It's been a while since I've updated on either my breast reconstruction or my oophorectomy, but figured now is as good a time as any. I'm starting with my oophorectomy update, as it's been the most life changing. And since I'm sitting here getting reflexology, I'm nice and calm which puts me in a good mindset for this discussion.
Which One is Harder?
Everyone seems to think the breast reconstruction would be the harder of the two to go through. I'll give you this...surgery wise, yes, it's a complicated and long one. Immediate healing and recovery, yes, it takes months to feel healed. Long term effects...for me, no, the reconstruction was over and done. But I'm still in the thick of oophorectomy healing nine months later. The oophorectomy wins as being harder...physically and emotionally. The effects have been far more difficult for me to deal with on a day to day basis than the mastectomy.
I was very upfront in my previous posts about the oophorectomy preparation and the first couple weeks after the operation. But then I stopped writing. I was having a very hard time with all of the changes that were happening to me and didn't feel it was the right time to write through those emotions. But after time has passed, I'm realizing I might never feel like I used to, and it's time to accept it and let others know just in case someone else feels like I did...do.
I took extended leave to start. Originally, I requested a couple weeks, but when it was time to go back to work, I couldn't. I was having anxiety attacks, couldn't handle the hot flashes and my belly button wasn't healing. I extended my time off by another week, just to try and settle everything and deal with my emotions. With my mastectomy, I knew I had the 8-10 weeks I needed for healing, and truth be told, I was in Bali in week 6, so recovery was great. The first thing with the oophorectomy I had to acknowledge were the hot flashes, then I could figure out the other things happening in this new body of mine.
I'm going to do my best to explain how they feel, to me. For someone who has recently been told, in the last year, that I suffer from claustrophobia, the hot flashes actually made me feel trapped in a way, temporarily, and cause great anxiety. First, I feel nausea. Like I'm going to be sick. This is when my brain starts saying, "no, no, no," and I get uneasy. But after maybe 30-45 seconds, when my heart begins racing, I realize it's a hot flash coming. The nausea subsides and I start feeling this warmth radiating through my core, up and into my chest/arms/neck, then finally into the head. My body glistens and this lasts for about 3-5 minutes. I grab anything near me to fan myself through to the end. I don't feel any cold air around me, even if the AC is cranked and the fan is blowing on me. And then, it goes away. This happens 8-10 times during waking hours. I don't know why I even bother putting makeup on as I wipe it off with each dab of sweat with my Kleenex. My daughter once went to lie on my in the midst of a hot flash, and as soon as she put her head on me, she exclaimed, "mommy, you're hot!"
Other Side Effects
Another side effect of the surgery is the weight gain. I wasn't aware of this one. But I can't fit into any pants I wore pre-surgery. Nine months later, eating healthier and quitting alcohol consumption during the week, I still can't get into my pants. Luckily, we don't have winter here in Singapore, so I can live in my dresses and skirts, but honestly, nothing else has changed, so hormones are definitely to blame. It sounds petty to be so concerned about this after everything I've gone through, but it weighs in (no pun intended) in the back of my mind every morning I get dressed.
Skin elasticity, tone and increased overall skin pain is another strange side effect I'm dealing with. I noticed over the first few months after surgery that my skin gradually started losing it's shine and tone. It was looking more like my grandmother's skin than my own. And then massages started to hurt, both in the layers under the skin and on the surface. My skin was sensitive. Of course I still get massages, but I grimace through certain areas of my body being touched.
Sleep? I was the queen of sleeping, ask my husband. I could nap 2 hours then sleep a full 10 hours at night, no problem. I loved sleep. I could have married sleep. But almost immediately after surgery, I had lost the ability to fall asleep, let alone stay asleep. If I was lucky enough to fall asleep, the hot flashes would wake me instantly. So, I now take half a Unisom nightly just to get me through the night. Not a great way to live by any means, but a good night's sleep really is important for the body in so many ways.
Leg Cramps have been awful. I will just bend my toes slightly, and my foot goes into spasm. In bed, if I stretch too much, immediate cramping surges through my legs. I jump out of bed at night, walking around the dark room, silently wincing at the pain I'm going through so as not to wake up my husband.
Lastly, and it has to be discussed if we're going to be honest, is libido. It went out the window, never to return in the past 9 months since surgery. And not just libido, your body stops producing any sort of moisture at all. It sucks, and I'm not going to lie, be embarrassed nor sugarcoat this one. You must be fully aware that this might happen and you need to prepare your spouse or partner for the possibility. I don't think this is something easily discussed and it can really affect a woman's self-perception, as well as the relationship.
So, it's quite a list of things I now deal with on a daily basis. All this because I traded the uncertainty of my future for peace of mind that I'd be around for my kids. I don't regret that at all. But why grant myself this peace and longevity if it was going to leave me miserable? That's not right either. It's about quality of life and I want to enjoy mine. This leads me into the hot and often volatile topic of HRT.
About a month ago, I finally decided enough is enough. I was tired of menopause making me feel miserable, and quite frankly, old. I went to my team of doctors for help, and three out of four said HRT would be totally fine. They brought up research articles in the offices, they took my blood to check how I was doing since surgeries, they ran ultrasounds, did fat analysis, etc., and concluded...it was ok. I walked out of one doctor's office with my progesterone pill and estrogen cream and felt good about it.
However, that bag with the prescriptions has sat there untouched for the past month, haunting me. I was nervous. What if it was the wrong decision? Would everything I've done be reversed all in vain? I was listening to the devil on my shoulder as well as the many believers of the 'no HRT' camp, telling me not to do it. But what about the other camp? You've got to read both books and make an educated decision.
A month later, yesterday, I had yet another appointment and this time, I got clarity. The most recent article shown to me being from August 2016, approving HRT to people like me...no cancer history but BRCA+. I just had to dive in and make a decision. So, tonight I did it. I took my first pill and my dose of estrogen cream. It feels weird to make this decision, but I'm also hoping and praying for the best. I know I'll always have nay-sayers, but who doesn't? No one can really tell me what's best for me, but me.
Ongoing Journal Updates
- Three days after starting HRT, I noticed my hot flashes were getting better. I went from 8-10 a day, to around 5.
- Five days after starting HRT, my legs cramps are gone. I can stretch to my hearts content without spasms.
- Six days later, I'm an emotional wreck. I fear this one because I have to be very careful that I'm not slipping into depression. Everything is making me cry and I'm feeling quite alone. I know this is the hormones, because for the last 9 months, I've barely shed a tear since the estrogen was removed from my body.