Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wandering Uterus? (Another Great Name for a Band.)

The ancient Egyptians believed that psychiatric disorders in women were caused by a "wandering uterus." Interfering with her other organs, the uterus would produce what the Greeks subsequently termed as "hysteria" in the woman's mind. Later, Greeks would come to believe that hysteria could only be cured by the woman inhaling strong-smelling herbs or substances to "drive" the uterus back into it's proper place. Nowadays, "hysteria" is meant to refer to any physiological symptoms that probably are the result of psychological processes in both males and females.

Naturally, modern medicine rejects the idea that the uterus "wanders" anywhere but still, it holds a unique place in women's anatomy as being one of the major components that separate women from men. It's where we grow our babies. It's from where we shed our menses for upwards of 40 consecutive years on a monthly basis. It regulates a bunch of our female hormones. It's part of what makes us uniquely female.

So what's one left to think about when faced with having to have a vital organ like the uterus removed? A wave of conflicting emotions, that's for sure. On the one hand, the argument is cheered upon, as it means the woman no longer will have to deal with a monthly period, which, guys, gets really old really fast after the onset at adolescence novelty wears off. It's a costly pain in the ass (or thereabouts) that is accompanied by erratic waves of emotions and hormone fluctuations. It's especially annoying the closer your edge towards menopause, when bleeding becomes more irregular--I was getting 3 periods a month, leaving me with only one week's grace per month--and thus, the onset of natural menopause is frequently something a woman sort of looks forward to, the hot flashes notwithstanding.

When it happens *naturally,* note. So, like not when you're 39, like me.

On the other hand, some might say it's tantamount to a man being castrated. Sure, female sex organs aren't all external--the uterus can't be seen by passersby. You can't tell, by looking at a group of women, who has a uterus and who doesn't. But it's still an essential part of womanhood.

And while my fair uterus has served me well, providing for me the greatest miracle my body ever produced--my son--it's time the organ and I parted ways.

My OB/GYN must have asked me a dozen times, "Andrea, are you SURE you're done having kids?" and yes, I was sure. I was done after Luke was born; my body just didn't know it yet. I miscarried before Luke, was lucky enough to have Luke, and could have no subsequent offspring, even with the aid of fertility drugs, after Luke.

I'm facing a hysterectomy dead in the face right now. If I elect not to have the surgery, within 6 months to a year, I will have full-blown uterine cancer, which would NOT be cool. It's an aggressive but slow-growing cancer, and my cells, as I asked my doctor to stage them, are at a stage 3 of 5. But as I understand it, it's one of the, in the annals of cancers to get, best cancers you can get because it's largely self-contained to the uterus. It typically doesn't travel to other parts of the body, such as thy lymph nodes. But already having had cervical issues and a good chunk of that body part removed, I'm more than a little apprehensive about finding out that I have yet more "girl-area" problems.

I'm taking a huge risk to my health waiting until the planned date of the operation, which is May 14th, because I was determined to finish my Abnormal Psychology class prerequisite for my doctorate program. I didn't want to be yet another semester behind in school, though everyone tells me I should put my health before my education. Yet they go hand-in-hand. The sooner I an earn my PsyD, the healthier I believe I will become overall. I'm not working, so the thought of sitting home going literally mental is not terribly appealing. That being said, Abnormal Psych will be a challenging class--just based on the amount of material we need to cover during the course of the semester and all the projects/assignments the professor threw into her 13-page syllabus. ("...I haven't got time for the pain....")

The doctor seemed okay with me waiting 4 months to have the hysterectomy, but definitely no longer than that. She wanted to do it now, and I had to make a case for waiting. Others in the know advised me to have the surgery right away and I, quite honestly, don't know what to do. I'd like to get a second opinion of either another OB/GYN or an oncologist, to see what he/she might have to say about waiting versus having the surgery now, and what my ultimate safety will be if I decide to hang on until Spring; specifically, a week after I turn 40. I better have one humdinger of a freaking birthday party because the FUN. IS. OVER. on the 14th of May.

As I've mentioned previously, my OB/GYN isn't optimistic that she'll be able to do the hysterectomy laprascopically, which would only require a 2-week recovery period. There is such a build-up of adhesions and scar tissue from my c-section with Luke 12 years ago, that she fears she'll have to re-open the c-section scar, dig around and *find* my uterus to remove, which carries with it a 4-6 week recovery time, during which you can do nothing--no driving, no shopping, no taking care of your kid, no cooking, no laundry, zip. Zilch. Zero. (Had I still been working, I'd have to take an unpaid medical leave, after which they'd have to give me my job back, but alas, that's all unnecessary now.)

All things considered, I'd rather recuperate from surgery in May, when at least I can go outside and get some fresh air amid my loafing around; whereas, if I elect to have the surgery now, thought safe(er), it's not a good time of the year to be cooped up in the house for upwards of a month. I've already forewarned my band that they'll be without a drummer for most of half of May and all of June. Craig is on-board to help out with Luke, who will be wrapping up his school year and out of extra-curricular activities by the middle of May, so that's good. And school for me wraps up on May 11th, so mazel tov.

The other big question is whether or not it's a sound idea to leave the ovaries in or to have them removed as well. I just like the name of that operation: an oophorectomy. Leaving the ovaries intact will allow me to go through menopause when my body's good and ready, which could be anywhere from 10-15 years from now. Having them proactively removed would cut the chance of developing ovarian cancer, which is often found too late, and would liken me to the body of a 55-year old woman. I'd need to take estrogen replacement therapy, which carries a whole other set of risks/complications not limited to illnesses such as breast cancer. I've been told that if the bad cells are confined to the uterus, I will not need either chemo or radiation after the hysterectomy, depending on what the pathology finds once they do the hysterectomy. So that's a bright side, at least.

So there are a lot of conflicting feelings going on here for me. 1) Keep the uterus and die of cancer? 2) Get rid of the uterus, live, but develop ovarian cancer and die? 3) Remove both the uterus and ovaries and be totally stripped of my womanhood but live? I don't know how to feel about any of those choices and it seems the key men in my life with whom I'd like to talk about the whole thing are being awfully tight-lipped, which is frustrating, especially the one from whom I want an educated medical opinion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Miss Thang I,
I'm back in town, after attending my aunt's funeral, and just now catching up.

Why not simply have 1 (not both) ovary removed? That would eliminate 50% of ovarian cancer risk, and let you slide into menopause a bit easier, IMHO. Surgical menopause is typically abrupt and miserable.

Miss Thang II