After My Hysterectomy, I’m Living My Best Life

As told to Diana Whitney

I was pregnant with my first son when I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids in 2001. I was serving in the Navy at the time, and I finally understood why I’d been struggling to keep my weight at a certain threshold. It wasn’t my diet or my fitness — it was the fibroids.

For years after that, I had incredibly heavy, painful periods. Every month it was like cleaning up a crime scene. I used those big hospital pads, and I was still scared of the bleeding. I had to keep running back and forth to the bathroom to check on it.

But I didn’t seek medical care because I thought it was normal, and I was focused on raising my two kids, having a family. We moms tend not to focus on the internal.

Then my husband passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm at age 34. That year, the pain from the fibroids became unbearable, maybe from the stress and grief. I came to realize that I was the only parent my sons had left, and it was my responsibility to take care of my health. When my boys were 12 and 14 years old, I finally decided to pay attention to myself.

I didn’t have health insurance at the time because my husband had been our family’s provider. So, I waited until I got a new job working at the University of Memphis, and then I went to my gynecologist. I walked right into the room and told her, “I need a hysterectomy.”

She was surprised, but when I lay down on the table and she touched my stomach, she said, “Yeah, you’re a great candidate.”

She could tell just from an external exam how bad my fibroids were. I told her the pain was getting to be too much. There was a family connection — my mom and both of my sisters had fibroids as well. My twin sister had gotten a hysterectomy a few years back, and she’d urged me to get one. I kept ignoring her, telling her I’d be fine, but the fibroids were getting bigger and I knew it was time. After 17 years, I couldn’t be in pain anymore.

I scheduled the surgery for October 2018. Right afterward, I could feel the difference in my body. My gynecologist told me I had seven to eight fibroids, and I’m a tiny person, 5 feet 3 inches. She didn’t know how I’d lived like that. It was like I’d been eight months pregnant.

For years, I’d been working out with a trainer, getting into great shape, but I still couldn’t lose weight or reach my fitness goals. I would do sit-ups with my trainer, but the pain was horrible. Now I can do core workouts without pain. I can finally see my abs! And I don’t have to worry about monthly crime scenes. My granny panties are in the landfill, along with the hospital pads.

But the first weeks after the surgery were pretty rough. I wasn’t able to work out, and I lost a lot of muscle. I was dealing with painful stitches because I’d had an abdominal hysterectomy. The surgeon cut me open like a fish — the fibroids were so big it was the only way to remove them.

One downside was I still felt like I was having my period. I had all the symptoms: PMS, bloating, moodiness, body temperature changes. Eventually my hormones found their balance, but it took months. I still have my ovaries, although everything else is gone.

I tell women who are scheduling a hysterectomy to have everything planned out ahead of time. Make sure you have snacks next to your bed in a cooler, lots of water, books, movies and pillows to support you when you’re coughing post-surgery. You’ll need a friend or family member to help out, because there will be things you won’t be able to do initially — like get out of bed. I was blessed to have my teenage sons help me during my recovery and a great support system of friends.

I talk openly about my hysterectomy because women don’t talk about these things. There’s a taboo around female bodies, and I’m tired of the taboo. We need to speak honestly about our uteruses — they’re a part of our womanly experience.

Getting the hysterectomy was the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s been almost two years, and I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m training hard and competing in Spartan races in honor of my husband, who was a fitness junkie. He was training for a Spartan race before he died, and he encouraged me to challenge myself. Since he passed, my perspective has changed. Everything that I’m afraid to do, I’m going to do it.

Lakisha Watson-Moore is a U.S. Navy veteran, mom, widow, workout junkie, athlete and future coach living in Tennessee. She works as a political organizer and is training for her next Spartan Race. Follow her workouts on Instagram @bougie_black_girl

Menopause and Chronic Health Risks

At my most recent physical, I brought a long list of ailments to discuss. First up: waking every day with achy joints and muscles — despite going for long walks at least five days a week and lifting weights regularly. That was followed by loss of energy and weight gain. In short, since entering menopause in the past 12 months, I feel like I’ve aged about 10 years.

