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Blood, night sweats & tears!

 

The price we pay to bare children. Whether we want to or not!

 

It was March 2018 and as I sat there and typing, I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck start to prickle, the heat building in my chest & neck which is starting to climb up my face with the feelings of crippling anxiety creeping into the pit of my tummy. Within the few minutes that followed, I would be stripped down to my vest, fanning myself dramatically just to try and bring my body temperature back down. This was a regular occurrence these days and probably will be for the next 5, maybe 10 years. Welcome to the menopause!

 

At 39 years of age, I was in really good health, I was going the gym regularly, eating balanced nutrient dense foods, my weight was healthy, and my body was toned. I was at my healthiest since post childbirth and I felt strong both physically and mentally, so I was flawed when I was rushed to hospital suffering from crippling pelvic pain. This moment in time set me on a journey I wasn’t expecting or would recommend but it was a journey that shaped me into the woman I am today.

 

I began to endure a string of gynaecological investigations and after months of invasive tests I was diagnosed with an endometrioma which is a cyst on the ovary that causes excruciating pain and bleeding mid cycle. This cyst is what they call the chocolate cyst, and it looks like a Ferrero Roche (sorry to put you off) It releases congealed blood mid-way through the month and this was a symptom I’d experienced a few months prior and was about to seek advice from my GP.

My consultant discussed that she could remove it through keyhole surgery but warned that until she opened me up and went in, she could not guarantee that my ovary would be saved. My cyst was growing so it was about the size of a lime putting my ovary under extreme pressure.

A month later I was booked for my surgery, I was ready to get it over and done with because I could feel it getting bigger when I palpated where my left ovary sat not to mention the pain was unbearable and I don’t take pain medication.

I recall arriving at the hospital for 7am and I was led to a small ward and told to undress, put a gown on and wait on the bed until it was my turn to go to theatre. Luckily, I was at the top of the list, so the nurse came for me and walked me down the long corridor to the theatre. I recall being nervous but excited because I just wanted this to be over. I knew that when I woke up, I would be endometrioma free which also meant pain free.

 

Counting from backwards from ten to zero was the last thing I remember, then waking up feeling groggy and nauseous. I remember thinking this feeling wouldn’t be for long and it was a small price to pay to be able to get on with the rest of my life.

When I woke, I was already back on the ward where I was going to be spending the next few days to recover. Or so I thought. “Hello Mrs Steel. How are you feeling?” It was my consultant; she came to check in on me. “I’m feeling ok” Was my response. “That’s good” She smiled. “Unfortunately, we were not able to remove the endometrioma due to you having endometriosis. I could not continue with the operation. I also found cysts on your right ovary too and several adhesions”.

She could tell that by my shocked and startled expression that I was upset at this news. “What? I don’t understand. How is that possible and we didn’t know?” I whinged. She explained, that apparently, endometriosis can be hard to detect and is often discovered during keyhole investigations.

I was shocked and my main concern was that once the morphine had worn off, I’d be back to feeling the familiar excruciating pelvic pain which I was not looking forward to.

I soon learned that the new findings were far more serious that first thought. Endometriosis is a condition where tissue like the lining of the womb grows in other places such as on the ovaries and fallopian tubes. The endometriosis in my body had caused untold damage and I learned that my vagina was glued to the wall of my bowel, ovaries and tubes were covered as well as other organs. This new finding was out of my consultant’s area of expertise so now I had to be referred to an endometriosis specialist and a bowel specialist with whom she would work through a new plan of action. This was far more serious than first anticipated, but this was typical of most things in my life. Dramatic as ever!

Weeks passed and I finally received my appointment to see the bowel specialist. As with any appointment I always took my Mum because she was great company and very reassuring. Plus, she wasn’t the type of Mum who waited for second hand news when it involved her kids. She liked to be there listening, advising, supporting. She was my rock through all of this.

As we are sitting in the waiting room to be called to see the bowel Doctor, we are engaging in chit chat with each other and other patients, my Mum would talk to absolutely anybody. She loved a good natter.

