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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Back on the Table

The Operating Room; and right in the middle, the table.

October 16th, 2015. Today is the day: I’m on my way to MGH to jump back on the table. This time for a full hysterectomy and oophorectomy.

Last weekend I rode 200 mile on my bike, knowing this operation was on the other side, and that rest and recovery would be about the extent of my physical activities for the next few weeks. The Tour de Pink was just as amazing, if not more so this year than last year. Despite my crash 42 miles into day one, I got back up on the bike and completed and full century (100 miles) the next day, and 55 miles the following day. My motivation was to take in each and ever moment, breathe as deeply as possible, and raise as hard and fast as I could.

This cycling swan song was akin to an advanced vinyasa practice and this upcoming surgery and recovery a long, long savasana.Uterus Art

I’m nervous.

The last time I was on the OR table I had both my breasts removed. I remember like it was yesterday, the cold hospital corridors, the revealingly, thin hospital Johnny, and the big clear plastic bags you’re asked to dump your personal belongings into. In the pre-op, you transition from person to patient and then patient to procedure. A nurse eventually comes into your holding area and starts an IV.

Eventually you’re moved from a wheelchair (even though your perfectly capable of walking) to a gurney, which immediately makes you want to simultaneously fall asleep and run away. Good byes to loved ones are said and then off you go. An anesthesiologist will introduce herself and start you on a sedative. You begin to feel disconnected from your body, your eyes start to float in their sockets, and it becomes increasingly difficult to hear the voices of the OR staff coaxing you to slide from the gurney over to the table.

The OR becomes a theater, and the doctors and nurses actors in a play.

You watch with distanced interest as the story unfolds and the air you breath sweetly thickens into darkness. There are a few final moments of awareness; someone puts an oxogen mask over your mouth and nose, a warm blanket over your chest and arms. You feel vulnerable, but cared for. You realize all of a sudden that YOU are the lead actor in the play, and unless it is Shakespeare, you will survive the final act.

Be In Love with Your Life

Every second counts.

Even these nervous seconds, minutes and hours leading up to this surgery. This challenge has brought some amazing people into my life, and brought me closer to others I never would have been friends with other wise. For that I am forever grateful. I have one Hell of a gynecological oncologist and the facility at MGH is the best in the world. It’s amazing to be in such good care.

Check-in is at 12 noon. Surgery is scheduled for 2pm. If all goes according to plan everything should be wrapped up by 4pm. I have to stay in the hospital overnight, and my mother and sister will be next door. We get to go home tomorrow. Quickly in, quickly out. And my mantra, as recommended by a dear friend and supporter will be “back on the bike”, “back on the bike”, “back on the bike.”

Many thanks for all the support, from all of you. And a big, grateful shout out to my friend Larisa Foreman and the Sue de Vries Cancer Foundation, for their kind donation – which will defray our travel costs to and from MGH this weekend.

Love,

Cait

the cancer club

Uterus by eReSaW

I thought that after they cut the port out of my chest, and the breast tissue out of my breasts, that it would be a long, long time before I had to go under the scalpel again. Hm…contrary to what I thought was the conclusion of my cancer story, this is not the case. As I’m starting to realize more and more, once you are part of the cancer club, you are a member for life.

Which is why after a suspicious pap, and a not-so-positive experience with a gynecologist on the Cape, I found back at the Cancer Center at Mass General Hospital a few days ago. If MGH’s Yawkee building is the cancer Club House, the 9th floor is like the Members Only area.  I can’t count how many times I’ve parked in the same parking garage, taken the same elevator up to the 9th floor, and hung a left to 9A. The only difference on Monday was that we turned right out of the elevator and went down the hall to 9E. I have to say, the breast cancer patients got the short end of the stick. The Gynecology Oncology waiting room is much nicer.

In any event, the reoccurring lesions on my cervix have given me reason to expand my oncology team. I now get to put my health in the hands of Dr. del Carmen, who’s got to be one of the coolest MDs I’ve ever met. And even though she put me through yet another uncomfortable exam, she made discussing the resection of yet another body part seem easy (well, easy-ish). She had clearly familiarized herself with my case, had already conferenced with both my breast surgeon and breast oncologist, and spoke to me with great care.

In about 5 more days we will have the pathology results we need to determine the type of hysterectomy I have to have and when I have to have it. If it looks like the unfriendly cells are quickly dividing, I will be looking at the inside of an O.R. this spring. If they are sluggish, I can put surgery off until the fall. Either way, I will soon be bidding my uterus adieu.

I’m not ready to write about the many feelings this prospect is stirring up, or the myriad of ways in which being a patient again is effecting my psyche. But I will. Eventually. For now, I’m trying my best to stay in the moment and recent win. Helen Keller said, “Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content”

Though it seems my members-only card has just been renewed, I realize now, it never really expired.

#nevergiveup