a mountain bike race with a few cracked ribs, and that I would refuse all opioid pain meds after PACU. Ummm, chalk that up to one of the worse ideas I’ve had in a long time…
First time I tried to pee I was in tears due to all the trauma in my bladder and ureters. I wasn’t even really being bothered by my three laparoscopic incisions or the big one in my woman parts internally. Sitting up felt like everything was going to fall out of the bottom of me. I walked to the bathroom hunched over like a 100 year old granny with bad posture. I was pissed off I was in pain, but remained stubborn and took only Tylenol. By 6pm, a few hours after getting to my room, I finally agreed to a hydrocodone pain pill. I ate some dinner, and settled into feeling crappy, as the gas pains from them inflating my belly were starting to begin.
This was not some cracked ribs, or deep lacerations from decomposed granite, or even landing head first at 30mph.
So, pretty much, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I felt like a big baby. Dammit, I can push on and ride bikes and race injured, why couldn’t I handle a hysterectomy?!
I was barely able to get any sleep thanks to unnecessary things beeping in my room (I was a night shift surgical nurse for years, so that added to my grumpiness about all the unnecessary noises). Finally got some good sleep from 4-7:30am and woke up really excited for breakfast. I had taken myself (whoops… what does high fall risk mean again?!) to the bathroom a few times overnight and the pain was less and less (and also meant peeing less blood), and was feeling a bit better. My doctor came in right as breakfast came and took the bandages off the lap incisions and gave me scripts and instructions for home. Naturally I asked when I could exercise, and she told me not to even think about it. Sigh. (My doctor has no idea that I’m a competitive cyclist actually… probably should’ve told her – communicate this with your physician!)
My Boy and parents got me home by 9 or 10am and we settled in for movies and laziness. The gas pain was becoming my main issue, along with an intense fear on my part about becoming constipated (nurses are a bit poop obsessed if they’ve ever worked post-surgical). Luckily The Boy was ever so attentive, running and getting me meds, and feeding me, and helping me through intense bouts of pain when the gas would irritate the phrenic nerve and give me crazy awful shoulder and neck pain. Laughing hurt, I was deathly afraid of sneezing, and I thought my belly button was the grossest looking thing in the world.
Before surgery I had grand plans of returning to work by Monday possibly (reminder, surgery was on Friday), and just getting back to normal life immediately, but that just wasn’t the case. After all, I had a uterus, cervix, and both fallopian tubes removed, and those are like… you know… organs. The Boy took me on a mile long stroll in the park on Sunday afternoon in the sun, which felt good. Monday and Tuesday post surgery I slept in, laid around, and reminded myself that it was completely okay that I just sit back and rest. I’m a highly Type A “I must be doing something!” type of person, so this was beyond challenging.
Wednesday, post op day 5, I probably overdid it. I did 4 hours of work from home, and then walked 2 miles in the park by my house, cooked a decently big dinner, and this just wiped me out. Thursday I didn’t really feel well, so The Boy loaded me up in my car and we went out to Curt Gowdy State Park to enjoy the sun and warm weather and did a small walk on one of my favorite mountain bike trails. Which let me tell you, 60+ degree weather, sunshine, and my favorite mountain bike trail just meant I was super sad I wasn’t riding a bicycle. Seriously, why couldn’t there have been like two feet of snow during my recovery instead of sunshine and 60-70 degree weather?! Friday and Saturday was followed up with more hikes and sunshine, and by Saturday morning I was feeling a lot more like myself, with just soreness around my incisions on my belly. Sunday I decided to talk myself back to Gowdy where I walked Stone Temple Circuit for the first time ever, and saw so many things I miss while riding a bike… mainly a very phallic rock feature, but hey, whatever, LOL. I also scouted out some new lines on features I struggle with, so it was like training, right?
At my 1 week follow up appointment (post op day 10) my doctor removed the knots on the stitches on my belly. I asked about when I could ride a bike, and she told me to wait. DAMMIT.
