Menopause

My Cancer Story: The Recovery

 

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.

 

Menopause, No More Periods

Hysterectomy: Leslie’s Story Part Two–The Surgery

When blog reader Leslie Lockwood told me she was scheduled for a hysterectomy, I asked her to record her experience for Friend for the Ride.  She’s presenting her story in three parts.  This post recounts the first hours and the first two weeks following the surgery. Thanks, Leslie!

I awoke from my surgery to the best news ever-the doctors had been able to do my entire surgery  laparoscopically and  had left the colon alone because there was no endometrial involvement there.  What a blessing!  I immediately knew my recovery would be much, much easier than I had anticipated.

I stayed in the hospital overnight, but most of us know that is pretty pointless because it is impossible to get any rest in a hospital at all.  (When I had my babies, I was one of those moms who actually sent them-I know, shocking-to the nursery so I could get some rest and even then I didn’t sleep.)

Anyhow, I was hooked to an IV, had a pulse thingy taped to my finger, had the things on my legs to keep blood flow and prevent blood clots, and had oxygen in my nose.  Basically, I could barely move because I was so connected, it made it impossible to do anything but lie still. Add to that the fact that people are constantly coming in to check your vitals, give you pain meds, and take your blood (that guy showed up at 4:00 am).

I went home about 24 hours after the surgery.  I was amazed at how good I felt, sore, but good.  I settled into my couch with my water bottle, pain meds, books/magazines, and the remote control.  Family, friends, and neighbors had signed up to bring meals (many of them at my pre-hysterectomy party), so we were all set.

I had been given advice by more people than I can count, to rest, to take it easy, and to accept any offer of help that came my way.  So although that really is hard to do, I listened to my doctor, my friends and my body and did pretty much nothing for two weeks.  It felt almost decadent to be lounging on my couch, watching Netflix, enjoying meals from friends*, playing with Pinterest and Facebook on my Ipad, and even napping while a friend tidied up my home and organized my Tupperware cupboard, but I did it.

Yesterday was my two week check up, and I think my “vacation on the couch” has paid off.  I feel great, my wounds have healed, and I am now allowed to drive again and resume most of my normal activities**.

My next check up is in four weeks and at that point, we will discuss things like how I am doing being on Estrogen (I am on a patch right now because I now have no ovaries) and if my endometrial pain has gone away (I still have sporadic pain in my left side but it could be phantom pain).

I can say now that I am feeling really good, almost back to normal.  I am glad to be on the other side of this surgery.  So far I have not grieved my uterus and ovaries at all.

I definitely won’t be missing the periods or the spotting I had for weeks at a time.  I am excited to plan my 25th anniversary beach vacation without having to check a calendar and cross my fingers and hope and pray that I won’t be bleeding at that time.  I truly feel a sense of freedom and excitement and I look to my post-hysterectomy future!

*My doctor had advised me not to eat too much.  It took me about a week to get my appetite back so I listened to him and just made sure I had a little food with my meds and took a few bites each night of the lovely dinners we received.  Added note for those of you who go through this: I took two Colace every day for about 6 days and drank lots of water.

**No lifting, baths, hot tub, or sex. (I still have my cervix, but it was stitched up and needs to heal.)

Photo Above:  Leslie, her husband, and two girls grinning for the camera. Leslie thinks this picture was taken at the Balboa Peninsula in California. She loved going to the arcade there as a kid because you take a ferry from Balboa Island.

Photo Below:  Leslie, her husband, and her youngest daughter.  Leslie’s oldest daughter is now away at college.

Leslie Lockwood has been married for twenty-four years and is the mother of two teenage daughters. She’s a southern California girl who’s been in Oregon for the past eighteen years.  Leslie teaches music to preschoolers. She loves her book club, girls’ night out, and trips to the beach.