“Juanita Steel?” Questioned a voice from behind us. “Here” I Answered. It was my turn to see the consultant. As we walked in, we were greeted by a handsome doctor, male, I’m guessing he was probably early forties, lovely smile, well dressed and a lovely demeanour about him. Not the kind of doctor you want to de discussing bowel habits with! I would have much preferred a woman to be honest just for the embarrassment factor but nonetheless I was there so I had to suck it up.

He discussed at length my bowel habits over the years, and he raised concerns about inconclusive bowel investigations I had undergone about 10 years earlier. I had bloody mucus in my stools, but after a colonoscopy the specialist back then ruled it out as Irritable Bowel Syndrome IBS. I now know that the bloody mucus was likely to have been signs of endometriosis. If only it was caught all those years ago maybe I wouldn’t be in the situation I now found myself in. Hindsight is a great thing.

As we were nearing the end of the discussion about my bowel and its smelly habits, my new attractive consultant leans behind him and pulls out a pair of latex gloves. Snapping them on his hands he says “I would just like to check your rectum and make sure there are no other issues. I’m just going to pop a finger inside for a quick internal. Would you like a nurse to be present?” I side glance my Mum who is sucking her lips closed with wide eyes looking down at the floor trying desperately to hold back the laughter. She knew this was my worst nightmare and I would feel so embarrassed at the thought of some random fellas finger up my bottom. I could see it was a challenge for her trying to keep it together and not appear childish. I glared at her unapprovingly but she never made eye contact.

Flush faced I agree and accepted the offer of the nurse present. My Mum was ushered behind a curtain out of sight, but I swear I could hear her sniggering. The unfortunate nurse came in and held my hand whilst my anus was lubricated, and my bottom received a good rummage! “All done” My consultant cheerfully shouts from behind as he snaps off the gloves. “There doesn’t appear to be any major concerns with the rectum at this point”. I wanted to be pleased but to be honest I was just mortified.

He said he had to inform me that he would have to see the extent of the damage to my rectum when I go under the knife. If there was excessive damage and he could not repair the wall of the rectum there could be a possibility of me needing a temporary colostomy bag until my rectum was repaired and healed. This was a huge shock but I felt in my heart that I wasn’t going to need a bag so I was willing to take the risk.

The next few weeks I had numerous appointments with my ovary consultant and endometriosis consultant. I had made the decision that I wanted a total hysterectomy with the removal of my ovaries also known as a hysterectomy with bilateral Salpingo Oophorectomy. I would never have to go through this drama again if I had my ovaries removed because I wouldn’t have the surge in oestrogen which caused my problems in the first place. I learned I was oestrogen dominant, and this was a major factor on the growth of the endometriosis, so my reckoning was no ovaries meant no excess oestrogen.

I was informed that due to the extent of my gynae issues I needed all three consultants to be available at the same time so that my operation could go ahead. All three of them would be responsible for operating in their area of expertise. As you can imagine this was a tall order and it meant that I had a very long wait for my op.

In the meantime, it was discussed that because I wanted total hysterectomy, I should start on a drug called Prostap3 which is administered every 3 months by injection into the butt cheek or tummy. This drug was used to reduce hormones release so that the lining of the womb could thin ready for surgery. I agreed.

Oh wow! This treatment was something else and it was through Prostap3 that I was introduced to the menopause. Within weeks the symptoms of menopause came like a tsunami wave. I started with hot flushes which brought with them anxiety before every flush. I was having night sweats, my focus was hindered, I was an emotional wreck, I suffered terribly from insomnia and my memory started to wain drastically to the point I questioned if I had the early onset of dementia.

I endured this for 6 months which was the maximum amount of time it could be on this drug. I was then given the Mirena Coil as another form of treatment to curtail the hormone surge. OH MY GOODNESS! I was so poorly after it was implanted, I suffered with constant nausea, crippling abdominal pain, extremely heavy periods with mid cycle bleeding, the most horrendous clots to the point I though on one occasion my whole womb had fallen out.

I had this implant inside me for a few months until I couldn’t take it no more and asked for it to be removed and restart the Prostap3.

As soon as the coil was removed and Prostap3 was injected, I felt myself getting back to myself albeit back to the menopause but I decided that I’d rather the menopause symptoms over those the coil offered any day. Within a couple of months, I received my letter with the date of my operation, February 22nd 2017.  

