Cancer Journey/ HEALTH

My Oophorectomy Surgery Story | How To Prepare for Surgery

pillows on a bed for surgery

I’m going to write my Oophorectomy story in a couple different posts, to remember it as part of my cancer survivor story, and also to help anyone else that may be facing this surgery.

Having organs removed (especially ones that affect the entire endocrine system) is not a light or easy decision, and knowing what to expect or the story of someone who has been through it might be helpful.

I did a lot of googling and research before my decision to have an oophorectomy and really desired to read more personal stories of those who had been through the surgery and their experience. They were hard to find.

An oophorectomy is the removal of the ovaries. A Salpingo-oophorectomy removes both the ovaries and the fallopian tubes. This was the surgery I had and it was done laparoscopically.

Read this post for more details as to how and why we decided that an oophorectomy was for me.

This first post will be the story of surgery day, and I will end it with some tips for someone who will be undergoing an oophorectomy, too. I’ve learned a few things along the way!

There will be future posts to come on my healing journey, too. You can subscribe to New Nostalgia to have future posts delivered right to your inbox so you won’t miss them if you are interested.

surgery center

My Oophorectomy Surgery Story

December 2018 6:00am

We check in to our local brand-spankin’ new outpatient surgery center. It is just a 5-minute drive from our home and I was surprised at how happy I was that it was a new, modern and ‘pretty’ facility.

If you know me, you know that atmosphere matters to me.  I appreciate and notice how my surroundings make me feel. I loved the newness and esthetic of the building.

The parking lot was empty and dark, except for a few lingering piles of snow. My 18-year-old Teagan and my husband Todd woke early and came with me.

It touched my heart that my Teagan wanted to come. She is a first-year college student who wants to go into the medical field either as a nurse or a PA.

She was so grown up and supportive through all of this and I felt like I had my own little personal nurse, not just at the surgical center, but also the days of healing at home.

She often checked on me all throughout this past week, asking if I needed anything and how I felt. Be still my heart!

There was no one else in the waiting room that early, and they called me back within minutes.

 

Familiarities of Surgery

As a stage 3b breast cancer survivor, I have been through 7 surgeries all related to cancer or reconstruction, so everything felt very familiar and I knew the drill once we got into our little holding room.

So many familiar things:

    • Gown that opens from the back and smells of bleach
    • Lovely one size fits all (but does not really) no-slip socks
    • Inflators/massagers velcroed around both lower legs to help prevent blood clots during surgery
    • ID wristbands telling me who I am
    • One last pee and in a cup, please!
    • A bazillion questions from the nurse
    • IV started

I was so thankful there were no complications with the IV. I have a history of this not going well, especially when they try to do it in the hand or wrist area. I pointed out my lucky vein in the crook of my arm and the nurse obliged.

I watched my Teagan taking all these prep steps in, and being proactive in helping any way she could. 

mother and daughter in a barn

{my Teagan}

I watched my Todd also watching her, and I could tell he was pleased with our girl. Her company and care made a difference to us both.

My Todd was as he is every surgery of mine. His calm, quiet steadiness is always reassuring to me on surgery days. My steady rock.

An anesthesiology student came in and asked lots of questions. I asked her for the anti-nausea patch that is placed behind the ear, that always helps me with after-surgery nausea. She had one for me within seconds and I had no nausea from the anesthetic when I woke up.

Another thing that I always do? I ask to have something to relax me right before they wheel me back.

There have been 2 and only 2 surgeries where I remember the surgical suite, and both times were not good memories. I will have to write about it someday. 

After those 2 surgeries,  I have been proactive to ask for a little something that will cause me to not remember the ride down the hall or into the cold, sterile surgical suite. I highly recommend this!

Here is where my one complaint about my surgery comes in. I never met my Anesthesiologist. I saw him roaming outside the area of my curtain, but he let the student do all the work.

