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!