And that kinda brings us up to current day (post op day 11). I returned to work, and realized having to fully sit up in a chair and wear pants was awful and created a lot of soreness. So I’m opting for dresses the rest of the week. Ever since post op day 3 I’ve been taking 800mg of ibuprofen twice daily for pain control, and occasionally heat packs. I’m feeling more of the “internal” stitches and trauma now, with dull pelvic pain. The incisions really only smart with clothing rub on them or I move in just the wrong way.
So yeah.. the cycling. It’s been an awful wait. The weather has been gorgeous and the looming Gunnison Growler keeps creeping closer and closer. I’m not sure when I can ride, and how it’s even going to feel. I’m thinking I’ll start with gentle road rides, or possibly even the trainer. I’m accepting that it is quite a real possibility that my first time back on a mountain bike will be in Gunnison. Is it smart to do a 35 mile tough as hell mountain bike race after not riding for 2 months, and 5 weeks after a major ass surgery? I have no idea, but I’m going with a solid NO. I do still have a few more weeks to cancel my entry if I have to. Life is in limbo, and I’m kinda just having to learn to live with that. You never know what you got, until you don’t got it anymore, and that’s where I am with the cycling nonsense. I wasn’t riding because I burned out and didn’t want to, and now that I can’t, I want nothing more than to ride a bike. Sigh.
That, in a long winded nutshell, is my story thus far. I’ve learned “hysterectomy” can be a dirty, or feared, word. I don’t like that. Women shouldn’t have to suffer through pain and other symptoms. Or wonder if they’re alone. So here’s my story. I’ll updated it as necessary. Fingers crossed for salvaged a meager race season with no expectations aside from fun and shenanigans!
Updates since originally written…
I returned to riding bike on Post Op Day 17. I was not cleared for exercise by my surgeon. Don’t be me.
I raced the 2018 Gunnison Half Growler five weeks post op.
At 6 weeks post op, I was cleared to resume all normal activities – exercise, lifting, sex, etc. I never once I had mentioned I was already back to racing a mountain bike…
The hardest thing for me after the incisions healed was dealing with my body returning to not being on birth control after 15 years. Technically I still have periods, just without the bleeding to tell me it’s arrived. Even two years after the fact, I get incredibly sore breasts during that time of the month, and I do fairly regularly get alternating pain from my ovaries during my cycle. I did discuss this with my doc, and a possibility was going back on birth control, which I declined because I felt like I can just deal with the tender breasts. I really had never had a normal adult womanhood period, as I went on the Pill my freshman year of college, so I was just not prepared for some of the symptoms I hadn’t experienced.
Other than that, now that I am almost two years out, I am doing okay. My bike fitness came back around eventually. I do occasionally have pelvic pain, which I blame my ovulating ovaries for, but it is not impacting my life like my uterus was.
I have had some comments about the sudden return to cycling. All I can say is this was MY experience and is absolute no way medical advice or guidance you should follow. I was a naughty patient, and disregarded instructions not to exercise (luckily all my bikes were lighter than my lifting restrictions after a week post op, ha!). Follow what your doctor tells you, and make sure you actually tell them if working out/cycling/whatever is a huge part of your life so they can have that understanding!
26 thoughts on “A Young, Competitive Cyclist’s Hysterectomy Story”
Thank you for your report, I’m a 35 year old triathlete who is having a hysterectomy on the 14th February 2019 but I have a triathlon booked for mid May and I am very worried I’m not going to get my training in. Did you manage your race and how are you now?
Emma x x
Hi Emma! I did manage to have a small race season throughout the summer, but just had to keep my expectations of results in check since I did little training over the winter and pretty much nothing through the spring. I also race cyclocross starting in September, and was able to rebuild considerable fitness and had a successful season of it.
The hardest part for me was just managing the mental side and trying not to get too stressed or down about my lack of fitness and struggles with recovery.
Aside from lingering weight gain, I’d say I’m pretty much back to my normal self with training and competing.