The student was kind but I could sense that she was nervous. I kept thinking the Anesthesiologist would come in, and by the time I realized this was not going to happen, things moved too quickly and drugs came and it was surgery time and too late request an introduction.

Every other surgery I have had has been at another competing hospital in town, and goodness did I ever get treated like royalty by their Anesthesiologist. 

They always reassured me that they would take great care of me and it was very calming to me.  At the time, it was only a slight frustration that he did not introduce himself, but became a much bigger frustration later…keep reading to know more.

My surgeon came in and it was good to see her. I knew that meant it was “go time.”

I introduced her to my people, and then reminded her (as she asked me to) not to cut twice in the same spot, because I keloid when they do.

Things moved super fast after this. The surgeon left, nurses came in and started to prep my bed for movement by pulling up the railings. In the midst of this hustle and bustle, the anesthesiology student held up an injection for my IV & said: “you ready for the good stuff?”

I said I was and I knew from experience that it would hit fast (30-40 seconds!) so I turned to say goodbye to my Todd and Teagan.

I remember telling them I loved them and thinking I needed to smile bravely for my Teagan while turning my head left to look at them.

My very last memory was this: I held my hand up to give them the 4-finger “I love you” sign while turning my head left toward them and having all the thoughts above, then I glanced down at my hand and was so puzzled to see I was holding up two fingers in the “peace” sign.

Yep, the meds were already kicking in. I was briefly lucid enough to know that a peace sign was not right…and was in that second quite amused at what I was doing. I did not want to say “peace out” to my people! Ha!!

I don’t remember anything after that…and that is how I like it. I don’t remember turning the corner from my room into the hallway or the trip to the surgery room.

Yep, the anesthesiology student certainly gave me the good stuff!

My Teagan later told me with tears in her eyes, that it was hard for her to see them wheel me down the hall. She got up to watch, and I think she was brave to be there for me.

It is not an easy image for any kid to see their Mom taken to surgery, and she endured it out of love for me.

oophorectomy surgery site

Waking Up From Surgery

When coming out of anesthetic, my ears always work before my eyes do.

This has happened several times to me…I wake to an annoying groaning and moaning noise and I’m always a bit surprised when I realize that noise is me.

I then hear the nurse by my bed say that surgery is over and it went well and ask what my pain level is. Her voice brings awareness and I try to open my heavy eyes but I can’t.

I feel pain, a burning cramping in my lower abdomen, and I’m surprised that I am not afraid and feel totally chill about the pain. I have full confidence in the voice next to me that she is going to stop my pain, and I feel oddly disconnected from the pain.

I was experiencing it but not really. Drugs are pretty amazing when you think about it, and so are nurses. I LOVE NURSES, I especially have a soft spot for the nurse that is there when I awake from anesthetic.

I remember wanting to communicate a high number to her but knew that 9 or 10 would be dramatic and who wants a dramatic patient?

Can you tell I’m an Enneagram 2? The Helper is what they call us. Yep. I want to be helpful even when just waking from of surgery. 

I say my pain level is 8 and my eyes open and I become more aware and notice I am trembling in a not so graceful way…head to toe. I am not cold. I still feel super chill about it all and she gives more pain medication and I fall back asleep.

I wake up again and she is asking again what level my pain is. It is better …a 5 or 6. I don’t notice the trembling anymore.

She says she is going to go get my people. Instant love floods over me. Yes, I want to see my people.  It so amazing how you just instinctively know that presence of love will make everything better.

 

Reuniting with my People After Surgery

I remember feeling relieved that I was no longer trembling when I saw Todd and Teagan enter, but my Teagan said it was the first thing she noticed when they came into the room. The nurse again asked about pain and gives me one last dose of the IV good stuff.

It does the trick within minutes and I’m surprised by the difference. I feel better. She encourages me to eat crackers and eat ice chips. The crackers to fill my belly so I can swallow my first dose of narcotics by mouth without a stomach ache.

