Without sufficient estrogen in your body, you begin growing a crop of course hair on your chin. If you're as lucky as I am, they're PITCH BLACK! I felt my first hair six months after the surgery. If I let it grow, I'd have a full beard, complementary mustache included.
Suppose you are about to have your reproductive rights revoked via hysterectomy. Do you think you're told everything you need to know about your Vaginal Renaissance? Nope! The answers you seek – Young Jay-Jay Jedi – will come through your own experiences. Having a hysterectomy can be devastating; especially if you’ve never had the experience of being pregnant.
Mine happened so quickly that I was unable to truly grasp the impact it would have on my life. My choices were: A. Hysterectomy, or B. Be overcome by cancer. Within 24 hours I went from being diagnosed with endometrial and uterine cancer, to being told I needed an emergency total abdominal hysterectomy, and finally, having my reproductive rights taken away from me. Oh, let’s not forget my football-sized ovaries, which collectively housed 41 tumors — three of which contained cancer.
While traveling the bumpy road of “Surgically Induced Menopause,” I've learned quite a few things that were never explained to me:
Grieving: They never explained the difficulties of healing. At the time of my surgery, I was only 30 years old. I didn’t have any children. The loss of my eggs was very difficult for me to wrap my thoughts around. I was never going to have the joy of creating another human being, carrying that human being in my body, feel it kicking and moving, or experience the beauty of child birth. It was gone. Like that. My body was robbed of my biological rights as a woman.
Hot Flashes: I didn't know what a hot flash was until I went through my first one, hours after my surgery — a hot flash is “a personal summer”! You know when it’s about to hit you when your chest starts to heat up and radiates out to the rest of your body. It can be the middle of an icy winter, windows open, you’re wearing a tank top and shorts, sweating like you just ran ten miles — it’s horrible! You can be in the deepest sleep of your life, and BAM: a hot flash hits and your sleep is destroyed. The heat intensifies so quickly, and you have become completely drenched in sweat — in the meantime, your blankets take a beating. Eventually, you cool off, and pull the blankets back onto your body because you’re freezing. Thirty minutes later (after you’ve drifted back to sleep) the cycle starts again. Fantastic!
The Beard: Without sufficient estrogen in your body, you begin growing a crop of course hair on your chin. If you're as "lucky" as I am, they're PITCH BLACK! I felt my first hair six months after the surgery. If I let it grow, I'd have a full beard, complementary mustache included. The maintenance on my face involves a weekly date with a 10x magnifying mirror and accompanying tweezers. In essence, I am doomed to be a bearded, crazy cat lady.
Hormones: When we are younger we really don’t understand the importance of hormones. They moderate our bodies and prevent us from becoming batshit crazy. However, when your direct source of estrogen is removed, EVERYTHING goes wrong. Your emotions become. . . unpredictable. When I was on Premarin (estrogen replacement therapy) I cried constantly over the dumbest things (i.e. the cat lost his toy, a sock was mismatched, the sun was up, etc.). And when I stopped taking estrogen, I experienced the extreme opposite with my emotions; I was constantly angry. In my defense, I was producing too much testosterone — a perk of The Hormone Highway. I eventually was able to combat the hormone fluctuations by simply changing my diet, and getting more exercise. Twelve years later I am calm, and rarely enraged, but the roller coaster ride was nauseatingly horrible along the way.
Weight Changes: Some women experience a huge fluctuation in weight after surgery. This is due to hormone changes (amongst other things). Before my surgery, I was 276 pounds (at 5’9”); after surgery my weight fell to 173 pounds. I stayed at that weight for a few years, and then it started climbing gradually after my battle with breast cancer. The cocktail of medications they had me on only contributed to my weight gain. People have commented that I would look "so beautiful” if I would lose weight; little do they know those pounds were put on by the medications that are keeping me cancer-free. If I had to choose between being overweight and battling cancer again, I would choose being fat. Sorry, haters. I'm alive.
Vaginal Dryness: A lot of women experience this hell after their surgeries; it is not an issue that can be dealt with easily. Before my surgery, I had absolutely no problem producing sufficient moisture to keep my vagina rejuvenated and supple. Poof. That all went away! It didn’t happen overnight; it actually took a few years for my vagina to become the Dust Bowl. At first, everything was functioning smoothly. After being taken off Premarin, everything went south. Estrogen cream, soy oil, coconut oil, and lavender extract, nothing helped; I even tried chanting to the Vagina Gods for a little “rain” to get me through the drought. Nothing worked. Twelve years later, I am still battling the drought. California has nothing on my vagina. I wish I could go back on the estrogen cream; that seemed to work. But nope. I am estrogen-positive and have battled breast cancer because of it.
Low Sex Drive: Women are sensual beings that carry intriguing sexual mysteries. Once a woman becomes sexually engaged she finds her strengths and preferences. However, a lot of women lose their drive after a hysterectomy. Like...BOOM. Gone. I was highly sexual before my surgery, but the low sex drive hit me almost immediately after I was taken off Premarin. Getting me in “the mood” is very difficult. At times, I am left completely frustrated while my husband wonders if it has anything to do with him — it doesn't! When I do want sex, an orgasm is not always guaranteed, due to the numbness from the severed nerves in my vaginal area. Fun! I struggle with this issue often, and I am thankful that I have an understanding husband who sees what I go through.
I wish I could tell you a hysterectomy is the best thing that will ever happen to you, but I can’t. You no longer have a period, or menstrual cramps, or base your entire existence around a calendar of ovulation cycles, but that is the limit to the positives. The experiences I have endured throughout this process reshaped my thinking about my body, and allowed me to be more in tuned with every inch of my person — inside and out.
I just wish they would have told me…