Aside from wanting to feel like my old (younger) self again, I was concerned about my risk for developing chronic diseases associated with menopause.

Prior to my appointment, I reached out to Dr. Mary Jane Minkin — a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine and a member of HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council — to learn about my risks.

She told me that the loss of estrogen due to menopause puts women at risk for a number of conditions: the two biggest are osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, followed by diabetes and arthritis.

Osteoporosis

“With osteoporosis, what women need to understand is that our bones are constantly breaking down and rebuilding,” explained Minkin. “Estrogen helps block the breakdown. When you go through menopause and lose estrogen, you have comparably more breakdown.”

She added that you’re still rebuilding, but not enough to compensate for the increase in breakdown, resulting in a net bone loss.

Menopausal women who smoke are at an even higher risk of getting osteoporosis, but Minkin said it’s never too late to get the benefits of quitting. She also said we can decrease our risk by cutting down or eliminating alcohol, doing weight-bearing exercises and increasing our intake of calcium and vitamin D.

Cardiovascular disease

Minkin explained that when women go through menopause, they have a deterioration in their lipid profile. Their HDL, the good cholesterol, tends to go down, while their LDL and triglycerides (a type of fat found in blood) can go up — all of which increase the risk for heart and blood vessel disease.

“Even more important, estrogen is involved in relaxing blood vessels, so without the relaxing effect, blood pressure tends to go up a bit. Unfortunately, heart disease tends to go up a bit, too,” Minkin said.

She added that heart disease generally occurs later in women than in men, illustrating the protective effect estrogen has on the heart and blood vessels.

The idea of getting heart disease in my 50s is pretty daunting, but Minkin assured me that my near daily walks are decreasing my risk.

“The most important thing is to exercise and maintain a healthy weight; they both go together,” Minkin said. “Eat healthfully and try to exercise as best you can. And you want to be doing a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training.”

When I mentioned that I take hour-long walks, she noted that it’s not necessary to do all the walking at once.

“If you can get in three sets of 20 minutes or two sets of 30 minutes, that’s good.”

When it comes to using estrogen therapy to improve cardiovascular health, Minkin said the data are inconclusive. One 2014 study concluded that estrogen therapy decreased coronary heart disease in healthy women between 50 and 59 years old.

“It does seem to prevent it,” Minkin said in reference to the study, “because these women are closer to menopause. If women are given estrogen as they go through menopause, it probably does prevent heart disease.”

Diabetes & arthritis

A 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study found that estrogen seems to delay the onset of diabetes, and further studies have shown that estrogen can decrease insulin resistance and glucose production. Weight is also a factor in the development of diabetes during the menopausal years.

“If a woman … [is overweight ] and she can either lose 50 pounds or take estrogen, I say losing 50 pounds is better for overall health,” Minkin said, adding that the estrogen seems to help glucose metabolism. Weight loss also improves glucose metabolism.

The relationship between estrogen and arthritis is trickier, according to Minkin, who said that age is a huge variable. She explained that arthritis increases in men as they age just as in women, so it’s hard to say that it’s strictly an estrogen issue.

“There are women who go through menopause and develop significant arthritis — not related to lupus or rheumatoid arthritis or anything like that; they just seem to get achy with menopause,” Minkin said.

That sounds like me. It also describes one of Dr. Minkin’s patients, whom I’ll call “Nancy” to protect her privacy. Nancy, 62, is an avid bicyclist, but about 10 years ago, she was having difficulty riding.

“I was having a lot of trouble with muscle pain, so much so that I couldn’t even hold a piece of paper in my hand,” Nancy told me recently. “I think my estrogen levels were going down, and I was getting increasingly debilitated.”

Dr. Minkin put her on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and Nancy saw improvement in two days.

“I started to feel less stiff and more able to be active — ride my bike, walk my dogs — and I generally felt better,” Nancy, who is still on HRT, said.

Minkin told me that for many of her patients, estrogen relieves muscle pain. Still, some who develop arthritis don’t find relief.

