Tag Archives: hysterectomy

It’s the journey that counts.

Training for a triathlon while recovering from major abdominal surgery probably isn’t a recommended combination but that’s the challenge I’d set. I had 17 weeks, just under 4 months, from knife to skin until the start of the triathlon. It was a journey with a ready made excuse to take the easy path, to accept failure. There were days when I felt like sitting there and crying, giving up and letting the recovery process take it’s time. There were days when frustration boiled over to anger, days feeling lost, scared tired and in pain, taking one step at a time the start line was in sight.

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Arriving at the venue the nerves were bubbling, looking around everyone looked so fit, I felt like an outsider invading an unknown land where neoprene and lycra were the dress code. In transition people chatted about previous conquests while I worried about where to put my trainers. Wet suit on and the long trek to the lake for the safety briefing. The lake was taunting me like a Dementos from Harry Potter. “Don’t panic, take time to acclimatise and you’ll be fine” I keep telling myself. Suddenly the safety briefing was over, I had no idea what had been said. Into the water, 30 seconds until the race starts. WAIT!! What about acclimatising? I’m not ready. The weeds were everywhere, my head is going crazy, the weeds will pull me down, we haven’t even started yet and I’m not sure I ca go much further.

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The horn goes. Head down, stroke and breathe, No, PANIC! My legs feel like they’re tangled, my hands come out holding green slime. There’s nothing I can do, coordination and rational thinking has long gone. I’ve not felt this scared since my first open water swim. I’m not even 50m into the swim, there’s still 350m to go. Becky stayed with me talking me through each stroke, reaching the turnaround point things were looking up. I was swimming towards the exit, the weeds were virtually gone, I was doing it, I was swimming. Not soon enough the swim was over, a short 300m up hill jog to transition added an extra dimension to the transition.

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Transition one was a success, the coconut oil helped me escape my new speedo wetsuit (note to anyone wanting to try OW swimming, an actual swim wetsuit makes a huge difference).Wet suit off, top, race belt, shorts trainers and helmet on I un-racked my bike and I was off, careful not to mount my mean machine until after the white line. Having visited the area recently I knew the first couple of kilometres were nice climbs, what I hadn’t figured was the amount of energy wasted from panicking in the water. As the ride progressed my lower abdomen ached and twinged, almost as if it was reminding me of the journey we had been through. I was enjoying the challenge, the views were great and the kilometres were flying by. I was overtaken by the full age range of people, kids and veterans alike powered past me as I battled through the course. At first this frustrated me, then I smiled, sat up looked at the views, smelt the lavender and reminded myself of how far I’d come. Before I knew it I was dismounting and making my way through Transition.

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Transition 2 was over in a flash, I smiled knowing I only had 4km between me and the finish line. The first kilometre was completed in a PB time of 5:45, probably too fast but my legs felt great (thanks Ironholgs for introducing me to brick sessions in his books) and the ground was firm and flat. As we entered the wooded portion the ground worsened, the rain had taken it’s toll, it was largely up hill making the next 2 kilometres nothing short of an energy sapping muddy trail run. Progress slowed but with every step we were a step closer to the finish line. As we passed the 1km to go sign we noticed the mother in law just 500m back, the decision was easy, we waited for her and crossed the line together.

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I felt a little emotional crossing the line. The journey to this point has been tough, an emotional rollercoaster mirrored somewhat by the triathlon. The physical journey has been witnessed, it’s easy to see the progress from the first walk to the day room (20m) that exhausted me, the first pilates class through to finishing Castle Howard super Sprint. What’s not easy to see is the psychological journey, the fear of not doing enough, of doing too much, the frustrations of slow progress and watching others doing so much more. There have been times when I have been way too hard on myself and those around me, even crossing the finish line I wondered if I could have gone quicker, but for now I can smile, I finished my first triathlon, I pushed through fear, pain, the ups and the downs and I crossed the line holding the hands of those I love and care for. How can I not be content with that.

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Swim, cycle, run, sulk

As I write this I’m laid sulking on the sofa battling the after effects of a hill focused training ride. Whether it was the potholes, the hills or the overall training load of this week catching up with me my abdomen is screaming at me to rest. This is not how I imagined I’d be feeling 5 days out from my first triathlon. As frustrating as this feeling is I have to remember I’m still recovering, I’m little over 3 months post op and even a sprint distance tri is a big ask at this stage. 


