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Broken Nemo!

I cannot believe it has been 2 years since I wrote my last blog post! They aren't wrong when they say that time goes by more quickly the older you get! I am, however, well aware that this post has been sitting a little too long in my mental inbox! I confess, I have procrastinated for a couple of months before sitting down to recommence my blogs.

My last post in 2021 was written just after my 50th birthday. Within the post I alluded to the fact that I was peri-menopausal and had commenced HRT. I wasn't feeling right but I felt that I wasn't doing too badly, all things considered. It seems, however, that I really didn't know what I was talking about!!!

My journey to starting HRT had been a bit of a rocky one. I had probably been peri-menopausal for about 3 or 4 years and initially thought that I would manage to 'get through' the menopause without HRT. My weight had increased (but not massively), my sleep was awful (but had been for many years so I just thought it was normal for me, although the night sweats were a new addition!), and I had progressively more and more gastro-intestinal issues which I put down to my aging body but was constantly trying to resolve through diet and supplementation. I had already been gluten intolerant for a number of years, but that expanded out to being an intolerance to most grains, and rice! My guts became quite reactive of all sugars too, and it all came to a head whilst doing an ultra-distance event when my stomach distended to the point of being extremely painful and my body just stopped feeling like my own. I was reduced to being a gibbering wreck for a good chunk of the race (much to Dory's dismay!) and I swore then that I needed to do something about it. I scheduled both a female health review and a separate appointment about my GI health with my GP. In view of my age and symptoms, it was agreed that I try HRT to see if that helped, and I was given some additional guidance on supplements to try for my GI issues ahead of a referral to a specialist.

The HRT was great! The night sweats stopped, I started to sleep better, I had less brain fog and my moods were more stable. At the time of my last blog post, I was confident that I was heading in the right direction to feeling like my younger self once more... I just needed to sort out my weight gain and GI issues!

Fast forward 6 months, and my GI issues were getting worse, not better. My GP had approved me experimenting with a very expensive drug which the GI specialist had said may have a remote chance of resolving my issues (and if not then he would have to see me for further investigations). I was getting married in the summer, however, and did not wish to trial anything prior to the wedding in case there were nasty side effects. I agreed to speak to my GP again in September 2022 and start the drug then. In the meantime, I was called in for my routine smear test and casually chatted with the GP whilst she did the smear. I mentioned that, for the last 6 months, I had experienced the return of progressively heavier monthly bleeding, despite being on HRT and having a mirena coil in situ. I hadn't really been concerned with this, as I had previously experience break-through bleeding with a coil a few years ago, but the GP was cautious, and referred me for an ultrasound to be on the safe side.

My ultrasound appointment came through really quickly and I lay there covered in cold jelly, feeling totally relaxed as the sonographer did the initial external scan. I was confident she wasn't going to find anything! She mentioned to me that my womb seemed to be tilted at a very strange angle, and I replied that this had been commented upon when my last coil was fitted a couple of years ago too! I was sent off to empty my bladder before having the trans-vaginal scan. I was still sure this was just a routine check until the lovely sonographer, after much angling and repositioning in my nether regions, said "Aha!" and decried me the proud owner of a sizeable growth hanging off the back of my womb. She called to get the second opinion of a colleague, and they both agreed it was most probably a benign fibroid! I was told that there was a remote chance of such a growth being cancerous and so I would be placed on the '2 week wait' cancer pathway for a Gynae Specialist Appointment and further investigations including MRI and hysteroscopy. It all happened super-quick! I was meant to also have a biopsy of the womb lining but the womb was at too acute an angle by this time and they could not guide the tools in to get one!! The outcome of all the investigations was that I did, indeed, have a growth the size of a grapefruit coming off the back of my womb. It had twisted my womb around and pushed it to the right side of my body. We named it Freddie and he was by this point a palpable lump on the left side of my abdomen. He potentially accounted for my weight gain, and almost certainly for the gastro-intestinal issues as he was pressing on, and likely attached to, my bowel. He was also the potential reason for my bleeding as he was literally feeding off my oestrogen! He had to go!

I was put forward for a hysterectomy, with the recommendation that everything including my ovaries come out to prevent the possibility of a reoccurrence of a growth. I agreed to 3 months' worth of hormone-stripping treatment ahead of the operation to try to shrink Freddie back and give the surgeon a good shot of removing him laparoscopically. I was, however, warned that I may awake from surgery with a large open wound if the surgeon wasn't able to separate him from my bowel.

The 3 months' of injections to switch off my ovaries were tough! I was plunged into chemical menopause which was considerably more brutal that its natural cousin! I was given artificial hormone therapy to counteract some of the effects but they only scratched the surface. My whole body ached, I struggled to sleep, and woke up every morning stiff as a board. My mood plummeted, and my running suffered as I had neither the energy nor the inclination to run. My reduced activity levels meant I was putting on weight, and Freddie didn't seem to be getting any smaller, either!

I was a fat, sweaty, moody mess. Most of my clothes no longer fitted me. Having always been a mid-pack runner (sometimes a bit closer to the front), I became a struggling back-of-the-pack plodder and (I'm sorry if this sounds petulant) I absolutely hated it! For the most part, it was an utterly miserable experience being the one at the back on club runs. I would be struggling for breath and fighting both mental and physical demons, with every fibre of my being wanting to stop, go home and eat ice cream. I cried. A lot. I cried before going for a run because I really didn't feel like going. I cried during a run both for the pain and frustration, but also for the loss of my fitness and enjoyment of my sport. I cried big dejected, exhausted tears at the end of a run as it was taking it out of me so much. I also cried when my watch uploaded my runs to Garmin as I watched my fitness scores rapidly decline alongside my mood. Truth to be told, I have no idea how I kept myself running in those last few months but have to thank a few close friends and family for their gentle insistence that I kept doing whatever I could.

I was desperate to get the operation done and start the long slow haul back to fitness, and yet I was petrified because I appreciated that it was going to be a very long road indeed. I would need to allow my body the necessary healing time, and then slowly claw back the fitness that had been declining for over 12 months. I knew that, even though I could potentially recommence gentle exercise between 6 and 12 weeks post-op, I would have to work to about an 18 month plan to get anywhere near back to fitness. And that was if everything went well! It seemed like a massive mountain to climb. Everyone told me that, if anyone could do that, it was me, but I harboured doubts. I felt old, tired and beaten.

My operation was scheduled for 22nd February 2023. We went away to Rhyll in the campervan the weekend before and I did one last Parkrun along the seafront at Nova Prestatyn, not knowing when I would be able to do another. The sun shone down on us that weekend giving me a glimmer of hope that everything would turn out ok. I could only hope!

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