“It’s probably some sort of osteoarthritis that just coincidentally started getting worse around the time of menopause,” Minkin explained.

My conversation with Dr. Minkin empowered me to ask a lot of questions during my physical and to push for answers. My health care provider took a great deal of time with me, ordered a battery of tests and referred me to a gynecologist for a discussion about HRT.

In the meantime, I’m continuing my walks and trying to ignore the aches and pains.

Nurses and Doctors Sick With COVID Feel Pressured to Get Back to Work

By Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News

Every day, the nation is reminded of COVID-19’s ongoing impact as new death counts are published. What is not well documented is the toll on family members.

New research suggests the damage is enormous. For every person who dies of COVID-19, nine close family members are affected, researchers estimate based on complex demographic calculations and data about the coronavirus.

Many survivors will be shaken by the circumstances under which loved ones pass away — rapid declines, sudden deaths and an inability to be there at the end — and worrisome ripple effects may linger for years, researchers warn.

If 190,000 Americans die from COVID complications by the end of August, as some models suggest, 1.7 million Americans will be grieving close family members, according to the study. Most likely to perish are grandparents, followed by parents, siblings, spouses and children.

“There’s a narrative out there that COVID-19 affects mostly older adults,” said Ashton Verdery, a co-author of the study and a professor of sociology and demography at Pennsylvania State University. “Our results highlight that these are not completely socially isolated people that no one cares about. They are integrally connected with their families, and their deaths will have a broad reach.”

Because of family structures, Black families will lose slightly more close family members than white families, aggravating the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on African American communities. (Verdery’s previous research modeled kinship structures for the U.S. population, dating to 1880 and extending to 2060.)

The potential consequences of these losses are deeply concerning, with many families losing important sources of financial, social and caregiving support. “The vast scale of COVID-19 bereavement has the potential to lower educational achievement among youth, disrupt marriages, and lead to poorer physical and mental health across all age groups,” Verdery and his co-authors observe in their paper.

Holly Prigerson, co-director of the Center for Research on End-of-Life Care at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, sounds a similar alarm, especially about the psychological impact of the pandemic, in a new paper on bereavement.

“Bereaved individuals have become the secondary victims of COVID-19, reporting severe symptoms of traumatic stress, including helplessness, horror, anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt, and regret, all of which magnify their grief,” she and co-authors from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York noted.

In a phone conversation, Prigerson predicted that people experiencing bereavement will suffer worse outcomes because of lockdowns and social isolation during the pandemic. She warned that older adults are especially vulnerable.

“Not being there in a loved one’s time of need, not being able to communicate with family members in a natural way, not being able to say goodbye, not participating in normal rituals — all this makes bereavement more difficult and prolonged grief disorder and post-traumatic stress more likely,” she noted.

Organizations that offer bereavement care are seeing this unfold as they expand services to meet escalating needs.

Typically, 5% to 10% of bereaved family members have a “trauma response,” but that has “increased exponentially — approaching the 40% range — because we’re living in a crisis,” said Yelena Zatulovsky, vice president of patient experience at Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care, the nation’s fifth-largest hospice provider.

Since March, Seasons has doubled the number of grief support groups it offers to 29, hosted on virtual platforms, most of them weekly. All are free and open to community members, not just families whose loved ones received care from Seasons. (To find a virtual group in your time zone, call 1-855-812-1136, Season’s 24/7 call center.)

“We’re noticing that grief reactions are far more intense and challenging,” Zatulovsky said, noting that requests for individual and family counseling have also risen.

Medicare requires hospices to offer bereavement services to family members for up to 13 months after a client’s death. Many hospices expanded these services to community members before the pandemic, and Edo Banach, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, hopes that trend continues.

“It’s not just the people who die on hospice and their families who need bereavement support at this time; it’s entire communities,” he said. “We have a responsibility to do even more than what we normally do.”

In New York City, the center of the pandemic in its early months, the Jewish Board is training school administrators, teachers, counselors and other clinicians to recognize signs of grief and bereavement and provide assistance. The health and human services organization serves New Yorkers regardless of religious affiliation.