I had a robotic/laparoscopic hysterectomy on January 14 2019. I would say you should be fine for a race in May. The first few days were awful (like Heidi said,) but after that, every day got better and better. By my second week post-op, I was back to the gym doing “light weights” and using the recumbent stationary bike for cardio. I was told by my OBG to avoid biking because of the seat, and how it could push up on the stitch line where the cervix used to be. So the recumbent was a good option because of the flat seat. I was told to avoid running or jumping, which I totally understand, but I was given clearance after two weeks to resume swimming .
with my team. (I had Dermabond over the incisions, and it has now mostly peeled off.)
I go back for a three-week follow-up on Monday (in two days,) and I am hoping to get clearance to use my road bike again. I will update if you like, with his answer. The hardest part for athletes is the resting, so try to force yourself to lay on the couch for a week, with some intermittent walking (don’t overdo it,) and get into a Netflix series lol. Also, I’m just about three weeks post op and the scars look great and are tiny! And I feel great. Good luck to you, and thanks Heidi for your story!
(I’m 45 and woohoo- no more horrible periods!!!)
I have to admit, I was a “naughty” patient and was riding and racing before cleared for any physical activity. This is partly because I never quite told my surgeon the level of athlete I was. But I was cleared 6 weeks post op for “all normal activity.” However, I got back on the bike at post op day 17, and raced a 40 mile mountain bike race 5 weeks post op. I did change how I rode, and was cautious about extreme efforts (like grunting up a steep mountain bike feature, for example, that involves a lot of core activation). But yeah… I think every surgeon can be different, and definitely if you are like me and fail to tell them about your level of normal activity.
update after obg visit on Monday (3 weeks post op visit) I was told no bike riding. 😦 The PA said that it would put too much pressure internally, where the stitches are. (I didn’t tell her I had already been on a 30 mile ride.) Anyway, just reporting what was said to me… I will wait another week or so before getting back on my bike. I still feel fine though, so this is hard.
It is so hard to rest and just take it easy! And I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one that was sneaking rides in before I was suppose to… athletes make bad patients!
I just had my annual exam and 9 months out and doc said I healed perfectly.
If you have a vaginal cuff, you risk tearing it with too much stress and force. That is why lifing and exercise are restricted. If you tear the cuff, extra surgery and serious complications can result, a lifetime of problems, While I’m freaking out, and need to exercise and be the strong woman athlete I am….I choose to sit on my ass and not risk permanent harm to my body. If I had known this set of complications was possible I may have chosen otherwise, but I had fears of a cancerous cyst and a family history of gynecologic cancers so the options were low.
Hello! How are you now? I’ve been in post hysterectomy 4years ago , is it safe to bike? I have ovarian cysts but not so big to be removed. Thank you. Coz i am about to start cycling.
Hi! So I’m just shy of two years out and life has gone back to normal! I am actually back to training a lot (10+ hours a week) on the bike and racing a full schedule. I would say if you’re 4 years out it’s completely okay, but definitely check with your doctor about any specific questions or concerns you may have.
This is encouraging! Thank u! I am excited to get back to being physically active. Weight kept gaining, hate it. Will follow ur blog for updates 😍
Your comment reminded me to go back in and give some updates to the original post! The weight gain is the worse, I struggled hard with it for awhile, and finally last fall I could finally start dropping some pounds. Good luck!
I certainly identify with your desires, or need, to get back to exercise of choice. I am presently 24 days post total lap hysterectomy (Vag) with prolapse repai and herniated belly button Repair. My healing progress was very similar but fear of re-prolapse and umbilicus complications kept me from my drug of choice- running. My OBG said absolutely no running until at least, 6 weeks. I have built up to fast walking with kegels as I go. Probably a little overzealous on some days and resulting hour naps remind me how important “recovery” is an active process! I am older, 55 and had two 10 pound babies that I am sure did a fair share of internal stretch and pressure. I also had many polyps, endometriosis and fibroids. I have to say waiting is super hard but I do not want to go through any more “procedures” or surgeries. Listen to your body and head the healing process. I came back to 6:30 race pace after each birth and have gone back to lean 130lbs. Each time. Core competency has been compromised due to internal abdominal scaffolding alterations- stay flexible and optimistic. Just my 10 cents worth due to my conditions. Go Heidi.
