Over Here: Hysterectomy, Oophorectomy and Menopause

Caitlin Marcoux, Hysterectomy. Surgical Menopause. Yoga

Me in pre-op room, preparing for  my Hysterectomy. Mass General Hosptial, October 16th, 2016.

Well hello Menopause! Here I am.

I’m 39 years old. And I’ll never had to worry about getting pregnant again.

I don’t have to worry about unexpected spotting, a period catching me off guard and ruining my clothes, or getting in the way of sex. Unless I get lost, I’ll never have to walk down the feminine hygiene isle in the grocery store, feeling slightly embarrassed of my purchases. Nope, not any more.

These I suppose are the silver linings of cervical cancer and surgical menopause.

On October 16th, 2015 I went to Boston for the hundredth, thousandth, or millionth time in 3 years, for yet another surgery, and surrendered my entire reproductive system. Out came my cervix, my uterus, my fallopian tubes and my ovaries. As I’ve told my son ever time he asks for a brother or sister, Mommy has no more baby making parts and she is now in full blown menopause.

The surgery was fairly easy – amazing what can be done laparoscopically now with robotic arms, and left me only with 4 small scars on my abdomen and a tremendous amount of bloating. The hardest part was coming off the anesthesia, which as soon as I woke up, caused constant vomiting. Even after I was discharged from the hospital the next day, I threw up every single time I tried to eat for about 2 weeks. Eventually I the drugs moved out of my system, and after a couple weeks of Hell, I started to feel “normal” again.

Except for the fact that a huge part of my body was missing. 6 weeks of rest had been prescribed by my medial oncology team, including strict instructions not to ride my bike, or practice vigerous yoga, go up-side-down or do anything that would engage my core. Let me ask you this; what activity doesn’t engage your core?

So there I was from October 16th thru the end of November, not being able to navigate this huge change in my body without the tools I had used to get through breast cancer. Those of you who have followed my cancer diary might remember that even when I was getting chemo, I still managed to find a way to practice. It was, and still is, one the most important tools in my tool box. Anyway, I was stuck in my house (not allowed to drive) and feeling very alone, and very sad, and very angry. All this anger I had managed to push out of my mind so as to deal with chemo, and mastectomy and survival, came bubbling to the surface. The hysterectomy triggered all kinds of PTSD left over from breast cancer and I found myself in a very, very dark place. Between the vomiting, two trips to my local ER to get IV fluids, and hours and hours spent alone feeling toxically depressed, I actually began to have suicidal thoughts. Too ashamed to call my friends – who had all been through my battle with breast cancer with me, I wallowed in isolation.

In our sleep, pain, which cannot forget,

falls drop by drop upon the heart,

until, in our own despair, against our will

comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

~Asechulus

Laproscopic incision sites, 1 day post-op.

Tidal waves of grief washed over me as the realization that no matter what relationship I was in, I would never again be able to host another spirit inside my womb.

Despite the fact that my then partner had never wanted to have a child with me, part of me had secretly held out the hope that one day it might happen. Now that chance is nil. Looking back at on the situation now, I’ve realized that I have been angry at him, for quite some time, for allowing me to miss what was my small window of fertility. Obviously the onus is ultimately on me, since I chose to get involved with someone who’s mind had already been made up. At this point the resentment is no longer relevant as neither is the relationship.

At some point, in November, I think, I was in the bathroom, looking to replace toilet tissue on the wall. I dug around under the sink to find some, when I was hit hard by the sight of a full box of tampons. Hot tears exploded from my eyes. My body began to shake. Uncontrollable sobs jerked their way up my throat and out into empty house, ringing only in my own sensitive ear drums. The realization that I would never again need these supplies devastated me all at once. The box is still there. I haven’t been able to get ride of it.