“There is a collective grief experience that we are all experiencing, and we’re seeing the need go through the roof,” said Marilyn Jacob, a senior director who oversees the organization’s bereavement services, which now includes two support groups for people who have lost someone to COVID-19.

“There’s so much loss now, on so many different levels, that even very seasoned therapists are saying, ‘I don’t really know how to do this,'” Jacob said. In addition to losing family members, people are losing jobs, friends, routines, social interactions and a sense of normalcy and safety.

For many people, these losses are sudden and unexpected, which can complicate grief, said Patti Anewalt, director of Pathways Center for Grief & Loss in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, affiliated with the state’s largest not-for-profit hospice. The center recently created a four-week group on sudden loss to address its unique challenges.

The day before Julie Cheng’s 88-year-old mother was rushed to the hospital in early July, she had been singing songs with Cheng’s sister over the phone at her Irvine, California, nursing home. The next morning, a nurse reported that the older woman had a fever and was wheezing badly. At the hospital, COVID-19 was diagnosed and convalescent plasma therapy tried. Within two weeks, after suffering a series of strokes, Cheng’s mother died.

Since then, Cheng has mentally replayed the family’s decision not to take her mother out of the nursing home and to refuse mechanical ventilation at the hospital — something she was sure her mother would not have wanted.

“There have been a lot of ‘what ifs?’ and some anger: Someone or something needs to be blamed for what happened,” she said, describing mixed emotions that followed her mother’s death.

But acceptance has sprung from religious conviction. “Mostly, because of our faith in Jesus, we believe that God was ready to take her and she’s in a much better place now.”

Coping with grief, especially when it is complicated by social isolation and trauma, takes time. If you are looking for help, call a local hospice’s bereavement department and ask what kind of services it provides to people in the community. Funeral directors should also have a list of counselors and grief support programs. One option is GriefShare, offered by churches across the country.

Many experts believe the need for these kinds of services will expand exponentially as more family members emerge from pandemic-inspired shock and denial.

“I firmly believe we’re still at the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the help people need, and we won’t understand the full scope of that for another six to nine months,” said Diane Snyder-Cowan, leader of the bereavement professionals steering committee of the National Council of Hospice and Palliative Professionals.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Eating Fried Rice Can Boost Brainpower, Says Study

From studying for exams to preparing for a big interview, we all have times when our brainpower needs a little extra boost. And as much as we love coffee, sometimes it leaves you feeling more jittery than genius.

We’ve already written about the power of nootropics in increasing your memory and focus, but you’re not always going to have the time or money to get your hands on those. The good news is, there are a few natural ways you can improve your brainpower without having to break the bank. We have a feeling you may be surprised by some of them!

Scroll through the gallery for 7 unexpected ways you can boost your brainpower.

1. Eat fried rice

Image: iStock

If you have a habit of ordering takeaway during busy times, you may actually be doing yourself a favor — depending on what you order. A new study from the University of Boston reveals that certain takeaway meals have been proven to increase memory test scores. This is thanks to an ingredient called substance called choline, which is common in egg-rich takeaway foods like fried rice and Fiorentina pizza. The research also showed that Neopolitan pizza was a good brain-boosting takeaway choice, thanks to the high level of polyphenols. Of course, you could always make these meals at home to save yourself money and make it a little healthier!

2. Have a nap

Image: iStock

It’s no secret that a power nap works wonders when you need a little mid-arvo pick-me-up. But did you know it can also boost your memory? While a 20-30 minute snooze increases energy and alertness, a one hour nap has been shown to be best for improvement for remembering facts, names, and faces. However, unlike your power nap, it may leave you feeling a little groggy. So, if you’re going to do it before an exam, presentation, or networking event, you may want to do it a few hours before you leave. You can have your nap at home or head to a nap class at The Indigo Project!

3. Sniff mint

Image: iStock

Is there anything this herb can’t do? Not only does it taste delicious in milkshakes and relieve headaches, but it also makes you smarter! There are many studies that show taking a whiff of mint improves your problem-solving skills, judgment, attention span, and memory. It’s also been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Scientists believe this is because the peppermint scent increases the oxygen flow to the brain.

