Having a Hysterectomy in a Foreign Land, expat life

Daniel and Eva pause for a quick photos for Alfonz
does this look like a woman ready for a hysterectomy?
does this look like a woman ready for a hysterectomy?

WARNING: This post has graphic content about female reproductive organs, hysterectomy and is not for the squeamish.

In a world full of uncertainties, one thing we can always count on is change. Things will alter; for the good or for the bad, sometimes self-sabotage and other times the product of outside forces. No matter the source, if you know change is inevitable, it will never surprise.

How do you deal with change while heading towards your life’s dream? My 40 Before 40 list (only five things to go: Paris and Venice) has been something I have worked on over the last year. It is a conglomeration of all the things I want to do over the year coming up to my fortieth birthday. A huge milestone for many, forty is the point of which your youth is certainly behind you, with more secure years ahead.  It marks your mid life, although my family lives past 90 and even 100, it is around the point you know who you are and are pretty certain you know where you have been and in the general direct of where you are going.

I made my 40 Before 40 list in line with my annual New Year’s Resolution list, and whenever I accomplished something on it, I tick ? it off.

However, like change you can always count on a monkey-wrench being thrown into the plans.

Some say when they are happy, they know it is temporary and wait for sadness to return.  When in a more turbulent time they feel the most relaxed. If they can bare it, at least it won’t get any worse and the best part for them is no surprises. I don’t live my life like that. I skim over the sad events like an over sized shirt hiding my muffin top. I relish the good, live for adventure and find the great or the lesson even in the bad.

So it seems ironic that health is the issue that prevents me from completing my list, and when starting my blog the question was:  What if you only had one year left to live?

Let’s get back to that in a minute…

How to you identify yourself?  Some of my friends are truly brilliant, and I go to them for advice. Often I wonder if that is how they identify themselves or if it is a label others have put on them, myself included.

I have a beautiful friend, and although she doesn’t agree, everyone views her as a beauty. Not a traditional beauty, yet the classic variety; round faced, full lips, proportionate features and she is always perfect. Makeup done, not a hair out of place, clothes just right… I thought she identifies herself as a beautiful person, but only she knows how she identifies herself. Possibly when she starts to age and it is taken away from her, she may feel the loss. Something us average blokes would never mourn. We will see.

In the face of diversity we see how we handle change…

I always thought I identified myself as a happy person, someone who no matter what happens finds the silver lining around every dark cloud.

However I am more than that and lately I know exactly what is the most important thing about me.

Back to the topic, one year left to live. What if you were reminded that life is not forever.  I was long overdue for a doctor’s visit. When moving to a new country, sadly, medical usually goes on the back burner until you find a way into the system, or you manage a severe illness where the hospital is put into the position of helping to keep you alive for free.

I was tired. When I woke up in the morning, when I went to bed, after I napped, my body felt exhausted just from daily activities. I couldn’t muster the strength to get it together after a short day of work, after I cleaned the house or after I changed out the beds for the B&B. I was running on empty and no matter how many cups of coffee I drank, I found myself in a permanent state of fatigue. It was certainly not me, being nick named Mrs. Clean and the Energizer Bunny, because I keep going and going… but not lately.

(Here it gets graphic, boys can skip to the next paragraph) I also noticed an increase back pain, a heavier cycle, which lasted ten days with a month round cramping and pressure. I was going through a full pack of tampons and pads each cycle, endless painkillers and had to stop work every hour on the hour to change them out and it was getting to the point I couldn’t work my shift. This carried on for 10 months.

Finally a part of the medical system, I asked for a gynecologist appointment from my General Practitioner here in Capestang. A few weeks later I was in the ultrasound having my uterus scanned and having a long list of blood work done. I had the results to take along to my appointment.

It was all French to me as I handed Dr. DenJean the results to find what I feared. One lemon sized tumour with another directly under it pushing on my lower back and my fallopian tubes, resulting in a terrible cycle, needing immediate attention due to there location. Without intervention I could expect eventual endless cycles. There’s an awful thought. I had my answer. What now?