My Teagan made it her mission to get those crackers down me. She broke them in pieces and fed them to me.  They got stuck in my super dry mouth…I could not swallow without lots and lots of water, which she also took charge of.

I became more aware of how uncomfortable my mouth felt. It puzzled me. I remember sore throats from intubation but never had I felt such discomfort with my mouth and lips.

I asked for my favorite lip balm (Whole Foods brand, Peppermint flavor to be exact) and noticed Teagan had to wipe my lips before applying. She told me they were dry…she spared me the details then, but later told me they were bleeding.

More on why I believe this was…later.

I continued to feel more and more comfortable and awake. It is pretty cool how you can go from so drugged up to so awake in a short period of time.

I got my 2 pain pills down, and the nurse reminded me I needed to use the restroom before they would release me. I felt ready to walk to the bathroom and check that off the list.

I took my pants and button-down shirt with me to dress in private…ever the modest one. I really felt quite good while getting dressed. I moved slow but was amazed that I was doing so well.

I got the first glimpse of my uncovered incisions. I must have been pretty drugged still because I remember feeling amused and quite welcoming of the new scars to this already scarred body of mine. 

They were small…one right down in my belly button about an inch long, and 2 more, one each side of my lower abdomen. They were even smaller than an inch.

There was no evidence of stitches, they were glued shut. Amazing! My body rejects dissolvable stitches, so my surgeon said she would do her best to keep incisions small and not use them. She said it depended on the size of my ovaries, which later she told me were nice and small (thank you Zoladex injections.)

I came back out from the restroom, walking slow but feeling proud that I had dressed by myself. Teagan had to help me put my boots on over the one-size-fits-all-but-really-don’t socks, and she helped me with my coat while Todd went out to warm the car.

white fuzzy pillow

Home From Surgery

We walked out to the car and I noticed the time. 10:21 am. Amazing! Such a fast surgery–I was so relieved to be done and heading home.

I could not wait to be in my own bed and knew my comfy warm jammies and fuzzy socks were folded on my bed waiting for me. I was prepared, and highly recommend doing the same if you will be having surgery.

More preparations? A bedside table from our basement to keep a beverage within arms reach, and a by-the-bed basket all set up and ready to go on our bed.

I had made my bed that early morning and piled the pillows just so to prop me up, ready for that blessed moment when I got home.

snuggle mug of tea

{tea, tea cup, and fuzzy blanket from my friend Lizzy}

I even had the lights of the Christmas tree that I put in our room the night before plugged in and ready to greet me with cheer while I rested and healed. Y’all…these things matter! My way of self-care.

It was so great to be home! Home sweet home.

The rest of the day was spent resting (oddly, not sleeping…just relaxing) and consuming warm Honey Ginger Lemon Tea, trying to soothe my super dry mouth, tender lips, and sore throat.

Remember that Anesthesiologist I never got to meet? I very much wonder if he had the student intubate me because ya’ll…my mouth and one side of my throat was a MESS!

I stayed up on my narcotic dose the first day (and…very important while taking narcotics… pills the doctor prescribed to keep digestion healthy) and felt comfortable. Well, all except for my mouth.

I slept really well that night, propped up. My incisions felt too pulled when lying flat…I don’t recommend trying! Keep propped up. I slept so well that I slept through my pain pills dose. Whoopsies.

flowers for surgery

{poinsettia gift from my Mother-in-Law Kathy + my favorite essential oils}

The Day After

The next day I woke up pretty uncomfortable, but not due to incision pain. My upper lip was swollen and cut all along the inner top, almost like it had been smushed onto my teeth during surgery. I felt like I got punched in the mouth.

My throat was worse than it has ever been after surgery. That pain was more noticeable than my actual surgery pain!

I was not happy about that. It made me feel like I was not taken care of well while I was asleep, and I remembered I had not met the Anesthesiologist to even put a face to who would know what had gone on!

That morning, the surgical center called to ask a bazillion questions about my experience which I appreciated.

