Tuesday, 24 February 2015

A fifth operation and permanent menopause

Number of days since surgery: 13
Pain level: manageable
Mood: relieved!

It's been quite a while since I last wrote but, as usual, plenty has happened! I've been put into chemical menopause, taken out of chemical menopause, put back into chemical menopause again and now I'm recovering from yet more major surgery. And I'm finally in permanent menopause.

Last April, as an attempt to control the high level of pain I was having, my oncology surgeon put me on a course of Prostap injections (you can read more about this in my previous blog post). His thinking was that by temporarily shutting down my remaining ovary he could see whether or not it was that causing all the pain. I had a course of six injections, which were given one every 28 days, and boy did they come with some hideous side effects. I was all prepared for the hot flushes (although let me say that night sweats in the middle of summer are particularly grim) but I wasn't as prepared for the migraines, exhaustion and flu symptoms that also came with it. Fortunately, these improved massively after three months, which is a good job because I'd really had enough and was practically at the point of stopping the injections by then. The really good part though was that by the fourth injection my pain levels started to hugely improve. I started feeling human again and got my energy levels back, running around with my gorgeous girls and feeling, well, normal.

At the end of the six months I went back to see my oncology surgeon, who said that to be absolutely certain the pain was stemming from my ovary I needed to come off the Prostap injections and see what happened. Although I understood his thinking, the thought of going back to being in pain again didn't exactly thrill me. I tried to hope that somehow the injections would have sorted everything but I knew how ridiculously unlikely that was. And sure enough, within six weeks the pain returned. I wasn't due to go back for a follow up appointment with my surgeon for four months but after ten weeks off the injections I knew I wouldn't be able to carry on that long, and after speaking to my oncology nurse I went back to see him. The outcome was predictable: the only course of action left was to operate to remove my remaining ovary.

Now, for as long as I've been dealing with ovarian cancer and its side effects, I've known this day was coming. The day when they would strip everything out and put me into permanent menopause. It almost happened 18 months ago when I had an emergency hysterectomy, but the surgeon then chose to leave my left ovary and fallopian tube in place so that I didn't go through the menopause at too young an age (I was 33 at the time of the surgery). This time I'd reached the end of the road in terms of my options. My oncology surgeon recommended I went back on the Prostap injections immediately, along with a very low level of Climaval HRT tablets to control the menopausal symptoms. Then at the start of this year I had an MRI scan to check for abnormalities (which thankfully came back clear) before going into surgery on 11th February - almost exactly nine years to the day that I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Before going into theatre I was warned the surgery was likely to be complex because it was my fifth major abdominal surgery. I drifted off into an anaesthetic-induced sleep not quite sure of what I was going to wake up to. When I came round I found the operation had been successful and not quite as complicated as my surgeon was fearing. It turned out the ovary had become trapped between the main artery running into your leg and my kidney, hence all the pain I'd been experiencing. Happily, they were able to remove it, along with the remaining fallopian tube, some adhesions and some endometriosis. I spent five days in hospital, during which time I had bleeding from the wound and had to be openly stitched on the ward with two nurses holding up a blanket so I couldn't see what the surgeon was doing - not a very nice experience! But now I'm home and have finally had all the staples and stitches removed. I've got a long up-down incision this time, from belly button to pubic bone, which means I now sport three large scars (my other two are horizontal lower abdominal incisions). My abdomen is slowly turning into a patchwork quilt!

Aside from feeling menopausal (of which I've only had the occasional hot flush so far), I've been surprised by how I've felt after this surgery: battered about - yes; exhausted - yes; sore - yes; but overwhelmingly I've felt relieved. I've realised today that I feel FREE! I'm finally rid of the very thing I've been fearing might be the cause of another cancer recurrence, and I've had all the gynae organs that it's possible to remove taken out. I feel like I'm done. At this moment I'm really hopeful that I can get back to living a healthy, pain-free life for the first time in nearly ten years. TEN YEARS!!! That's how long it's almost been since I first became ill with the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Hopefully this surgery, finally, is going to draw a line under everything. Cancer and its effects have claimed almost a third of my life. It's time for me to take over now.


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