After decades of painful, heavy periods, endometriosis and PMT, Gabby Miles* had a hysterectomy. She’s still wondering whether the side-effects were worth it…
It seemed that the only solution to my horrendous period problems and other medical issues was a hysterectomy [removal of reproductive organs]. I wanted to have keyhole surgery, which would have left my ovaries intact, but this wasn’t possible because of the state of my reproductive organs. I was told I needed a pan hysterectomy, which is where the uterus, cervix and ovaries are removed. Thankfully, the cut could be made in the same place as my caesarean section scar.
The operationI don’t remember much about the operation. Although I was very nervous before the anaesthetic, the nurses kept me talking, which helped to take my mind off what was happening.
The operation was tricky (so I was told), due to my uterus and ovaries being stuck together, which meant the surgeon had some difficulty getting my uterus out. Because of this, it took longer than normal.
Apparently, fused organs are a common problem in women with endometriosis, because the misplaced endometrial cells/tissue continue to bleed with the menstrual cycle. This means there’s nowhere for the blood to go, and it can cause inflammation and scarring, which can make the organs stick together.
I was only in hospital for two days. I was in pain but the drugs I was given helped. At first, I had a self-administered morphine drip, then went on to tablets (co-codamol and diclofenac). The worst bit was having constipation for a week afterwards, as a result of the painkillers I had to take. That was awful. I didn’t suffer too much emotionally, though. The loss of my fertility didn’t distress me. I knew I was getting too old to have more children and our family was complete with three.
I had six weeks off work and managed to take it easy. The scar healed really well and after four weeks I even went on holiday to Portugal for a few days, with some friends.
HRT: the good, the bad and the weight gainThree months after the operation, I started taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy).
Hysterectomy and HRTHormone replacement therapy can help to relieve menopausal symptoms. After a hysterectomy and removal of the ovaries, the body goes into menopause. In addition to menopausal symptoms, the resulting lack of oestrogen can lead to conditions such as osteoporosis, so HRT may be prescribed to younger women who have a hysterectomy or an early menopause.
Within six weeks of starting HRT, I suddenly thought, I can do anything! I felt normal at last. I couldn’t believe how different I felt.
I was kicking myself for not having sought treatment earlier: I should have had the operation years ago. Why did I suffer in silence for so long?
In retrospect, I can’t believe I thought the way I felt for more than three decades was normal. I honestly thought my constant bad mood, pain and sense of being barely able to cope was down to having three kids, a full-time job and living in the 21st century. I couldn’t believe the difference taking HRT made to me.
Then I started to put on weight. Since the hysterectomy three years ago, I’ve gained about two stone. People say that HRT doesn’t make you put on weight, but the menopause does, and having your ovaries removed forces your body to go into menopause. So I think it’s probably a combination of the two.
Two months after the operation I began to experience menopausal symptoms and I had hot flushes for a few weeks until I started taking HRT. I rarely have them now because of the HRT, although I do have the odd one at night. But what I go through is nothing compared with some of my friends, who come out in a hot sweat at random times of the day and night.
Was having a hysterectomy worth it?Was it worth it? That’s the six million dollar question. I hate the fact that I’ve put on so much weight. I used to weigh 9st (57kg) and now I’m 11st (70kg), which I know isn’t enormous, but it’s much heavier than I want to be and than I’m used to. But before the operation, I had to contend with all that pain and feeling depressed every month.
I hate looking at myself in the mirror now. My face is drooping and I’m getting jowls. You lose body hair as well, although it grows in other, unexpected places. I used to have hairy arms but they’re smooth now. The operation speeds up the ageing process: although HRT is supposed to compensate for the missing hormones, you’re still prone to ageing symptoms.
Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t had the hysterectomy, I might not be at this stage yet. I’ve brought all this on myself. The weight gain is the biggest downside for me.
My moods are better now, because of the HRT. I know the menopause can cause massive mood swings, similar to the ones associated with PMT. I dread to think what I would be like if I wasn’t on HRT.
I’ve got to accept that this is who I am now. I’ve just got to live with what’s happened to my body. I could try dieting or exercising, but I’m not very good at either of those.
On balance, I’m pleased I had the hysterectomy. I’m glad I don’t feel overwhelmed any more when someone asks me to do something. My cycle doesn’t dominate my life now. It doesn’t spoil holidays and events and parties: I’ve got the energy to throw myself into them.
I can enjoy life so much more because I haven’t got to contend with periods and pain. I’ve had two promotions at work since the operation and for the first time I feel I can cope with my job and my home life and occasionally even have energy to spare.
I just hope my daughters don’t have to go through what I did. I dread to think of that happening. They’ve both started their periods and so far, so good. Apart from some monthly moodiness and spots, they don’t seem to be too badly affected by their menstrual cycles. Fingers crossed it’s skipped a generation.
*Some names and identifying details have been changed.
Read our logart about what Gabby went through before her hysterectomy.
Find out more about hysterectomy.
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