I told them how amazing my experience was, EXCEPT for not meeting the Anesthesiologist and the “having a messed up mouth” part. She was kind and reassured me to pass that complaint on.

In hindsight, I am thankful they did their job and put me under and kept me that way for the surgery, but man…it took days for my mouth to heal.

It really added to my discomfort level for a few days, and it just didn’t seem necessary. I want students to learn, maybe just not on me, or at least let me know ahead of time.

I will share the rest of my healing journey with you in an upcoming post. I am just a week and a half out while I write this and yesterday was the first day off ibuprofen.

Narcotics were needed just for the first 2 days, prescription ibuprofen the next 4 days and tapered the number of doses each day, then over-the-counter ibuprofen for 3 days and yesterday was the first day off of all meds. Yay!! It is amazing how the body heals!


 

Update: 4 Weeks Out

I am finally finishing this post, and am now 4 weeks out from surgery. I am eagerly looking forward to 6 weeks out, when I can add exercise back into my routine!

 I will write one more update and let you know about a little snag in healing that I experienced, how amazing my friends and family were while I was healing (and how you can spoil your loved ones when they have to have surgery) and how I’m feeling now that I’m 4 weeks out… Hint: I’m doing well, despite some expected hot flashes and mood fluctuations (which I will share more about next post) and so thankful I choose to have this oophorectomy. I truly feel it was the right decision for me.

 

bedside table with cups

Tips for Oophorectomy Surgery:

  • Prepare the area in your home that you will be healing and resting in ahead of time.  Make it cozy and make sure you have all the things you need and that bring you comfort close by.
  • Have a by-the-bed basket. A must!
  • Arrange meals to be brought for at least a week if you can…make it two.
  • If you have kids, arrange rides to school or activities for at least 10 days to two weeks. I drove for the first time day 7, but it was not super comfortable to drive until about day 9. Yes, 2 days of healing makes a huge difference in this!
  • Use a small flat pillow under your seatbelt at the waist to keep the seatbelt from rubbing on incisions and to give the belly a more secure feeling when going over road bumps.
  • If you have Littles, arrange for help for the first week at least!
  • Put your outfit out to wear to surgery the night before surgery. Choose something with a soft elastic waistband. Choose a button down shirt, as they are easiest to slip into without much maneuvering. While you are at it, lay out comfy jammies and cozy socks to put on when you arrive home from surgery.
  • Have plenty of pillows to prop yourself up with. I’ve been using 3 all week. A travel neck pillow is great the first couple of days, too.
  • If you are prone to nausea, let the anesthesiologist know! Ask about the ear patch for nausea. There are amazing meds for this and it helps so much to wake up without nausea.
  • Be an advocate for yourself. Speak up and let them know what you want. Remember you are paying big money for the service of every person who takes care of you, and it is ok to let them know your desires. I did this with my patch, the vein I desired to be used for the IV, by reminding them not to cut twice because of keloids, and the happy meds I wanted so that I would not experience the dreaded cold and sterile surgery suite!
  • Keep thing moving! I walked up and down my steps quite a bit to refill my tea and water the first day. This also meant lots of trips to the bathroom, which was good to get me up and out of bed and moving.
  • Use medication to keep digestion healthy. My surgeon automatically prescribes this along with narcotics. Very smart! Good digestion is a must for healing and I’ve had one bad experience with this years ago…and will not forget it. Keep digestion moving!
  • Use the medications prescribed for you. Surgery is no joke, and medications are a must. I don’t love taking meds, but I know there is a time and place for them. I was off all prescriptions pain medications within 6 days, and only needed narcotics for 2, so remember it is not forever. Detox can happen once the body is not in pain.

 

You might also like:

Why Oophorectomy Surgery {Cancer Prevention Update}

My Cancer Story

7 Years Surviving Cancer – A Slow, Steady, Apprehensive Dance Celebration

 

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