This year marks ten years since I had a hysterectomy – getting a little personal with this one.
I won’t go into details but after having our son quite young and then years of pretty horrific gynae experiences it was decided this was the best course of action. And yes all other options had been exhausted (you’d be amazed at the amount of comments I get around this as if it was a throw away decision)!
It took me a long time to really get to grips with this – for my husband and I to go from years of trying to get pregnant including fertility treatment to need this was a massive blow. However, it was the sensible option.
Once I turned 30 I was booked in and one month later it was a done deed. I had what is called a total hysterectomy, which is removal of the uterus, including the cervix. It’s a major operation and whilst I still have my tubes and ovaries recovery was nonetheless a long and depressing road. There was lots of tears, I can only describe it to feeling grief. Having very little mobility as I recovered meant I piled on a lot of weight. I felt sluggish, tired and out of breath all the time but as I was still coming to terms with the op I’d had done I just wallowed in a lot of self pity, which ultimately made it worse, simply compounding the issue.
Earlier this year, in March, I went to a talk at Look Mum No Hands with Jasmijn Muller called Train Like A Woman, which was focused around how to train and work with your hormones in mind. May seem a little odd for someone who has had a hysterectomy to attend but as I still have my tubes and ovaries they continue to make hormones, so whilst I do not have periods I still feel the symptoms and on top of that over the past year I sometimes get hot flashes, and was told by my GP that this is because the surgery may have blocked blood flow to the ovaries, which can also prevent the ovaries from releasing estrogen. The joy of being a woman!
There is a high chance I will experience menopause earlier than the usual average age of early 50s and recently I was talking to a couple of ladies I know who are experiencing perimenopausal or linked symptoms. Perimenopause usually starts in the 40s but can begin earlier for some. It is when the ovaries stop making eggs and a transitional period before menopause but it can last for up to 10 years. One friend made a great point that people have an instinctive reaction to compare themselves to others but that we are all at different stages in our lives and going through different experiences and challenges. Energy levels can reduce but you could be working just as hard, if not harder, to maintain the minimum output.
Lets also not forget hormonal anxiety, which can be debilitating for ladies who were otherwise confident. It can be a huge problem for some people (although not all), as what you used to do instinctively ie group rides with people, can then mean you second guess yourself and your ability to do things, which then affects your cycling and your morale. This was a great point from a friend of mine that I can totally relate to.
Another friend of mine noted that she had been on the pill with artificial hormones for so long that when she came off it at the age of 40 it was a massive shock for her to deal with the peaks and troughs of hormones through the month and heavier periods. Ironically she feels like she knows and understands her body better as a result and wished she had known how to do that 25 years ago!
Another friend I know who has also had a hysterectomy has experienced hot sweats that just came on like a wave and went just as quickly. She also notices lack of energy some days and feels she is definitely more angry on occasion. Weight is another area she has noticed is easy to put on and increasingly harder to keep off.
The symptoms of menopause, and perimenopause, can be reduced through regular exercise and many find exercise to improve quality of life (though of course exercise will not stop these symptoms).
I have personally found over the last year I can cycle one day and feel amazing and super strong and then an easy recovery ride another day can seem like the hardest thing in the world. Something I am sure many people can relate to.
There was an article on BBC News featuring a lady called Emily Barclay called ‘Perimenopause: I went from triathlon training to needing naps’ that can be read from here.
I realise a subject like this is not often talked about but why not? A lot of us don’t identify these symptoms with certain stages of female development and talking about it more will raise awareness, share experiences and advice.
Any questions please feel free to ask as I am more than happy to break down the barriers and talk around this.