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A Young, Competitive Cyclist’s Hysterectomy Story

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-athelete 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/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 Norco 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.)

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 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!

6 thoughts on “A Young, Competitive Cyclist’s Hysterectomy Story”

  1. Hi,
    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?
    Thanks again
    Emma x x

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    1. 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.

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    2. Hi Emma,
      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!!!)
      Christine

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      1. 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.

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  2. 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.

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    1. 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.

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