My Cancer Story: The Recovery

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Cards

The next morning,  my friend Dwight,who’s on faculty at UNC, dropped in on the way to his office, followed a few hours later by his wife Susan.  Fun!

A Resident came to discuss the pathology. I asked her to write down exactly what type of cancer I had:  Grade 1 endometriod adenocarcinoma. I still wonder how those little buggers got  in there.

Cara unhooked me from the catheter and IV. I passed all of my tests:  Walk. Pee. Eat. I was homeward bound!

This is when it got hard. Not horrible, but hard.

I didn’t have any acute pain, but I began to just feel sick. Maybe something like a case of the flu after someone drops a bowling ball on your mid-section. My belly had swelled up overnight like I was six months pregnant. The only way I could sleep was to brace it with a pillow.

Scary symptoms related to the node removal appeared too (see below).

“You should get better every day, ” the doctor told me before the surgery. “If not, we want to hear from you.”

“You ARE getting better,” Cliff told me, every day.

One night at bedtime, he pulled the covers back, and I climbed in. “See that!” he said. “Look how you moved your legs. You couldn’t do that last night.”

Over and over again, he announced I was getting better. I needed to hear it because many days, I couldn’t feel or see my progress.

Despite a few meltdowns, my mood was good, bolstered by Cliff’s kindness and cards, food, visits, and presents from friends near and far. My surgeon and oncologist, Dr. Gehrig, phoned me twice, which I very much appreciated.

Seven weeks later, I feel great (and very grateful). Post-op check up on Monday.

For those of you who may have a hysterectomy, I’ve listed some specifics below. If you’ve got any questions, email me.

And if you need a hysterectomy due to prolapse, endometriosis, fibroids, or another condition and are hesitating, I say go for it. You’ll feel better fast, and those nasty issues will be gone.

Here’s the scoop:

Pain:  Unlike many patients, I had great luck with oxycodone. Half a pill eliminated my pain, gave me energy, and improved my appetite. Over the counter meds, especially the recommended Ibuprofen, didn’t do much. Most disconcerting was waking up in the middle of the night in pain.

In Weeks Two and Three, my discomfort would disappear for a few hours. I’d announce to Cliff, “I feel normal!”  Two hours after that, I’d reach for pain meds and be back on the couch. I have no clue why pain comes and goes. My doctor explained that the pain usually increases as the day progresses, which was often, but not always, the case with me.

Happily, I never experienced any sharp pain or pain that made me want to scream or bite whatever people used to bite in olden days movies.

Incisions: Zero pain with these, which amazed me. They were closed with steri-strips. As they healed, the incisions itched, but not horribly. Per instructions, I pulled off the strips after 14 days. Seven weeks later, they are just small marks. Photo to come!

Pelvic Floor:  The uterus is removed through the vagina, which is then stitched closed at the top. For two weeks, I was shocked I felt no pain there.  But then it set in. At the time I was up to walking two miles a day. I retreated to the couch for the week.  By Week Four, I once again felt no pelvic floor pain, and I can now walk my regular miles pain-free.

Bleeding and Discharge: I had zero bleeding, which surprised me. But in Week Three  (the same time the pelvic floor pain started up), I began to leak a watery substance. Scared me as I was afraid it was urine. My doc’s nurse explained that pockets of fluid develop and are discharged as the swelling goes down. This lasted about nine days, on and off.

Node Removal: This was the kicker, and the most upsetting part of the recovery experience. When I got in the car to come home from the hospital, for some reason I tried to cross my left leg over my right. I couldn’t do it. That night, I couldn’t lift the leg onto the couch (although I had no trouble walking). “Try,” Cliff said. “I’m trying,” I responded. No luck.

Within 24 hours of the surgery, I also began to experience a burning sensation on the front of both my legs, from the knee up. This only hurt to the touch but was so annoying that the first time I put on denim shorts, I took them off again.

The doctor confirmed both issues were damage from the lymph node removal. She suggested my leg mobility could be improved with physical therapy, but the burning sensation might be permanent. I kept telling myself I could live with it if I had to, but part of me was devastated at the thought. What discouraged me most was that I saw no improvement whatsoever for over two weeks.

On about Day Seventeen, the burning sensation lessened by a tiny amount. Gradually the nerves healed over the next few weeks. Yes!  Now, it’s almost gone except for a patch on one leg.

I can  move my left leg fairly well, although I still have trouble with certain motions. I’m hoping this will continue to improve.

Nausea and Appetite: I never threw up or came close to it, one of my biggest fears! I felt queasy on and off for two weeks.  A neighbor who’s an RD pushed me to eat protein since it’s important for healing.

I lost three pounds and was so pleased that Cliff finally said in a bossy voice, “The purpose of your recovery is not to lose weight. You need to eat.”  Although I liked watching the scale go down, the return of my appetite was a relief.

