Written by Shelley Silas

Health

The curative powers of a walk in the park

Having a hysterectomy doesn’t have to be horrible. Shelley Silas shares her experience. And makes a strong case for a good pair of trainers.

balancing act - mind those abs

Illustrations by Harriet Carmichael.

Now in my mid-50s, having my uterus removed wasn’t cause for great emotion. Becoming an older primigravida wasn’t on our list of to-dos.

We tried to have children; I miscarried, and my wife became infertile due to chemotherapy. Ours is a full and mostly content life, neither better nor worse for not having children. It is a life as valid as any other. All the usual things come our way; illness, death, no work, lots of work, excitement, stress, worry, fear of just about everything. There are many children around; hopefully they know how important they are to us.

When I discovered I had a fibroid, I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t causing me pain and the medics were not concerned, but when it started growing and my stomach was constantly puffy, I knew the time had come to discuss surgery, which also meant considering a hysterectomy, which also meant I could never have a child; not that I wanted one at my age, but with a uterus and ovaries, the possibility was still there.

That was in July 2015. After a few tests, I had the luxury of the NHS asking me when I would like the operation. I opted for the autumn. I didn’t want to be stuck at home during the summer; being unable to drive or exercise for six weeks would be hard enough.

I also had my mother to consider. With a pacemaker being fitted so that she could have her cataract operation, my timing had to be precise. First her heart, then my uterus, then her eyes. Everything had been planned. I would go in for surgery at the end of October.

As I do with most things, I researched my operation and recovery, read about others’ experiences and what I might expect to feel. Every website I looked at, and every woman I spoke to – except for one friend – gave a totally negative outcome.

Extreme tiredness, constant pain for months afterwards, the inability to walk properly or stand up straight. The list was endless.

I should state now that I know everyone is different and everyone’s recovery is individual. I work at home, so travel would not be an issue and I had a marvellous wife to care for me. I know this. I also know that as a freelancer I cannot take sick leave and receive sick pay.

“I have a scar, but hey, I never thought I’d have anything in common with women who’d had a C-section!”

In the months prior to surgery, I prepared myself. No keyhole surgery for me: with a 14cm fibroma (benign tumour, very common), the only way to remove it was via abdominal surgery. I work hard on my abs; while I am content with the rest of my body, my abs never quite live up to my workouts.

I exercised more than usual, because I believed if I were fit to start with, my recovery would be swifter. I’ve always been quite fit, but for the past four years, since a bad back encouraged me to take up Pilates, exercise has become a major part of my life.

I go to the gym two or three times a week, swim when I can, do regular Pilates and yoga classes and walk as much as possible. Why? Because it makes me feel fantastic. I can count on exercise to give me a boost of energy and enthusiasm and bring me out of my down days.

Post-surgery, as expected, I had pain – excruciating when I coughed, sneezed or laughed – and I found it hard to straighten myself. Two days after surgery I was sent home with paracetamol and walked slowly from the hospital up the hill to the car.

The next day we went for a walk in the park; not far, but it felt good. I did as I was told, didn’t exercise for six weeks, certainly not my usual full-on regime. We had asked a nurse whether a physio would be coming to see me; her response: “What do you want a physio for?” Stella showed her a post-hysterectomy exercise sheet from Hillingdon NHS. The nurse copied the link.

I started those exercises the day after my surgery, simple and few but it was better than doing nothing and I know my body well enough not to overdo it. I used my strong legs and arms to compensate for my abs, which I was very careful not to strain.

I filled the kettle with as much water as I needed because everyone said do not even lift a full kettle. I walked up and down the stairs slowly at first, but before long was back to my usual energetic step. Everyone was amazed: “You’re walking up stairs?”

happy walkerI walked as much as I could, gradually making it the whole way around the park. I walked to my follow-up appointment. On week four, I was driving, because I could, not because I had to. I was careful and cautious.

Exactly six weeks after surgery I was in the gym and back at classes. I took it easy, slowly, building up to my usual routine. I felt alive.

Now, two and a half months on, I have more energy than ever, I am fitter, feel better, and my puffy stomach is almost flat. I have a scar, but hey, I never thought I’d have anything in common with women who’d had a C-section!

I honestly believe if I hadn’t been so fit, I may well have fallen into one or all of those categories – lacklustre, suffering constant fatigue, depression etc.

It doesn’t cost a lot to get fit. A pair of good shoes or trainers and you can walk, 20 mins a day or step in your own front room. I tried to walk every day for six weeks before I could start exercising again. It cost me nothing.

I’m not noble or lucky and I don’t find exercise easy. It doesn’t happen by dreaming it or wanting it; it happens by doing it.

If we take responsibility for our bodies and health (as much as we can), in the same way we expect the medics to take responsibility, we may well save the NHS money and save the NHS. Definitely worth a walk in the park.

@shelleysilas

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Written by Shelley Silas

Shelley writes for radio, theatre and TV and is developing everything she possibly can for radio, theatre and TV. She is a cold-water swimmer (no wetsuit), plays the ukulele (doesn’t everybody?) and loves technology (iWatch anyone?).