Hanging Up the Wonder Woman Cape … For a Little While


“Being a woman is hard work.”–Maya Angelou

What makes a woman a woman?

Is it the curve of her hips, the scent of her hair, the sparkle in her eyes, the suggestion in her smile? Or is it her generous spirit, her fearless heart, her nurturing embrace? Could it possibly be that what distinguishes a woman from her male counterparts is her uncanny abilities to see a sliver of beauty and good in every dismal situation, to find comfort in a box of chocolates or the bottom of a Lays potato chip bag, to believe that “They were on sale” is a perfectly acceptable reason to buy a seventh pair of jeans that looks strikingly similar to her other six pairs–or is it her ability to stand strong against any storm and then softly melt when the storm has passed?

Well, if that’s all it takes . . . then I think I’ve got those bases covered.

But what if it’s more than that–or more precisely, what if it’s less? What if, when all the outward embellishments and behavioral displays are stripped away, when all the superficial layers are peeled back until the very primal core of her being is exposed–what if the only thing that truly makes a woman a woman is nothing more than a set of internal body parts specific to her gender?

And if so, what happens when those body parts are taken away?

I guess I’m about to find out.

I had hoped this day would never come. I had convinced myself that even though my mom had a hysterectomy at age 36 and my sister needed hers at 41, I would be the lucky one to outrun and outsmart fate. I almost did. My doctor wanted to perform the surgery last year, but I stubbornly refused–it was too invasive, too drastic, too expensive. And besides, I reasoned, we hadn’t tried all the other options yet. So he reluctantly relented, and now, 16 months later, I have been forced to accept that all the other options have failed and that maybe I should have listened to him to begin with.

“You really shouldn’t put this off any longer,” he said.

“You really should do this now while you’re still relatively young and in good health,” he said.

“You really should get this taken care of while your test results are still good,” he said.

And then he said, “But it’s your choice.”

Really?

And so I have packed away my biking shorts because I won’t be needing them anytime soon, and I have hung my invisible Wonder Woman cape in the back of the closet because for the next four to six weeks my superhero powers will be focused on feats a little more personal than combating all those nasty threats against humanity (cleverly disguised as unrelenting household chores). Sorry, but for now someone else will have to find the remote, retrieve the mail, feed the dogs, corral the dust bunnies, smell the milk . . . okay, so maybe retirement has made me a little lazy and I haven’t been wearing the cape much lately anyway. But still.

I can’t help feeling a little sad over the upcoming events and a little betrayed as well. In a few hours my good doctor and his trusted robot DaVinci will be slicing and dicing, making small incisions and removing large chunks of me. True, those chunks are no longer functioning properly, but at one time they were quite spectacular, assisting in the creation of three incredible young men and providing them with temporary housing until the world was ready for their magnificence. It’s hard not to be sentimental. It’s also hard not to feel betrayed. I have taken care of this body–I have inspected it regularly, clothed it properly, exercised it occasionally and certainly fed it exceedingly well. And this is the thanks I get?

But more than anything, I can’t help feeling scared–and not just a little. Thinking rationally has never been a strong suit of mine, but when I try really hard, I can rationalize that hysterectomies are relatively safe, that women have them every day and I will be just one of the many. I can rationalize that the type of hysterectomy I’m having will be much less invasive and less painful than the type my mom or even my sister had (and I know I’m much tougher than she is, so if she could handle it, so can I). I can rationalize that I’ll be tired and sore for a while, that I’ll probably sleep a lot and complain even more, and that there will be many things I just can’t do until I’m better.

But, as is so often the case, the irrational part of me is in control here. I’m scared that the physical pain will dig deeper and last longer than what I’m prepared for. I’m scared that the surgery will put me in the fast lane on the Highway to Hormone Hell–and since I’ve already taken a few test drives on that hilly, winding road, I know for a fact that it’s no joy ride. I’m scared that four to six weeks of forced inactivity will fog my brain and make me an unwitting victim of daytime television (gee, it’s almost time for Hoda and Kathie Lee–I can’t wait to see what they’re drinking today!). And I’m scared that same inactivity will turn my muscles to mush and my belly to jelly–which will be especially discouraging since I’m counting on a substantial, initial weight loss. In fact, I’ve already Googled, “How much does a uterus weigh?” and since the average weight is estimated to be less than one pound, I’m guessing mine will be closer to 15. (And since he’ll already be in there anyway, maybe the good doctor can haul out a few fat cells while he’s at it.)