Thank you for sharing your story and journey! I hope you heal quickly and can get back to running!
Thanks for posting! It’s so rare to find specific posts to relate to so this is a God Send! I found out about my fibroid after haemorrhaging and needing 10 units of blood and plasma. So while I wait for surgery, I’m already weak. Regardless, I can spin on the trainer at 1-1.5 W/kg. I don’t necessarily think that’s a lot of internal pressure nor do I feel like the saddle pressure is too different from sitting in an office chair. Sounds like it actually felt awful to sit for the first few days but did you think the saddle was different than a chair? Like many an athlete I am trying to plans and stay sane. I appreciate the idea of at least a walk! Glad you’re back!!!
Hi! The issues I mainly had with sitting was when I tried to wear pants and the pressure from the waistband on the incisions on my stomach. I had to wear dresses for a few weeks at work because of that. But when it came to sitting on a bike, it was totally comfortable when I tried about 17 days post-op. I wear bib shorts so luckily they’re really comfy around the tummy.
My biggest advice is let your doctors and surgeon know your activity level so they can give your better exercise guidance. I didn’t do that, so that’s when I bit a rogue and was doing stuff I wasn’t approved to do as my surgeon didn’t understand that I was an athlete vs. someone just wanting to work out.
I hope you can have your surgery soon and get on the path to recovery! ❤
Holy shit! I cannot believe I found someone with such a similar story, wow.
I just had emergency surgery last weekend to remove one of my ovaries and a softball sized cyst. They surgeon found a extensive endometriosis and her recommendation is an hysterectomy. I’m 31 and normally very active (my mom died 8 months ago though so I have really let myself go…). And I was hoping to sign up for fall bike races and duathlons so I am trying to figure out training between recovery and my next surgery.
Wow I cannot get over how similarly I feel about children and making this “decision” (it’s not really a decision for me any longer). Thank you so much for this post. I hope you are doing well and feeling more comfortable!
Hi Adena! That is a big reason why I wrote this post is I felt like I couldn’t find anyone relatable when I was going through my issues, so I figure maybe someone would stumble across mine. I hope your surgery goes well and you’re back to racing!!
I can’t tell you how helpful it was to read your story and all of the comments. I have been training for a 120 mile gravel grinder in the mountains but I’m going in to have lathroscopic hysterectomy in a week. The race is in late June…but I really need to get on my bike before that 6 weeks recovery time period afterwards! Or at least to start swimming before six weeks clearance! On top of that I have a very active job with a land management agency, working primarily outdoors. I haven’t relayed any of this info to my doctor, but now I’m going to tell him before the surgery next week- thanks for the tip!
Good luck with your upcoming surgery and recovery!
So great to see others in similar situations. I’m now one year out and thought my perspective on racing would be helpful. As someone that was active before surgery, my thoughts on walk as you are comfortable were much more than the doctor was actually comfortable with. I was comfortable casually walking 2-3 miles (at a 25 min mile pace) but then would feel a bit crampy a few hours later. My doc thought that was too aggressive so I scaled back and walked a slow mile at a time twice a day. I did spend some time doing light arm weights (5-10 pound) and some yin yoga. Four weeks in and I was back to completely sedentary (a family member was unexpectedly in the hospital so I was bedside for two weeks until she passed). At 6 weeks post-op my FTP was down to 1/3 of what it was. I was personally more comfortable with walking outside and riding the trainer rather than riding outside until I could regain some endurance.
All that is expected – below are two that may be less expected but should be. One, if you hemorrhaged and required transfusions remember that it will take a few months before your oxygen carrying blood cells are completely recovered. I intellectually know this but was surprised by the exhaustion and the cravings for iron rich foods. Two, my fibroid was large enough and I had significant endometriosis (which I was unaware of) that had really altered my internal organs/muscles, etc. Read this as something that impacted how my core had been adapted to both and had to readapt after their removal. I underestimated how much my core would be affected as I was assuming it would just be from the laparoscopic procedure. Three, I’ve found that I sit a bit differently on the saddle and needed to get my bike fit tweaked just a bit and reassess my saddle.