It’s ironic, since most of my life I felt either ashamed of, inconvenienced by, or anxious about my period, and now I miss it. Looking back on the chronology of all these events, I wish I had made some time to acknowledge my last and final period. A few of my girlfriends and I had a small beautiful ceremony a few days before my surgery, in which we acknowledged the upcoming shift, but I was not present with myself the last time I actually menstruated. Like so many things we have until they are gone, I took it for granted.

Healing after hysterectomy. Caitlin Marcoux, Cancer Jedi, Yoga TeacherI was 10 and in middle school, the first time I got my period. Now, math has never been my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure that means that I’ve been in this flow for 29 years. Which means that the relationship I’ve had with my cycle is the longest one I’ve had. That means I’ve spent more time being a fertile women than not. I’ve always connected my sense of power and creativity with my fertility, and it comes as no surprise that the energetic area, or chakra, of the body that corresponds to the reproductive system, is Svadhisthana, the second chakra of our subtle body. Svadhistahana correlates to ones creative sexual fire and relates to our experience of creativity, sexuality, and the cultivation of prosperity and growth. This is a part of my body that saw some trauma in my early childhood. It is also a part of me that I have worked diligently to bring in to balance.

My hysterectomy has redefined my sense of self all over again.

It’s been a process, over these past few months, trying to figure out what that means. I’ve had to let the anger and grief move through me, both with guides and on my own. And I’ve turned to my teacher Shiva Rea, who’s rhythmic approach to vinyasa yoga honors the energetic systems of the body and celebrates the chakras in a non-liner or non-literal way. With her support, I’ve been able to accept these changes, and see that my womanhood is not only physical, but meta-physical and spiritual and so much more than a circuitry of tissue, blood and organs.

Women, we are not some combination of parts: of breasts and womb, but so much, much more. And my thoughts to anyone out there reading this, getting ready to set out on a journey such as mine, is to ACKNOWLEDGE how hard, and sad, and significant a loss it is. Don’t let anyone tell you that hysterectomy and Surgical Menopause is no big deal, because it really, truly is. To truly be with that experience while you’re in it. To feel it, not numb it. So that then you can move through it, and reclaim your innate femininity when the time is right.  Just like ever veteran is still a warrior even if he returns from war without an arm or a leg, every hysterectomy and breast cancer survivor can be a creative and powerful goddess.

Learn the alchemy

true human beings know,

The moment you accept

what troubles you’ve been given,

the door will open.

~Rumi

The loss of fertility is one thing, menopause before your time, is quite another.

It is a major, life changing event not to be played down. Sadly our culture doesn’t talk about menopause nearly as much as it should, but it is just a big of a hormonal and emotional change as puberty. Now I’m not suggesting that we allow women who are going to menopause to behave badly, but I am suggesting that we extend them a nurturing hand, be sensitive to their changing needs, and to acknowledge them. It has been my experience that when people are in flux such as this, or struggling with a private challenge, all the really want is to be seen. To be seen, listened to and maybe to be held. That was all I wanted.

Moving forward, I have found my fertility again in my yoga practice, in my work, and in the eyes of the little girls who take my Strong Girls Yoga classes with me on Sundays. I see my feminine prowess reflected back to me in their faces, and my fertility in their bodies every time the learn a new pose that makes them feel empowered. Then there is Griffin, by beautiful six-year old, for whom I feel so very very grateful. Tending to his needs and the development of his spirit is the ultimate expression of my femininity, the very epitome of motherhood.

The practice of gratitude is always fruitful. It may sound cliche but my girlfriend and co-teacher, Ieva and I have been making daily gratitude lists. It’s a beautiful and grounding way to being and end ones day. Life will continue to have its ups and downs, but we can grow that which we put our focus on – so write a list. What do you want to cultivate? Maybe it’s a deeper sense of femininity, maybe it’s abundance, or love. Whatever it is, look at the many ways, even if they’re small, that these things are already circulating around you. Be grateful.

Lastly, if you’re really missing your ovaries and uterus, you can order this panties… 😉

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