I had an ablation years back to lighten my periods that helped considerable. It gave me an extra six years. My tubes were tied when Angelina reached two so we had already decided on no more kids.

If I had managed to get in to the gynecologist a year ago the tumours would be small enough to laser off. Sadly this is not an option as they grow in my uterus lining and reach over 4 cm in diameter. My lining was left thin by the last procedure.

Hysterectomy is my only option. To me it was my Grandmother’s surgery. The word has a connotation of bad health, old age, in adequacy, the inability to do the magical thing women can do. Produce life.

We have this drive in us to reproduce. I know it’s hard for some to believe that our sex drive is there for any other reason than pure pleasure, especially when so many choose not to have children. However the under lying motive for it is to find a mate and get impregnated. It is a basic instinct of all (ok most) living things.

Without my uterus, what if my sex drive plummets or what if I go into menopause. How will I feel about myself then? Will I go from a young 39 year old to an old woman overnight?

The procedure itself is relatively simple if not a common operation. Make no mistake it is by no means easy on your body. There are a number of different types of hysterectomy operations, and all depend on why you are having it done.

Radical hysterectomy is where the doctor removes your uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, parametrium, ovaries and the upper part of your vagina. This procedure is usually done if you have cancer.

An oophorestomy is the removal of one or both ovaries.

Partial hysterectomy is taking out your uterus alone, leaving your cervix  and everything else in tact. (I wish this was my option)

A total hysterectomy is when they take out your cervix and uterus but they leave your ovaries and fallopian tubes in tact so not to go into early menopause requiring hormone replacement.

My doctor has given me one option and that is a total hysterectomy. He says I would still suffer if my cervix is left in, and the fibroids and tumours my body grows will find their way there to cause further problems and end in another eventual surgery.

I didn’t actual realize how sexual I view myself until it was on the table, literally within the next few weeks on the chopping block, and in jeopardy. I was never beautiful or brilliant like my friends, but I really enjoy my husband and have what I consider a very healthy relationship. I was the envy of my friends for having this great romance with my husband and it was a part of me I held sacred to him alone. A place where I can be myself, to love carefree. And I was sad to put my sexuality at risk and not mention a little frightened.

When researching, most said, ‘If you had a healthy sex life before your hysterectomy, you will have a healthy sex life after.’ 

‘A woman has a divine power to attract a man and create life. It is a magnetic pull, that before I wanted a child was more a distraction.’

To grow a baby felt magical to me and having the opportunity to have children was the most fulfilling part of my life. I loved my children before they were conceived. I remember buying my future daughter a Christiansen painting called Superstitions, three years before Alfonz and I started dating.

What if after my surgery I don’t feel like a powerful sexual goddess. What if this is where my abundant energy comes from? Could this possible be the driving force that allows me to lap my friends, never tire and without my uterus I may feel inadequate or less of a women. Or worse, I could have ordinary amounts of drive and sexual energy. It is a worry that keeps me up at nights.

What ifs stack up in my head and I try to come to terms with what is fast approaching…

Spiritually, your uterus, sexual organs, and intestines are where your second chakra energy is from. Here you find a balance between relationships, money, sexuality and if you are unbalance, some believe that you have physical symptoms: lower back pain, sexual impotency, urinary track issues and appendicitis. Others think that a women’s uterus is the heart of her spirit, a guiding force that drives her. Without it, what will drive her? Where will her balance come from?

Voluntary castration weighed against crippling hunched over pain each month and non stop haemorrhaging… hmm a hysterectomy is the lesser of two evils, but only if ‘I’ remain. I guess I am not getting a lobotomy or shock treatment (not yet anyway) so why not view this as a new beginning.

Ok a new beginning it is…

I am not under the impression that this will be easy; it is, after all, a big surgery with a difficult recovery. I am opting for local anesthetic from an epidural and possibly a sedative depending on my blood pressure the day of surgery. It would be interesting to be awake during the three-hour operation and learn a thing or two first hand how they remove my uterus… is it in pieces, or just one giant pull?  My procedure will be vaginal, a far less invasive operation to my Grandmother’s invasive abdominal entrance. Her recovery was agonizing and I remember it even now. I watched the strongest person I have ever known suffer. She was a decade older than I am now, and that was three decades ago.