Over the next few months, I started doing a lot of research on the menopause, so I knew what to expect. Although I was already experiencing symptoms I wanted to know why and how I could help myself through post menopause holistically because once this was over, I would revert to my holistic drug free lifestyle. After researching Hormone Replacement Therapy HRT, I decided I was going to go it alone using natural remedies to see how I cope with menopause.

22nd February 2017 arrives, and I was as ready as ever. I prayed and prayed that the surgery would go ahead and there would be no complications and recovery would be straight forward and without issues.

My husband dropped me at the hospital at 7am, just like last time, he kissed me, told me he loved me, and we said our goodbyes.

I was taken to my bed, asked to put on a gown and wait my turn. As I settled on the ward, I got chatting to two lovely women. All a little curious and a bit nosey as to why each of us were in there, we each divulged our condition and I soon learned that both women had cancer and they were having lifesaving surgery. I felt such deep pangs of pain for them being in this unsure situation and not knowing whether their operations would be a success.

My turn to go to theatre had arrived and like last time I did the walk to the theatre waiting room. On arrival I was allocated a gurney. My nurse went through a questionnaire regarding my current health and to confirm I knew what I was having done. All was set and I was ready to go. I was wheeled into what looked like a lift but it was a tiny room between the corridor and the theatre. There was about 6 medical staff in there all dressed in green scrubs, hair nets and aprons.

One of them took my blood pressure and pulse rate about 3 times and seemed a bit miffed. I asked if there was a problem. She replied. “Your BP is 100/70 and your pulse is 54, that’s unusually low”. A few of the medics leaned in, looking at me and back at the monitor. “How do you feel Mrs Steel?” Another medic asked. “I feel fine. Why?” I replied. “Do you exercise?” A more senior looking medic then asked. “Yes, I’m a Personal Trainer and Health coach, it’s my job to be fit and healthy” I answered. “Ahh right, that’s the reason your stats are low” He replied in relief. “We’ve never seen someone so calm and collected”. He quipped.

I was feeling very smug with my steely calmness and commented “My life is in God’s hands and I trust those hands so I have absolutely nothing to fear or panic about”. “That is very true”. He reassured me. “Can you count backwards from 10 please Juanita?” He asked as he pumped the general anaesthetic into my cannula. “10, 9, 8, 7…” I felt myself drifting off.

“Hello Mrs Steel. How are you feeling?” Nauseously I answered “Ok”. I remember feeling confused at the time on the clock on the wall in the room. It was just past 3pm. I felt like I had been asleep for 10 minutes so how could it be so late? I had been in theatre for much longer than expected.

The nurse informed me that my Mum had been ringing every half hour for the last couple of hours worried because I’d been under for so long. She put my Mum’s mind at ease and told her I was doing fine. I know my Mum would have been frantic with worry so I was grateful the nurse settled her mind. I couldn’t imagine what Mum was going through.

My operation was done through keyhole which meant that I had 3 small scars. One in my belly button and one on each side of my lower abdomen. I was told by my surgeon that my endometriosis was severe and as a result my bowel was indeed attached to the wall of my vagina, my liver & kidneys had spores on them, more cysts had started to form on my ovaries, my fallopian tubes where stuck to other tissue and adhesions were causing more problems.  However, the operation was successful and went as planned albeit longer than first anticipated and luckily for me I didn’t have to have a colostomy bag fitted, he able to shave the wall of my rectum without perforating it.

I was transferred back to the ward and as I lay on my bed I felt relieved that it was over. I marvelled at how well I felt after my op, I wasn’t in a huge amount of pain but I guessed that was the morphine. I felt sleepy but full of energy, if that makes sense. Overall, I felt amazing. I can honestly say that for me the hysterectomy was worth it.

That night I had a restful sleep except for the catheter tubes causing a bit of an annoyance whenever I moved. I was advised that I’d need morphine during the night so I had a pump fitted to self soothe. Now, I’m the kind of gal that doesn’t like to mask pain with pain killers, I like to feel my pain so I can access my limitations. The morphine was just another mask for the pain so I didn’t bother to use it. Plus, I still had morphine they had pumped me with after my op so the pain was still bearable. I used breathing and mental focus as my coping mechanism for the rest of my stay.