My focus needs to change, it should be on finishing the challenge and a personal journey not on racing others. I’d love to take the credit for this change but in reality it came from a vomit infested pool that led to a chance meeting with an Ironman competitor while waiting for pool tests to give the green light to enter the pool. He had just got back from completing Challenge Roth despite falling ill early on the bike section. Our conversation didn’t focus on him but rather a chance encounter he had had with an older lady at an event in South America.  Long story short this lady had told him that it was all about focusing on yourself and that anything really was possible. As he recited the story I could feel the goosebumps on my arms, I felt on top of the world ready to take on any challenge. As inspiring as this was, it was also a reality check. I’ve spent too much time comparing myself to others (namely my wife and mother in-law) rather than focusing on my own journey. Thank you Mark for the lesson (pretty sure my wife has been trying to say this for a while but who listens to their wife?). I’m pretty sure the 5 minutes I spent on pool side listening to tales of triumph has had a huge impact on me and my journey.


Training wise I actually enjoyed an open water swim, the day had started with tears and tantrums as my fear of water raised its ugly head but ended with a steady 1.3km solo swim. On dry land I’ve broken my race-distance (4km) PB by 3 minutes and seen a marked improvement in my cycle times. The training is paying off, I can’t believe how far I’ve come in such a short space of time. Days like today are a stark reminder of what my body has been through. Am I fit? Am o good to go? Not at all, I’m still early in this journey but it’s exciting to see where this path leads.

A step too far?

With two weeks to go until “T-day” we (i.e. the wife) thought it would be a good idea to recce the area surrounding Castle Howard for the bike and run legs. You could feel the nervous anticipation rise in the car, and this was only a training ride/run. With the bikes unpacked and helmets on we made it just over 200m before we hit a roundabout. Right? Left? Straight? who knew? I had taken the time to write directions on my hand however a pre-ride trip to the bathroom resulted in me washing them off. We discussed and agreed it must be right and off we went (again). The undulating road suddenly got steeper, the quads burned, the eyes focused on the summit like a lioness stalking its prey. The view as we summited was almost as breath-taking as the climb itself, a taster of things to come. The sweeping rolling hills provided opportunities to practice the technicalities of road biking (like I know what I’m doing!). Playing with gears and riding positions I managed to avoid the pot holes and gravel patches, I was actually enjoying myself.

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The ride continued and amongst my happy thoughts were the words of my mother in-law “sharp left”, “big hill” no other words mattered. The turn arrived, it was time to get the pedals grinding. Suddenly I was overtaken, not once but twice. Here I was out of my seat, driving the pedals with all of my might, happy to just be moving and staying on the bike and they overtake me. I keep plodding along, checking back on Becky. the hill continues. I keep reminding myself everything ends, including this hill. The decent starts and finishes way to quickly for my liking. Becky shouts at me to stop, a quick pit-stop to adjust her seat and we were caught off guard by a sign saying Castle Howard left. Distance wise this was too early but with the directions washed away who were we to argue.

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We were into the final few kilometres and the last of the climbs, all that was going through my head was the dreaded thought that we had agreed to run after this. Arriving back at the car my watch confirmed we’d missed a couple of kilometres from the planned distance (must have been that left turn), at least we had gotten some good climbs into the legs. The bike was always going to be my best section, barring a few twinges along my scar line and into my groin I’d felt ok. With no time to celebrate my new farthest bike ride we gulped down some fluids and a couple of bites of flapjack and we were off on the run.

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The run began along the car park, the brick sessions must be paying off as the jelly legs were hardly noticeable. We ran, and ran, I became convinced that the GPS on my watch wasn’t working as the time ticked by so much quicker that the distance. A left turn down the hill and I got my first look at the lake, a deep breath put the thoughts of the dreaded swim to the back of my mind. Back up the hill we trotted, I was giving my all to keep on Becky’s heels, she was looking fresh. The gates gave me hope as they offered brief rest opportunities. As my legs and lungs burned the twinges in my abs became stronger and more frequent, the arguments between my heart and head continued. On mre than one occasion equal amounts of energy were given to moving forward and stopping myself from breaking down in tears. This was tough, I hadn’t pushed myself like this in a long time, I knew I’d come so far in only a few months, I hoped I wasn’t pushing myself too far, but I had to finish.

