I haven’t written anything on the blog in a while so I went back to review previous topics and works-in-progress. I discovered that I never completed the follow-up on hysterectomy recovery and the results of getting back into my fitness routine after surgery. If you need a refresher on what lead up to this, read this and this. And here where I talked about plans for recovery but didn't completely follow my own advice.
Let's go all the way back to 2020. Yes, the year that lives on in infamy. On January 30th, I was given the "green light" to resume normal activities after a hysterectomy on November 26, 2019. Recovery had been more challenging than I expected; I was SO ready to get back to teaching classes, lifting weights, and doing all the things I had been restricted from doing (well, except vacuuming). I had goals in 2020 for my business and my fitness and I was ready to get to work! Of course, surprises lay ahead…and none of them were good.
The plan was to start slow AND get started as soon as possible! I did a 20-minute at-home circuit using light dumbbells. Felt good! I took a 30-minute Jazzercise class, keeping it low-impact and moderate intensity. I immediately noticed that my pelvic floor felt weird and that I was not anywhere near ready for jumping. Even so, I was so happy to be able to move my body more freely again. Here's where I probably tipped the scales in the wrong direction: I participated in a team taught Superbowl-themed Jazzercise class and we took the dogs to the park for a walk because it was a rare warm, sunny February afternoon. I was utterly exhausted.
On Monday, I returned to the stage at Springfield East Jazzercise to teach a low-impact class. That afternoon, I developed a terrible headache during my CPR re-certification course. The next day, I had a pain in my left side that I assumed was from exercising. I was also so tired I couldn’t think straight. A day later, a rash started to appear on my left side and the pain intensified. By Thursday, it had started to spread from belly button to spine. A late-night Google search revealed that it was likely shingles. A trip to urgent care on Friday morning confirmed it. That night the pain brought me to my knees. It was like nothing I had felt previously...it was as if my ribcage and side were being crushed while simultaneously being burned and poked with needles.
So, if you are following, I was released on Jan 30th and developed full blown shingles on February 7th. Back into recovery mode and it had only been one week! Having shingles was the single most painful experience of my life. The appearance of my rash was textbook shingles ...here's my torso the day after being diagnosed. It still makes me shudder! If you ever get a headache and painful rash on one side of your body, get to the doctor immediately. Antivirals and prevent permanent nerve damage (my skin felt weirdly itchy on and off for over a year after this).
Lesson #1 After any significant surgery, illness, or other medically-induced absence from strenuous physical activity – do not proceed as if you have a green light even if the doctor says the exact words “green light”! Pretend you have a flashing yellow light. Use caution. Go slower than you think you need to for that first 4-6 weeks. I knew I was still recovering. I promised myself I’d ease back into it…and promptly did the opposite without fully realizing it! It’s very easy to over-do it at first. In hindsight, I’d have created a specific plan that slowly increased duration, then frequency, then intensity over time.
After a couple of weeks of being in agony due to shingles, my skin finally started to heal and I was able to return to teaching classes and seeing clients in late February. This time I’d do it right! But wait…little did I know that there’s about to be a worldwide pandemic! In mid-March, the studio was shut down and we were under a stay-at-home order due to the uncertainties around COVID-19. While stressful and scary, the stay-at-home order forced me to ease into teaching classes more slowly. From mid-March through April, I was able to work my way back to higher intensity exercise. I taught a few classes per week via live-streaming from home. I also started using light weights more consistently to build back to where I was. In May, we returned to the studio with new procedures and policies in place. By then, I felt more a little more like myself in terms of endurance.
Throughout the summer, I worked on building strength, especially core strength. It was hard to feel weak and took weeks of consistent work to notice improvements. Now, I’m stronger than I was pre-surgery. I have a lot more energy and a lot less pain. I also have a bit more body fat which I’m okay with because I think it’s contributing to better energy levels. However, I also discovered significant cyclical symptoms and pain could still occur. Hysterectomy is not a cure for endometriosis (this I knew) but I was surprised to feel the extent symptoms that occurred…um, was my uterus really gone?
Lesson #2 Hysterectomy may not resolve all pelvic or abdominal pain. Cyclical pain can continue as long as there’s a functioning ovary, especially if you have endometriosis since it is difficult to fully remove all disease. A few months after surgery, I started experiencing significant cramping, back pain and digestive issues occasionally. It was not nearly as excruciating as prior to surgery, thank goodness. It doesn’t happen every month but I definitely know when it does. Surgery can also exacerbate previously existing issues. My bladder has always been a bit ridiculous. I’m the friend that always has to pee. I go 2-3 times more often than a lot of the women I know. Bladder sensitivity has increased, especially the days in which my cycle would be taking place. I have to watch caffeine intake even more closely now than I did pre-surgery.
Now that it’s been over 2 and a half years since surgery, I can honestly say that it was worth it since I could have had 8-10 more years of increasingly excruciating, life-disrupting periods. My left ovary appears to still be functioning but it’s on the way out… I am in perimenopause. I’ve started experiencing hot flashes, bouts of anxiety, occasional insomnia, brain fog, changes to my appetite, wild mood swings, etc. However, I’m not worried. I’m currently investigating how to thrive during this part of my life.
Lesson #3 No matter what happens, you’ve got to take ownership of your health and well-being. No one is gonna figure it out for you. You can find support and guidance but you still have to do the work. Right now, I want to learn what I can about the changes taking place and how to best manage them. My body is sending cues and if I pay attention, I can learn a bit about what to do and what not to do to feel my best. Foundational habits related to hydration, sleep, strength training, cardiovascular training, and dietary choices will become even more important. So will ignoring the voice that inevitability will say “I don't feel like doing that.”
I’m glad that perimenopause and menopause is becoming more mainstream and it’s not such a taboo topic. It’s important for us to share our experiences. A lot of what women go through may be normal but it doesn’t mean we have to suffer in silence. There are options out there to help. As I investigate and learn more about what to expect and ways to mitigate symptoms, I will be sharing them here on the blog. I already know that several habits I have in place will serve me well including prioritizing sleep (and looking to correct issues as they arise) and consistent strength training.
If you are a women in your late 30s to early 50s, and have found particularly helpful resources in relation to perimenopause, share them below. Also, if you haven't yet started a consistent training program, NOW is the time! (I can help if you are local!)
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