Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thoughts from the Other Side

Saying I'm writing from the other side of menopause sounds very dramatic, but since that's what I'm doing, I'm going to use it to my advantage.  At least before I admit the real truth, which is the only drama accompaning my trip to menopause took place in my head.  But until last Thursday, my first full day in menopause, dramatic was how it all seemed.

Immediate, abrupt, final.  All kinds of serious adjectives were blurring my expectations of ovary removal when in actuality, I didn't seem any different from the day before.  I didn't feel any of the symptoms instantaneous menopause would supposedly bestow on me.  I didn't experience any of the changes I had envisioned for myself.

Contrary to popular opinion, my hormones were not running around wreaking havoc.  No anxiety, sadness or moments of craziness.  My emotions seemed in check, like always.  And as I tried to pinpoint anything that seemed out of sorts, the one unexpected feeling that kept emerging was relief.  A strong sense of relief that this ordeal was over.  I happily discovered I still felt like me. I wasn't sweaty and I didn't feel "old."  However, that may feel, I wasn't getting it.

Many thoughts contributed to my mood the days leading up to surgery.  I felt sad then, but I fought the emotion.  I questioned it, but didn't truly allow myself to grieve for this latest loss.  For that's what ovary removal is, a loss and for me, it was losing a perception of my younger self.  Still, I refused to give in to it.  Instead I wondered why my bilateral mastectomy was easier to accept. Why didn't I mourn that loss?  Was it because that needed to be done?

I know everyone is different.  We all reach acceptance of our choices on our own terms and my choice of bilateral mastectomy over lumpectomy was the way to go.  It allowed me the most peace of mind.  It was the only decision I could make that granted me the gift of waking each new day without regret.

It was my choice, I accepted it and I was ready for the day to became a reality, so why did giving up my ovaries take a larger mental toll?

Perhaps, because the ovaries weren't the definitive source of cancer, its problems consist of "maybe" and what might be.  I was giving up a great deal for a "maybe."  Perhaps it's because the notion of ovaries inspires our view of fertility, of motherhood and when we take that away, we're left with an unfamilar old woman.  I was giving up an idea of who I was.  Was my identity tied tighter to my ovaries than to my breasts?  And just how much are we supposed to give up, anyway?

I was haunted by these questions, seriously disturbed by thoughts of post-surgery personality.  How was I to be?  What was I really losing here?  No wonder I was sad.  That's a lot of crap to carry around.  The morning after proved I hadn't changed when I woke feeling as I always do.  I hadn't really lost anything at all, except the thing I wanted to lose...estrogen.  Other than that, I was the same, only now I had a lot less on my mind.  Which is a good thing, because apparently when you're in menopause, you can lose track of your thoughts.  At least that's what they tell me.


Have you chosen to remove your ovaries?  Did you see it as a great loss?


12 comments:

  1. Stacey, I'm sure you feel the healing already now that you are on the other side of this. I love your attitude that you haven't really lost anything at all except the estrogen. I haven't had to have my ovaries removed, but I did have to take an anti-estrogen pill (Arimidex) for six years. It definitely reduced my estrogen levels, which is a good thing. Psychologically I feel as if I did everything I possibly could to beat this cancer. I hope you feel that way too as time goes by and this becomes just a distant memory.
    Take good care.

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  2. I am so happy you are doing well! You crossed over the bridge and everything is basically like the other side!
    I had my ovaries removed in my early thirties and based on the discovery of breast cancer after the hysterectomy, I'm glad I did. They would have had to come out anyway. My sis just had a hysterectomy and I was, frankly, a little bewildered when I heard she decided to keep the ovaries....
    Keep up the great recovery Stacey!

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  3. Glad to hear the surgery went well and you are in good spirits! XOXO

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  4. My experience is the opposite of yours. I had ovarian cancer so had no choice about the ovaries. I had a harder time with the breasts-- especially as there was less data about how much risk I'd be reducing. As it turned out, even though I was scheduled for a mastectomy, I was diagnosed with breast cancer first so, again, had the choice taken away.

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  5. Sounds like you are recovering well Stacey. I hope you continue to feel more like yourself and less like a person who is losing parts of herself. You are choosing to keep yourself whole in the best ways for you. That takes a lot of work.

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  6. That sense of losing ovaries and connecting it to loss of younger self is something I also felt Stacey. However, like you I was able to balance that with it being the 'best' option for me and I don't regret it. I actually felt relieved the morning after surgery (now over three years ago). I hope you continue to recover well and remain in good spirits. Sarah

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  7. I'm glad you are feeling so great! My doctors haven't suggested that I remove my ovaries, and I would probably have a hysterectomy as well, since I took Tamoxifen for five years and so have an increased risk of uterine cancer. I've also had difficulties with uterine fibroids. My mom had a hysterectomy and her ovaries removed when she was my age, and she told me never to do it! Menopause hit her hard.

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  8. Hi everybody, thanks for coming along this latest journey with me. I'm feeling pretty good about everything, mostly as I said in the post, relief that it's over and happy for the choice I made. One less thing to wonder and worry about. I want to thank you all for your comments. As always, you help to make all this a bit easier to deal with. We're not alone here.

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  9. I definitely felt like removing my ovaries was something that I had to do. I did struggle with it for some time, removing one first in an attempt at experimental fertility preservation prior to starting chemotherapy and then the other a couple of years later when I experienced a recurrence. The one issue that I still struggle with is that the "choice" wasn't really a choice at all, but a decision that was forced on me by bad genetics and dumb medical luck. Who knows whether I would have had children if the cancer hadn't interrupted my life. But it would have been nice to have come to that decision on my own terms, in my own time, without feeling like my ovaries were just a ticking time bomb. That's what I still think about.

    I'm glad you're through this next step. Don't be surprised if you see gradual changes in the next few months like hot flashes and moodiness, but for me anyway, those side effects have passed with time. In any event your Sherpa's will be here to carry your pack if you need it.

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  10. Stacey, This post really hits home for me. I just scheduled my surgery for next month. I know what you mean about this being almost harder than the breasts. I felt I had no choice there, but here I'm removing those "maybes." Ultimately, I just want to do everything I can to prevent recurrence, so I am doing the ovaries and the hysterectomy as well. I'm sure I have a blog post or two coming on this! You are right, we grieve for each body part we lose. Thanks for sharing about this topic that in some ways feels even more "emotionally intimate" for me. I know you understand, as do many others. Im glad you are feeling so much better about things.

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  11. Hi Ginny, I also take Tamoxifen, for about a year and half now. My oncologist tells me the risks of uterine cancer with Tamoxifen are still very low. I'm counting on him being right, since I took his advice to keep the uterus. So many thoughts.

    Anna, thanks for sharing your experience with this. This whole "choice" thing just sucks. Yeah, in some cases it's not a choice at all, which sucks even more. The Sherpas are here for you, too, and moodiness? That's not new. :-)

    Hi Nancy, I know what a huge decison this is for you. I understand how you came about it and think you're doing the right thing. I look forward to your posts and hope it all goes smoothly. As Anna says, the sherpas are here.

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  12. Hi, Stacey, my oncologist has told me the same thing about Tamoxifen, but I still worry! :) I took it for five years.

    I came by for another reason; a blogger I follow wants to do a prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction. She would love to hear from someone who has done this, and while you had breast cancer and she doesn't, I thought maybe you could help. Her website is: www.notasparrowfalls.com.

    Thanks!

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