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The gardens were beautiful, but the sight I longed for was that of the car. Never has a Ford Fiesta looked so good. We ran passed it. I looked at my watch, we were 400m short of the planned 4 km. Yes we were those people running laps of the car park until technology dictated we could stop. As the GPS ticked over to 4km there was a patch of grass surrounded by a wooden fence. My body took over as I leant onto the fence to compose myself, I felt like I’d been to hell and back, the muscles around my scar cramped, I longed for fuel. The focus now is recovery, manage the pain in my lower abdomen and plan next weeks training, the final week of pushing it before race week. The journey continues, it’s nerve racking, it’s exciting, most of all it’s fun, well most of the time.

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This session had come after a tough week at work and in training. The triathlon feels almost achievable, I feel reassured that despite the relatively short preparation time I’m doing the correct things in training. Most importantly I know that if I hit rock bottom in the triathlon I should have the mental strength to push through. I’m only doing a sprint triathlon, people out there achieve much greater physical and psychological feats than this. This is my challenge though, my journey, my battles. I hope that in the future I can look back on this experience and smile knowing this is only the start of an adventure. We all start somewhere.

 

My wife is fitter than me – When did that happen?

Reality hit home this week, my wife is fitter than me! When did that happen? Now before I go on let me just say I am immensely proud of the work she has put in. In the last 8 months she has lost 4 stone and turned around her health and fitness habits. I love the change in her and the happiness it’s brought. It’s also amazing to share the enjoyment of fitness with her rather than feel guilty about leaving her to train. The reality remains though. As I’ve battled with il health and recovery my fitness has dropped as hers has increased to a point I can only aim for. Great for her, not so great for me! It’s a reminder of the last year, it’s proof of the progress I’ve made since surgery, but also demonstrates how much can be achieved through hard work and perseverance.


The circumstances surrounding this realisation was a simple post-swim run. As we transitioned from our wetsuit to running gear a nervous anticipation built in the pit of my stomach. Running has been the slowest discipline to improve post-op and I knew Becky had had some recent PB success over 5km. We set off, almost immediately alarm bells rang as the pace picked up and I settled at the back of the group, a position I hate. My watch alerted me to the 1km mark, completed at a pace 30 seconds quicker than my post-op best, my legs, brain and lungs screamed at me to stop, this pace was not sustainable. There was no get out option though, I had to continue. I took a deep breath and continued, counting down to the turn around Mark at 2km I resigned myself to hanging on at the back of the group. Just then Becky informed me we had just over 500m before turning around, looking at my watch that would be 2.5km, since when were we running 5km? Holy S**t could I actually keep up?


 The burning and screaming of various body parts continued far beyond the turn around point. I dropped further off the pace as the enjoyment of the run continued to drain quickly. Suddenly the sign post was in sight 200m and we were finished. A new 5km PB, the run was over and I’d survived. 


The run came at the end of a busy training week. Swimming, cycling and running have all progressed. My biggest achievement was a full solo (I.e. Out of arms reach of Becky) open water swim, my first ever and a full kilometre. Smashed it! Progress is coming, the triathlon is rapidly approaching, doubts are creeping in. Can I complete the challenge and defeat the demons of open water and doubts about fitness? 

The vanishing training.

So last week I wrote about needing to reign my training in a little. What I didn’t need though was to reign it in quite so much. By the end of the week my training resembled a largely blank piece of paper with days of the week written on it. With only 3 training sessions it wasn’t ideal and having worked diligently to build my activity level from near extinction I was desperately disappointed by this turn of events.


The week began positively with a 5km run, the time of 36 minutes wasn’t exactly headline worthy but a new post op distance PB. The distance was a huge boost, during the run it felt great, almost pleasurable, a return to this time last year when I developed a genuine enjoyment of running. Post run was another story, my legs felt great, but my stomach ached, twinges and pulled. The post run euphoria didn’t last long but the positive was there, the foundations are getting stronger.


Tuesday was a complete write off, I was exhausted all day, it was all I could do to sleep, eat and sleep again. A better night under my belt I woke up feeling more human. Gymnastics was already ruled out, Abs weren’t feeling great so all paths led to the watt bike. Nobody said the road to the tri would be pretty and 23km going nowhere staring at a Watt bike screen certainly isn’t that. It felt good to go the distance, good to sit and stare at that screen and demonstrate the mental strength to keep going when things get tough. Yes I would have rather been upside down at gymnastics, but needs must and every session is progress no matter how small.