I stay in Champeau private clinic in Beziers for four days in total to make sure I have no secondary infections. Unfortuneately urinary infection is a big one, and lifting too soon can cause a tear in your vaginal stitching.

I am thinking  hospitalization as a mini vacation to read, write and relax. Possibly, I will have time to master the new Tetrus game on my phone and solve world peace.

Once home, I have two weeks in bed followed by four weeks no lifting. It is very hard for me to count on anyone. Not that I don’t have people to count on, it is just very hard for me to let go of control over my life. Trust has always been an issue and letting go of another deep core  issue will be a lesson. I feel like I have done enough growing as a person for a while. I just want my mommy.

The up side of hysterectomy, I look forward to swimming any day I feel like it, no more ruined clothes, and no more pain… I have suffered since I was eleven-years-old with horrible menstrual cramps, pain and a condition that enlarges my uterus to the size of a 15-week pregnancy. When I was diagnosis with fibroids and endometriosis at least it then had a name, if not a solution for me. Everyone said it will get better after you have your children. Maybe a little better for a while…

I look forward to a flat stomach for the first time in my life.

No more every forth Friday calling in sick to stay in bed with my hot water bottle, cranked on painkillers, lying on a towel, praying for death.

I remember being pulled into the office at Safeway, interrogated by my bosses, and asking if I have another job every forth Friday. Totally embarrassed by my condition I had to tell my terrible secret. They did not believe me and insisted I get a doctor’s note, which I did. I wonder if they thought I was an exotic dancer on a special Friday night circuit… where in the world could I moonlight one day a month… huh, I guess I’ll never know what they were thinking. Escort service? hmmm

I have tried many different solutions from birth control, different pain killers, to surgery and I hope this is the final step.

I mourn the loss of this part of my life. Even nuns go through sadness when their cycles stop. There is something about being a woman, a tie to the moon cycle, a primitive bond that connects all women, and some in our bond in baby making that to me seems miraculous. Giving up that part is hard. It is saying I am now done with this part of my life and permanently off the coupling market.  I know people get together for other reasons other than making babies, I just never understood why they bother. A mother and loving wife is how I identify myself. 

I hope with my hysterectomy comes a freedom; no schedule for intimacy, and never shopping for female hygiene product ever again!  I am sure Always will feel my absence on the stock market. Or is it a doctor’s tag line, a ploy to have surgeries booked up, saying;  Hysterectomy gives women a new handle on life- which by the way is stated in the medical books.

I do know that in France they don’t give these procedures lightly. You must be over forty, with a long medical history of problems, serious conditions like cancer and finished having children. In America it is a different ball game. But I will save that for another rant post, another day.

Wish me luck!

My forty before forty list will have ten weeks added to it to finish it just because it is my game and I think it is fair! Paris in Spring and Venice in December after my birthday will conclude my 40 before 40 list. 

And if anyone has hysterectomy advice, please, I would love to hear it.

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  1. Well here I am at 44, and I still don’t miss my monthlies at all. I feel free to do as I want when I want, no restrictions. I do feel that I have aged since my hysterectomy; little aches and pains and weigh gain but I cannot conclude that it is part of the normal aging process or if there is a correlation between the operation and how I have been feeling overall. I do know that I didn’t have much of a choice at the time. My tumours and fibroids made my life a living hell, constantly tired, no energy, and 2-3 week long cycles left me with little options. To make a well balanced decision, weighing out the pros and cons, I would suggest talking to a certified doctor as well as your family. My husband had lots of ideas as to how this would give us a better life, and he is right in many ways, but in the end it was my decision and one that should not be taken lightly. It is a big procedure, one that will take time to recover from both physically and emotionally.

