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Using an Asthma Inhaler
Using an Asthma Inhaler


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Stage

How My Hysterectomy Turned Me Into a Warrior

By Maureen Johnson


"Intellectually, I could grasp all of the biological and practical challenges this surgery posed. Emotionally, I was still a six-year old child."


When harsh reality intrudes, I indulge movie-star fantasies.

Reality, for me, meant undergoing a subtotal hysterectomy for out-of-control fibroid tumors that had invaded my uterus. The fantasy, spawned by these little beasts, starred myself as Sigourney Weaver, a fearless, androgynous goddess in form-fitting jockeys, ready to take aim at her unwelcome abdominal pests.

If she could conquer her monsters, surely I could tame mine.

Act one: fiction vs. reality

The only problem was that I was staring into the belly of a much larger beast: a paralyzing fear of surgery — especially that surgery — and I would face it in a matter of months.

Coming from my sexually repressed Irish Catholic background, I could barely say the word "womanhood" without blushing. Because of my embarrassment, that casual female bonding about reproductive matters had always eluded me.

Now I was losing a part of myself that I had never fully embraced in the first place. How in the world could I talk about it, much less come to terms with it?

Act two: getting answers, getting educated

Fortunately, because fibroid tumors are not life threatening, I had some time to prepare.

This sounds easy, I know, but those first few emotional steps were as wobbly as my initial foray down the hospital corridor, post-surgery, in my teal movie-star robe. My list of tasks ranged from the intangible — preserve mental health — to the practical — find that perfect satin robe!

There are a number of fibroid treatments available, depending on the condition. Surgery was my only option because one of my "aliens" had sprouted to the size of a five-month fetus, and, incredibly, I had begun to "show."

The bulge in my stomach pressed on my bladder, and if I didn't get rid of it, I'd soon have to give it a name and start buying diapers for myself.

I considered a myomectomy — which removes only the tumors and preserves the uterus — but at 36, there was a still a good chance they would grow back before menopause.

Childless and single, I had never wanted kids, but I did have to reckon with the finality of that door being closed.

And what about that monthly cycle? I knew I wouldn’t miss the inconvenience of menstruation, but suspected I would still have to adjust to losing it, if for no other reason than its uncanny ability to predict mood swings.

How does one process all of this information, both intellectually and emotionally? For me, it took months of psychotherapy, or as I came to call it, "laser surgery for the soul" — that delicate, painful process of exposing feelings I preferred to avoid.

The climax: getting through it … the California way

Intellectually, I could grasp all of the biological and practical challenges this surgery posed. Emotionally, I was still a six-year-old child who had been invaded by two surgeries I'd had to correct a bedwetting problem. Making the hysterectomy and the hospital visit "safe," was no small task.

This six-year-old, I discovered, wanted to bring "blankie" — the tattered rag of a pink blanket I've had since age two — to the hospital.

I also brought along imaginary "white light," a sort of psychic shield in which to wrap myself, plus breathing and relaxation exercises I'd learned in hypnotherapy. A part of me felt very Californian, very New Age, making use of all these therapeutic tools. But deep down, I knew that mental preparation was key to survival.

Plus, I was not alone. There was no substitute for my mom, Naomi and all my other pals who helped out by running errands, making phone calls or just listening. The biggest challenge was to allow them to help.

This feeling of vulnerability was new to me. I felt awkward drawing attention to myself by admitting I was scared.

In one shining, self-actualized hospital-gown moment, all of my white light and breathing exercises paid off: I mooned Naomi on my way to the gurney that would take me upstairs to surgery. I figured, hey, why should I be the only person embarrassed by all of this?

And quite possibly, it was one way to take control. After all, I'd be flashing lots of people, front and back, in the next two days. At least, this one time, I chose to.

The final act …

One minute, I was standing there half-naked and giggling. The next, I was groggy in recovery, waking to a calm voice that said: "Miss Johnson, you're all through."

Or at least, that's how it seemed. Drugs have a way of making time disappear.

The aliens, at last, were gone and I have a six-inch abdominal scar to prove it.

But I had also vanquished a bigger beast — that amorphous blob of fear, anxiety and panic.

The alien-slaying, warrior goddess lives! This time, she wears a fashionable movie-star robe and wields a ratty pink blankie.


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