Defeating the demons

This week has been massive for me, not necessarily in terms of physical improvements but more in ticking off mental milestones. 


The first milestone of the week came last Saturday in the form of a Spin class. This had been a goal of mine since last August. Now let me put this into context, having just been diagnosed and told cycling would be the best cardio for me I had a nightmare of a spin class. Within the warm up I discovered that every time I pedalled I effectively forced the fibroid up into my abdomen with my knees. The class had lasted 45 minutes during which I never got out of first gear, I was having to sit up tall to minimise the chance of catching my abdomen, I was frustrated, fed up and in a world of pain. The pain didn’t even stop there, for 3 days I had a constant reminder of what I had just failed to finish. It was this point I realised the impact this uninvited guest would have on me, it went from a slow puncture to a full blow out. Disappointed, lost and fed up I vowed to return. Achieving this was 100% more mentally beneficial than physical.


The second milestone came in pilates, from the earliest possible point I  began my cautious rehab, a carefully constructed routine consisting of 5 pilates style exercises. Pilates classes were reintroduced after week 4, every exercise and progression was slow and steady always erring on the side of caution and often performing much lower options than the rest of the class. As frustrating as this has been I’ve felt confident it would lead to me being stronger. This week I performed a V-sit, this means I was performing the same exercise as the rest of the class – when the rest of the class are 2+ times your age this is a big deal. 


Last but not least I got upside down! I’d put so much work into the handstand pre-op I was nervous I would be back at square one. I was by myself on the wall was just calling out to me. I kicked up expecting to hit the wall and hold for a second or two before falling, but no! I kicked up, felt my legs float up, my abs kicked in, with no contact with the wall I held myself for a couple of seconds then came down. Once again I was reassured that life is better upside down, I was surprised by how the handstand felt and as happy as a kid in a sweet shop. 

As the milestones keep coming and everything seems within touching distance the mind games are back. At times the need to stay sensible and hold back probably means I don’t push as hard as I might be able to. Yet other times the desire to push and reach those goals leaves me doing too much and regretting it. So far the sensible side is winning but I can feel the activities and exercises pulling me in. What is stronger, the heart or the head? 

Week 7 – feeling almost normal(ish)

A holiday in Greece sounds lovely doesn’t it, and I’m not ungrateful for a fantastic week however this was no ordinary relax in the sun holiday. It was a Neilson holiday, jam packed with fun physical activities from cycling to waterskiing and everything in between. Booked last November there was no thought given to surgery recovery and rehab since we assumed it would all be a distant memory at this point. As it turned out our holiday clashed with a period of conflict between my heart and head, between pushing hard and taking it steady. Holding back and in many cases watching others do these activities was going to be a challenge, and not the kind I like.


As we arrived in Greece my farthest swim post op was 60m and that nearly killed me. I was keen to increase this as it’s the main cardio I’ve been able to do, that and the swim in the triathlon is already making me nervous. Mid week I made a push and reset myself the target of 400m (I’d already failed earlier in the week), 250m down my lungs and shoulders were crying, 300m I’m seriously pleased I had Becky my personal lifeguard with me, 350m, almost there, just one more length and I’ve done it. High fives all round then out of the pool to relax. 400m done, target one ticked off! 


With Becky in love with open water swimming it didn’t take long before she was clambering into her wetsuit and making her way to the sea. I supported from a kayak, apparently looking out for Whales (highly unlikely for a multitude of reasons). With the sea calm and wind low in the morning this would become a regular part of the morning routine. The girl is half fish I swear, her longest swim was 3.5 kms. Not to be outdone I dared to enter the sea, obviously the day I chose was the one day the sea decided to dance. To say I was nervous would be an understatement, thankfully there were no kids around because the air around me was turned blue! Plenty of stops, a touch of seasickness, a number of panic attacks as the waves picked me up and dropped me down and 900m was complete. 