Hope this helps!
Thanks to all who have shared their experiences. I am not, in this stage of my life, a serious athlete. I’ve replaced it with being an intense workaholic. Even so, I wanted to share my experience and see if anyone has worked through something similar.
I had a radical total hysterectomy in March, 2021 for endometrial cancer. My surgery was on a Thursday and, like a fool, I returned to work on Tuesday and never slowed down until May. I was walking my dogs the day after surgery and was eager to get cycling. Like a good patient (at least as far as cycling goes), I had to wait about 3 months before I was cleared to cycle. As an earlier poster mentioned, cycling can put pressure on the cuff and since my cervix needed to be removed, so that made the pressure from riding even more of a concern. I also developed granulation tissue – perhaps from sitting in my office too much. So I cycled very little in 2021 and when I did, it was casual riding on a cruiser.
This spring, my goal was to get back on my road bike and get more rides in. My first ride was about 2 weeks ago and, while I felt pretty ok during the ride, I have been very uncomfortable since. My tumor was pretty large, so maybe my body was used to the internal support like another poster mentioned. Also, I had the granulation tissue (and maybe some scar tissue), so maybe that is causing the cuff discomfort. Or maybe I am just a wimp and need to get used to the smaller seat and more aggressive riding position again. I’ll also consult my doctor, but has anyone experienced this?
One thing I’ve figured out after years of being a cyclist is my bike fit, especially on my road bike, has differed over the course of my journey depending on flexibility, skill, injuries, and weight. So one thing is it might be worth looking into a bike fitter and working on making the road bike more comfortable. I especially recommend seeking one out that is experienced in fitting people after medical problems and injuries. It could be simply that your body prefers a different position now!
Hey there. I’m one year post-hysterectomy after a 13cm fibroid started hemorrhaging. Sadly my female PT cyclist who was a bike fitter (yes an amazing resource) has left the area. Before I follow up with her male colleague, has anyone noticed a need for a completely different saddle? I almost feel as if my fibroid was taking the place of some core strength. I’m working through some left/right muscle imbalance with a pelvic floor PT as I’m getting single sided saddle sores. But I’m wondering if anyone else has felt as though the need for a cut-out or shape of the cut-out different post-operatively. TIA!
So thankful to everyone who shared! I am a little over 4 weeks post laproscopic hysterectomy with a cuff due to endometriosis. I am an avid runner, particularly love half marathons and competing. I haven’t done any running since surgery and have only walked my dogs as exercise since surgery. Those walks are hard and I struggle with feeling well enough after not that long of distances. I found this post when I was researching if I could at least use my stationary bike, but sounds like that’s a no too and I need to just wait it out. Thankfully, I have a great running coach who told me to be patient and will adjust my schedule when I’m cleared. However, my surgeon keeps giving me this garbage on how bad running is for women, they weren’t meant to run, just take up walking blah blah blah. I’m hoping I will actually get cleared to run based on medical reasons and not someone’s personal thoughts on it. Running is my form of stress relief and working out and being away from it is hard.
Wow, I am speechless about your surgeon’s thoughts on women and running!
My surgeon laughed and said she loved athletes pre-op but we are awfully obstinate about trying to get back too early after surgery. As a cyclist, my surgeon cleared me for light riding (1/3 of my usual recovery effort) on the stationary bike at 6 weeks post-op. When the doctor says stop when you feel discomfort you have to take into account that you may have a higher tolerance and are more accustomed to working through it so you may need to dial it back more than you expect. I am 16 months post-op and am now dealing with muscle imbalances as my fibroid was so big and endometriosis extensive enough that I’d adapted to it and muscles now have to readjust. That’s been more of a setback than the acute surgical recovery. If you are at risk for that, I would ask your surgeon if you can start with yoga, fascial release, core work after 6 weeks.