4. Listen up

Image: iStock

There’s a good reason there are so many ‘work’ playlists on Spotify — listening to certain types of music has been proven to increase your brainpower. But if you want to really reap the benefits, you may want to swap your Miley Cyrus for Mozart. Research shows that music by the classical composer increases brain wave activity linked to memory, understanding, and problem-solving. Funnily enough, the scientists found that this did not happen with the music of other classical composers like Beethoven — only Mozart!

5. Play Tetris

Image: iStock

We know, playing video games when you’ve got an overflowing to-do list seems a little counter-intuitive. But extensive research shows that playing Tetris boosts your memory and makes you more efficient at processing information. This works both short-term (so, you’ll be more alert after finishing a game) and long-term by actually changing the structure of the brain. Scientists believe this isn’t specific to Tetris but is the case with all puzzle games. So, if you don’t want to dream about falling blocks every night (yes, this really happens when you play a lot of Tetris), something like Sudoku or Words With Friends may be more your style.

6. Beet it

Image: iStock

It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but beetroot packs a serious punch when it comes to boosting your brainpower. It’s loaded with nitrates, which have been shown to increase blood flow to the parts of the brain associated with executive functioning (aka. getting sh*t done!) It also contains vitamin B9 and carotenoids, which are both known to aid cognitive function. If you’re not keen on the taste, try baking it into a healthy brownie or sipping on a beetroot latte!

7. See red

Image: adidas.com.au

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to buy some new workout clothes, this may be it. Research shows that looking at the color red enhances brain performance in attention-demanding tasks. This is because the brain associates red with danger, which makes you more alert. Meanwhile, blue has been proven to increase your creativity. So, whether you want to improve your performance at the gym or wear your workout gear as you plow through your to-do list, you can shop some colorful new threads here.

The post Eating Fried Rice Can Boost Brainpower, Says Study appeared first on Sporteluxe.

8 Telltale Signs You Have A Food Intolerance

The differences between a food allergy and food intolerance may be hard to miss at first. What may be a tolerable slice of feta in a summer salad may not have your body feeling the same as a few slices of pizza. Physical reactions to both are common, but these are likely caused by food intolerance and not an allergy. The two are commonly mistaken as one another, but the differences are pretty stark. Food intolerances are often far less serious. We decided to dissect the differences for you. We want you to know the telltale signs you have a food intolerance. Keep reading for more.

What is the Difference Between a Food Intolerance and Food Allergy?

According to the Mayo Clinic, the differences have to do with your body’s reaction to the food. For food intolerances, a little bit can likely be tolerated by your body. Food intolerance is likely to come in the form of digestive issues. If you feel like you have inflammation, nausea, or trouble digesting the food you just ate, this is most likely also food intolerance. The signs are super similar to a food allergy. The differences are stark in contrast. You may even be able to stop food intolerance with medication. Like with dairy, for example, you can lactase enzyme pills to aid your body’s digestion.

A food allergy causes your immune system to react. It can cause a bigger range of symptoms that can be severe or even life-threatening in some cases. Hives, severe allergic reactions, swelling, and more are food allergies. The best way to distinguish these may be to get an allergy test.

signs you may have a food intolerance
Image: Amplitude Magazine via Unsplash

The Causes of Food Intolerance

There are several reasons your body may have an intolerance to food and the following are the culprits. According to the Mayo Clinic, causes of food intolerance include:

  • Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS
  • Sensitivity to food additives in certain dishes
  • Recurring stress or psychological factors
  • Celiac disease or the intolerance of gluten in your body
signs you may have a food intolerance
Image: Volodymyr Hryshchenko via Unsplash

The Telltale Signs You Have a Food Intolerance

There are signs you have a food intolerance and may also be prone to this issue with the food you’re eating. They are the following:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Gas, cramps or bloating (digestion issues)
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Irritability or nervousness

The post 8 Telltale Signs You Have A Food Intolerance appeared first on Sporteluxe.