  2. Thank-you Juliet, you are so sweet. I would love a visit post op chez moi. Pink fizzy is always allowed in France, it may actually be a medical write off! 😉

  3. Eva. Well done on writing such a courageous, honest, positive blog post. I’ll be thinking of you next week and sending you love and courage. I know you don’t want visitors at the Clinique Champeau but if you are up to it, I’d like to come and see you at home during your recuperation – bringing something pink and fizzy, if it’s allowed!
    lots of love, Jules xx

  4. Merci beaucoup pour votre remarque, Sylvie. c’est vrai, la vie nous renforce. En anglais disent-ils, ‘This too shall pass’ ‘cela aussi doit passer.’ – Eva x

  5. Hello Eva, Cette étape de la vie n’est pas facile. Mais la vie est là, il te reste beaucoup de choses à vivre et l’avenir est devant toi. Chaque épreuve de la vie nous rend encore plus fort et en France, on dit que ‘les dures épreuves font mûrir” La vie est faite ainsi, des moments de joie, dont il faut apprécier, et des épreuves à surmonter, comme un combat, mais ça fait ‘grandir’ . Tu es entre de bonnes mains, continue à faire des projets, cette épreuve, ne sera qu’un mauvais souvenir. Tu arriveras à surmonter tout cela avec ta famille que tu aimes et tes amis. Bonne chance Eva et à bientôt, Gros bisous, Sylvie

  6. Thank you Kelley,
    I honestly wasn’t sure how talking about my up and coming hysterectomy would go over, being so personal a subject and outside my normal travel/exploration topic. Women go through this alone, in secret, often without any support. It was interesting to find other people online, forums mostly, who shed some light on hysterectomy.
    Menopause is an inevitable part of our journey as women, and totally undiscovered territory for the young forty-ish community. I am happy to head their with such am amazing generation, whom I am certain will do a lot of writing on the subject and bring it out of hiding-
    Eva x

  7. You brave, brave woman. Not only to have the procedure, but to be willing to write about it so candidly, sharing your thoughts, what you are going through, and how it will affect you. Hold your head high, Eva. You are a remarkable woman, who has shed light on a dark topic that too often is never discussed so openly. I know you will get through this with flying colours (as you have with everything in your life). This post will help many women, I know it.
    I had no idea what you were going through, and although I am as far away as it gets, please know you will be in my thoughts during the procedure and I will be following you as you recover, and reading with anticipation your continued 40 under 40 as it finishes in the new year. Good luck with everything Eva. You are a wonderful, strong woman, who I’m very proud to call my friend. – Kelley

  8. Thank-you Karin for your comment. I cannot believe all the responses to this post, both private and online. I feel grateful to have a way to talk to people going through similar situations and realize I am not alone in this.

    It sounds like things are going so good for you post-op and I can only hope that after this operation I feel the same. Thank-you for your encouraging words. And I will post- post surgery.
    Your comment on ‘replace’ him total hit home, and I do think once the chance passes us, we do have a rethink about our past choices. Not regret so much, but I have a deep desire for more children. My body just didn’t cooperate.

    Merci Karin!
    Eva x

  9. Thank you for writing this Eva. It is gard at no matter what age! mine was at 45 putting an rbd to ant hopes for a 2nd child. both sad and liberating after trying so long unsuccessfully with all the disappoinment that involved. I had to have full anasthesia since my uterus was so enlarged, but they did clean up the mess made during the caesarian i had. Took longer to recover but was necessary. Since then I had an emergency fallopian tube removal but all else is great. no sex problems, urinary infections increase w menopause and must be treated separately, i get immunization shots against them.
    The main psycologocal issue after the operation was fearing for my child’s life, that something would happen to him and I couldn’t “replace” him. Total nonsense you can’t replace anyone but the mind has a woman’s procreation view all its own.
    It all passes and you enter a new part of your life and it’s pretty awesome especially if you have such a great relationship.
    Bon courage Eva!
    Great hugs from afar

  10. Love reading your blogs 🙂 I was 24 when I had my partial done, uterus and cervix removed, I still have my ovaries, however, debating the removal of the right one once I finish nursing school. I don’t regret it one bit. My sex life is better because I can have sex whenever I like 🙂 I too would have heavy periods that required 4 super long pads and 8 super plus tampons in one shift of work. I would pass out from being dizzy. You are making the right choice. I wish I could be there for you my friend. Love and miss you xoxo, Kathy


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