To say I’ve been looking forward to getting on a bike would be an understatement. It’s been almost 9 months since I last rode a bike pain free (my fibroid was large enough so that whenever I pedalled I would force the fibroid into my stomach). One of the bike instructors, Jess, helped make sure I was on a suitable bike (no I wasn’t using stabilisers), reassured me they would pick up the bike if I needed to abandon it, and I was off. My first venture took me on a flat 2.5km, relatively easy pedalling it was nice to be back on a road bike picking up some speed. I waited a couple of days to make sure I had no negative reaction but really I couldn’t wait to get back out. Feeling more adventurous I set out to attempt a 6.5 km circuit to the local “town”, still a relatively short ride but measurable improvements. A couple of steady climbs and my quads were waking up after way too long without a challenge. Now the best bit, where there’s a climb there’s a decent. Yep that was me coasting down the hills shouting “wahoo”, wind in my hair and a smile on my face, yes I am a child at heart! 


Now I’m well aware that a triathlon involves three disciplines. Swim achieved, cycling getting there, run wise who stole my running legs? 8 lots of 60 seconds run and 90 seconds rest and it felt like I’d done a marathon. It was nowhere near as enjoyable as I remember but each step was a step closer to fitness. 

It’s crazy how much introducing these activities boosted my mood. It’s almost like being given part of my identity back. Worryingly a small opening has appeared on my incision site, no more than a couple of millimetres in diameter and very superficial, it is still a reminder that I’m still in the “be cautious” phase of recovery. However there’s so much more I want to be doing, so much more within reach, the only question now is do I have the discipline for this phase of recovery? 


As for our Neilson experience, once again it was fantastic. We are already looking at when we can go back. Neilson Messini is definitely staying on our “visit again” list. 

Fear, recovery and womanhood?

Fear! Something you face every day. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of your own mortality, fear of the unknown.  The issue I have with fear is that it’s not tangible. I can’t give you a lump of fear, you can’t hold it in your hands, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  I’m a big believer in facing your fears, putting yourself in situations that scare you, thus making fear an optional concept, I choose not to be fearful.  I’m scared of water, so I completed an open water swim, I’m scared of pregnant women (feel free to continue reading when you’ve finished laughing) I’ve done pilates surrounded by pregnant ladies. In the build up to surgery I had no fear of the surgery, I’d done my research, had confidence in the medical professionals, I put myself in a position not to be fearful. Recovery can be treated in a similar way. Right now I have a choice, I can sit back, rest and do nothing or I can actively participate in the process do what I can, listen to my body and give it what it needs to recover. I choose to take control, to move forward, to be better physically and mentally.

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They say it takes 6 weeks to resume “normal” activities post-hysterectomy, which means today is the half way mark. In reality the 6 week mark will just be the start, the journey back to the activities I miss will be much longer. I miss the feeling of setting a workout, hitting the point where your body is screaming at you to stop and having the strength of mind to keep pushing through. I miss the feeling of sitting under a bar, legs threatening to give way and still finding a way to stand tall. Strangely, I miss the feeling of being on a run, lungs burning, legs feeling like they’re stuck in treacle and hitting that zone where nothing else matters, the minutes fly by as you empty your mind whilst contemplating life’s problems. I can’t understand why people take drugs when these feelings are freely available through physical efforts. With my main goal this year (rat Race Dirty Weekend) already ruled out I’m currently setting out to fill the next few months with as many challenges as possible, after all what says “F**k you” to fibroids and surgery better than pushing yourself through obstacles and challenges with a smile on your face?

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Prior to surgery many of the forums I read talked of a great sense of loss that women feel following a hysterectomy. The loss of ever being able to carry children and frequently the loss of feeling like a woman, the loss of “womanhood”. I often questioned the inevitability of these thoughts, after all I knew I didn’t want to carry children and keeping my ovaries would keep hormone levels relatively stable. Would the surgery really change how I feel about myself as a woman? Three weeks on and these feelings are nowhere to be felt. Am I any less of a woman because I’m missing a few organs? I guess that depends on how you look at things. Biologically yes, without my uterus, cervix and tubes I am less of a woman but in reality? My point of view is that being a strong woman is about being strong physically, mentally and having strength of character. Physically I’m doing whatever my body allows, mentally there have been good days and bad days but I keep working on my frustrations and occasional emotional outbursts, however no matter what challenge I’ve faced I’ve stayed true to myself and that, I believe, is what makes me a strong woman!