Author: Jordan Fletcher
Navigating life after ovarian surgery can be intimidating when not knowing what to expect. During treatment and prior to surgery, your life had been emblazoned with schedules, appointments, and checkups with physicians. Now, after surgery, the hustle of these responsibilities has subsided and you are left to reestablish “normal.” Women recovering from ovarian surgery often find surprising and unexpected physical, social, sexual, and emotional challenges. Giving yourself time to adjust to these challenges can help you better mitigate this new chapter of your cancer recovery.
One of the most immediate challenges women after ovarian surgery experience is fatigue. Following surgery, many women report impaired abilities when it comes to daily responsibilities: tasks such as vacuuming, carrying heavy bags, washing laundry, and driving are more exhausting than before. It is recommended that you take it easy for the first couple of weeks, allowing adequate time for recuperation post-surgery before returning to work.
Premature menopause is a second consequence of surgery that many women experience. While each post-surgery experience is unique, women who have both ovaries removed will more than likely experience symptoms of menopause including: hot flashes, sweats, skin and vaginal dryness, fatigue, excessive mood swings, and increased anxiety. These fluctuating hormone levels can be difficult for many women to cope with as they can be more sudden and severe than “natural” menopause; if you find this to be true, speak with your doctor about possible options to address these symptoms, including hormonal replacement therapy.
Experiencing bowel problems is also common after surgery. These problems may include diarrhea, cramps, or constipation. Though these complications are quite frequent during recovery, they can also be symptomatic of post-surgery complications; therefore, if you experience excessive constipation, nausea, vomiting, severe abdominal discomfort or pain, speak with your doctor about these symptoms.
After surgery, many women feel “normal” within a couple of months and are excited to reintroduce themselves in social activity; however, for other women, feeling “normal” may take longer. Talking to close friends and family about how you are feeling can help you navigate through these unique and newly challenging times. Be it social or professional, gradually building back activity into your day and week can help to reestablish routines, familiarity, and feelings of normalcy.
After surgery, many women also experience unexpected sexual changes. It is suggested that patients refrain from intercourse the recommended amount of time set by your physician, traditionally around 3 or 4 weeks after surgery. However, even after this time-period, many women find that they still aren’t ready to reengage in sexually activity so soon. Other women retain interest in sexual activity after surgery, but do experience mild physical discomfort during intercourse. Speak to your doctor if these feelings or changes are persistent and bothersome to your daily activities.
Finally, the diagnosis of cancer and the process of both treatment and surgery takes time to come to terms with. Having surgery causes many women to feel vulnerable, this is absolutely not uncommon. Many women also report feeling down or experiencing symptoms of depression after surgery. These feelings are also not uncommon. Sometimes it may help to think about why you feel the way that you do: some women feel sad or depressed because of the changes that their cancer has caused; others are down because they are frightened about the future. Whatever is causing you to feel this way, it is highly encouraged to seek support. Often women find that a counselor or support group of others having been through a similar experience can be restorative and helpful.
However, if you continue feeling down—that your post-surgical efforts of recovery to feeling “yourself” are taking longer than they should or that you are experiencing at least one of the following symptoms—consider talking to your doctor about these feelings:
- feeling very sad and low most of the time
- not being able to enjoy life as you usually do
- having negative thoughts about yourself a lot of the time
- changes in eating habits (eating much more or less than usual)
- weight gain or loss
- feeling very tired a lot of the time
- loss of concentration
- loss of interest in sex
- changes in sleeping habits (not being able to get to sleep, waking in the early hours of the morning or sleeping more than usual)
- feeling very anxious and often upset
- feeling like you want to die or end your life.
If you have several of these signs or think you may be depressed, be honest with your doctor about how you feel. This will help your doctor advise you about finding the best type of support and care you need.
Life and recovery after ovarian surgery can be both intimidating and challenging. However, with education, prepared expectation, and continued support from close friends and family, you can equip yourself to face these new chapters with hope, confidence, and community.
M.D. Candidate, Class of 2019
UAMS College of Medicine
About the Author
Jordan Fletcher is a second year medical student at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, College of Medicine. A native of Arkansas and alumna of the University of Central Arkansas Norbert O. Schedler Honors College, she is greatly invested in the sexual, social, and educational literacy of women. Jordan is interested in Obstetrics and Gynecology and is projected to graduate with her Doctorate of Medicine in 2019.