Women’s Reproductive Health
Women’s reproductive health is complex. From sexual maturity through menopause, a woman’s body goes through many changes.
As a certified personal trainer and a nutrition coach, this is a little off-topic for me but I’m writing this to share my story. Those of you who know me are probably surprised that I’m making this so public but rest assured, this certainly won’t be a TMI segment. My intent is to encourage women to listen to their bodies and see a professional if something seems off.
I knew something was not right with my body for a while, yet hadn’t told anyone, not even my husband. After realizing that it wasn’t going to go away, I went to see my gynecologist. She wasn’t actually my gynecologist, she was a referral from a friend. I was changing practices and doctors. During my first visit, we spoke candidly, and I trusted and liked her. At the end of my appointment, she told me that she doesn’t say this lightly, but I had a uterine fibroid positioned in such a way that I needed to have a hysterectomy. I was dumbstruck.
With my head still reeling, the next day I researched uterine fibroids and every possible way of removing them instead of a hysterectomy. I then asked my doctor a number of questions (a myriad is probably more appropriate), and the short answers were: a uterine fibroid is muscle, its cause is unknown, and there was no solution other than a hysterectomy that would work for me.
My gynecologist is also a surgeon who performs hysterectomies so I knew I was addressing the right person. During our question and answer segment, I continued to stress that I was very concerned about returning to training (I train 6x/week) and returning to work as quickly as I could (I am a business owner and revenue is generated when I work). She answered every question with a thoughtful and solid explanation.
She is also a good listener. Because I was so focused on my training and returning to work, she said there was a slight chance that the fibroid would be too large to be removed through a laproscopic hysterectomy. Should this be the case, it would then require a larger incision, and subsequently a longer recovery time, so she referred me to another gynecologist who specializes in oncology and also robotic hysterectomies. This doctor became my surgeon.
I didn’t begin researching statistics about hysterectomies or women’s reproductive health until 2 days after my surgery. You might be wondering why. Basically it boiled down to this – whatever I learned was not going to change my situation, the surgery I was facing, or my life afterward. I relied on my doctors to explain the surgery, the recovery, and to answer all of my other questions.
I’m a woman who has now become one of the “1 in 3” women who have a hysterectomy before the age of 60. In 2018, more than 200,000 hysterectomies were performed to remove fibroids. At least 70% of women by the age of 50 have fibroids, but many do not cause any problems.
Prior to this, I wasn’t exactly sure what a hysterectomy entailed. It is the surgical removal of a woman’s uterus, and sometimes also includes the removal of the cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.
Hysterectomies can be caused by chronic pelvic pain, adenomyosis (thickening of the uterus), abnormal vaginal bleeding, uterine prolapse, cancer, or fibroids that cause problems. In my case it was a fibroid. We aren’t sure when it started growing but when it was removed, it was the size of a softball. I was fortunate in that I didn’t experience many of the symptoms usually associated with a fibroid, but I knew something was wrong.
I already said I was fortunate but I’ll say it again – I was fortunate that it was not cancerous. The hysterectomy will certainly be a life-altering event, but it could have been much, much worse.
In my case, they performed a robotic total hysterectomy, removing everything but my ovaries. By keeping my ovaries, I won’t be pushed into menopause. As a woman in my 40s, I was relieved that I would enter menopause naturally.
I’ve just begun my recovery, and have decided to chronicle it but I’m uncertain if I will share it. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I urge you and all of the women in your lives – your wives, sisters, moms, aunts, cousins, and daughters – to see your gynecologist annually.