Constipation: I’ve never had trouble with constipation, so I thought I’d skirt this one, despite warnings from a friend who recently had a hysterectomy. I drank lots of liquids (also because I was afraid of a UTI), ate fruit and salads, walked from Day Two all I could, and took stool softeners. Nope!  I had about three days of troubles, including some bad middle of the night stuff.

Mobility: I was delighted that my incisions never hurt, and despite my swelly belly, I could easily get up and move around without any acute pain (until the pelvic floor pain set in). I had to use my hands to lift my bum leg some, but that was my only mobility issue.

I spent a lot of time on the couch. I felt best with my feet up (and discharge instructions suggest you have your feet propped up plenty).

Energy: I rested a ton and did very little the first week. I had trouble concentrating and couldn’t really read or write much, but I was in good spirits, enjoyed visits (although they can certainly exhaust you), and made what I thought was fairly lively conversation. I took naps for three weeks, but seven weeks in, am back to my normal energy level.

Sleep: I’m not a great sleeper under the best of circumstances.I didn’t sleep at all well until Week Four or so. I’m now sleeping okay (for me!)

That’s about it. Once again, if you’re going to have the surgery or just had it and have questions, email me.

 

Peaches

 

Photo Top:  I treasured each card. They provided a happy splash of entertainment. Cliff enjoyed them too and handed them to me  with great panache when the mail arrived.

Photo Above: We so appreciated every gift of food. Three of my friends brought over a scrumptious lunch that we ladies enjoyed together. This is Judy’s Peachy Delight. Yum and yum! You can find the recipe on her website, Judy’s Wellness Cafe.

 

Judy's Wellness Cafe

 

My Cancer Story: Although I’ve got more posts in the wings, this completes the beginning to end tale. I’ll sprinkle other posts in now and then. Thank you so much for all your good wishes.

Other hysterectomy stories on Friend for the Ride: Check out  Hysterectomy: Leslie’s Story and When the Bottom Falls Out: Surgery for Uterine Prolapse.

 

22 responses »

  1. The human body is so wondrous. What a blessing how you have healed over time. Continue to get better and better and keep those amazing spirits up. Never mind the occasional meltdown! It’s normal!!!
    Be well!!

  2. I think your post shows that patience is needed for recovery. Sure you feel good but then it is easy to overdo and then you are back pedaling or recovering from more incurred injury. So glad you are feeling yourself again and don’t need additional treatments!

  3. Yay for Cliff! He was a good post surgery husband!! And…we had so much fun planning and bringing you a fun lunch. So glad you are better and back to travels and life!

    • Wanted to get the info down for the next reader who goes through it (although every case is different). Cliff met a woman at the farmer’s marked before my surgery who said she recovered in two hours!

  4. I am currently experiencing my mother’s recovery from back surgery and I have to remind her, over and over, that patience and determination are the keys to recovery. Easier said than done, sometimes, of course. You are an inspiration!

    • Sharon, Thanks so much! I had to be told too. I think part of me felt guilty/wussy for resting (not the first few weeks but after that) plus you get itchy. Now I’m kind of missing the fun I had on the couch simply reading (not that I want to get sick again). Give your mom my best!

  5. I remember my Mom’s peers would say, “It takes 6 months to get back to feeling normal after a hysterectomy.” Glad your recovery has been shorter and that the nerve pain issues are resolving. I second the “Yay for Cliff”! Sounds like he was a really good support.
    Also: Your whole story was really articulate and interesting. Thanks from me, too, for sharing.
    Janet

    • I think the laproscopy is the key. Things have improved so much since our mother’s day. And yes, Cliff, was wonderful. So fun to keep in touch with you and delighted and honored you read Friend for the Ride.

  6. I think that whether it is a full abdominal incision or the more “modern” laproscopy that recovery is hard. Very different “challenges” or “traumas” to the body – but, all surgery like this is ….well.. . hard – in different ways. Things like trauma to nerves, etc. of course, need to be checked out carefully. But, nerve endings DO heal! I can provide testimony to that with regard to arthritis pain, anyways.

    Be careful about tending to your feelings/emotions in these days.

    That is, because If your ovaries have been removed, vital hormonal fluctuations have been disrupted. Any attempt to instill a “new” hormonal “normal” is something that is not always easy. Reason is, so many hormones/systems interact with the systems that previously were in “balance.” — (Hey, were they ever really in balance!?- well, not for me, anyways!)

    But, you sound like you have a true companion extraordinaire in this hard journey, your husband, Cliff. His wanting/believing you to have improved had to have helped!

    Thank goodness for our most cherished people who believe in us.

    Phyllis

    ——————————-

    • Yes. The hormone stuff is tricky. My doctor told me if I have mood stuff WITHOUT hot flashes, dryness, or other menopausal symptoms, it’s probably not hormones (with a post-menopausal hysterectomy).

      • There is so much that we just don’t know about the regulation of our moods by hormones that may go beyond estrogen (which of course stops being produced by the postmenopausal ovary). I hope continuing research sheds some more light on this, and its one of the areas I’m researching right now!

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