The next day I woke up early, I am an early bird anyway, and I made myself a meal replacement shake, which I had taken in with me along with my vitamins and minerals. I gobbled a handful of supplements with a large glass of water. I was determined to stick to my healthy regime even more so now to aid my healing process.

Later that morning my endometriosis consultant paid me a visit to discuss HRT with me. When he pulled back the curtain he was a little shocked and asked if I was Mrs Steel. There I was all fresh and clean, out of my gown and in my own nighty, my hair was tied up in a neat little bun on the top of my head. “Well don’t you look the picture of health” He quipped. I smiled and told him I felt like the picture of health and thanked him for his part in my operation. After he detailed my HRT options, I told him I didn’t want to take HRT, I wanted to try a the holistic approach for the time being and see how I go but if I feel the need for it in the future then I would speak with my doctor to arrange. He nodded in agreement and didn’t try to persuade me otherwise because he could see I had done my research and I was resolute in my decision.  

Later that day, which was day 2, I asked the nurse if I could go for a walk around the ward. Her expression was of shock but she agreed to assist me as I walked. As I hobbled around the ward with my catheter bag in hand, one of my clients, who worked at the hospital, came to visit and brought me a beautiful bouquet of flowers. As soon as she spotted me she started laughing and said, she knew I would be up on my feet straight away and she half expected me to be jogging around the ward. My Fitcamp ladies know me well so she knew my Steely determination would equip me to get myself back to full health.

It was a tiring day adapting to my new body and temporary limitations, but I was so grateful for the nurses who assisted me in helping me with my request for a walk throughout the day and helping me to get in the shower to freshen up. My husband, son and Mum visited in the evening, which was so lovely. They were eager to see if I was well and in good spirits. They could see I was tired so they didn’t stay long but at least they left happy knowing I was coping well. That night I slept like a baby without the need for pain medication.

The following day I had my catheter removed and had to show I was able to go the toilet freely without any problems. It was a success, both urethra and bowels were working fine and as a result I was well enough to go home once all the discharge paperwork was finalised and a prescription for blood thinning medication was issued.

As much as I am eternally grateful for the care and support I received whilst in hospital, there is nothing like being in your own bed with clean, freshly scented bed linen, comfy pillows, foods you enjoy and the sound of the voices of loved ones around the house. On my arrival home my Mum had warned me that I had to give myself the 12 weeks my doctor advise to recuperate. I agreed with her because I although I looked fine on the outside, I had so much healing to do on the inside. My job is active could have spelled disaster if I ignored advice. To be honest I was glad of the bed rest and being waited on!

That evening as I lay in my big comfy bed it dawned on me the significance of the name of the hospital I was in “The Liverpool Women’s Hospital”. A hospital just for women.  Seriously in what lifetime would there ever be a hospital named “The Men’s Hospital?” The answer is never, not in my lifetime or anyone’s lifetime for that matter. This got me thinking.... Why is there a massive price to pay for women and not men to bear a child? From the minute we hit puberty we are on a hormonal roller coaster which consists of far too many highs and lows. Also, why is it that women endure this mammoth journey for 40 years or more? Luckily women are born with the strength of an ox so no wonder we were chosen to bare children otherwise future generations would cease to continue. This responsibility is worth every drop of blood, night sweats & tears.

2023 Present day update

The early year of my menopause came with their issues and problems but in the main each step I took enabled me to educate myself further. Using holistic methods has allowed me to engage and understand my needs, discover what I lacked and adapt my nutrition intake and lifestyle accordingly. I’ve learned how to cope rationally when hiccups inevitably do happen rather than spiralling into the pit of doom so many menopausal women fall into. I feel I am now through my menopause since my symptoms have ceased. I have come out the other side stronger, healthier and more confident than I ever thought possible.  

I am blessed that my journey & knowledge has helped me to further my studies to become a qualified Holistic Menopause Health & Fitness Coach enabling me to help so many fellow Meno Sister’s cope with their menopause journey.

I believe everything happens for a reason and I’m glad that I was fortunate enough to us mine for the greater good.

Much love and many blessings to you,

 Juanita Steel

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