Like every other person who has ever had too much time to contemplate the surgeon’s knife, my mind is a continuous whirl of “what ifs,” with my worst fear of all being, “What if I go to sleep and just don’t wake up?” If I were in control, I simply would not allow that to happen–I would set my internal alarm clock, scream in my ears and slap myself silly until I shuddered awake from my drug-induced slumber. Will the doctor and anesthesiologist go to the same lengths on my behalf? I need them to understand that I have too many sunrises yet to marvel, too many flowers yet to inhale, too many waterfalls yet to chase, too many words yet to write–and more importantly, too many words like “I love you,” “I’m sorry” and “You’re beautiful” yet to whisper.

I’m trying to look on the bright side, though. My recovery period will get me out of all kinds of work around the house, and nothing in my post-op instructions says I can’t spend that recovery period reclining on the back deck in the sunshine. I’ll never again have to worry about cervical, uterine or ovarian cancer (which leaves only 200 other types of cancers for me to worry about), and I’ll never again have to worry about the possibility of paying for an unplanned pregnancy with my retirement funds. And even though I won’t be hopping back on my bike anytime soon, I have been offered an enticing recovery incentive–a bike ride through the Florida Keys in the fall with a bunch of Parrot Heads. (You bet I’ll be ready!)

The house is cleaned, the laundry is done, the refrigerator is stocked and the pillows are plumped on the couch, awaiting my timid return–along with a big ol’ bag of peanut butter M&Ms hidden safely underneath those pillows (my idea of “comfort food”). I may be coming home with a few less body parts than I left with, but I will be coming home . . . and I will still be woman. I just hope that woman is the ME I remember and not some cranky, old biddy wearing my pajamas–in which case it might be necessary to pull my invisible Wonder Woman cape back out of the closet and do a little butt-kicking for the sake of humanity.

 “A new journey to be started. A new promise to be fulfilled. A new page to be written.
Go forth unto this waiting world with pen in hand, all you young scribes,
the open book awaits. Be creative. Be adventurous. Be original.
And above all else, b
e young.
For youth is your greatest weapon, your greatest tool. Use it wisely.”
–Wonder Woman # 62 by George Perez

And just because this woman likes her flowers . . . 

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bee1

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About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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24 Responses to Hanging Up the Wonder Woman Cape … For a Little While

  1. jeanjames26 says:

    You will be just fine! Our body parts do not define us, our minds do, so unless you’re having a lobotomy, then I expect you will be the same woman when you emerge from your slumber. I see patients all day long in and out of anesthesia, people do remarkably well, even the ones you don’t expect to. I wish you all the very best in your recovery, you’ll be back in your cape before you know it!!

    • Thank you, Jean, for your words of encouragement. And yes, I prefer to be defined by my mind, crazy though it may sometimes be. I’m sure everything will be fine–I have a tendency to create things to worry about, and my worries are almost never confirmed. Maybe I’ll just throw the cape on the kitchen counter (where everything else is thrown) so it will be readily accessible when I need it. Thanks again!

  2. Jeannie says:

    You go “wonder woman”, you will do great and will never miss those parts. Can’t wait for that fall bike ride 🙂

    • Thank you, Jeannie! Norman will be at the “planning meeting” tomorrow night, but I’m not so sure I’ll be there. 😉 Looking forward to being there in the fall, though!

  3. RayEtta says:

    It does seem daunting and I have heard other women say some of the same things. From what they tell me, once the soreness is gone you won’t miss a thing. You are woman because of what is in your head and your heart. Good luck and best wishes.

    • Thank you, RayEtta! I’ve heard a few horror stories (only a few), but I have yet to hear from a single woman who wasn’t glad she had it done. My head and my heart may be a little rattled, but they will still be intact–and that’s what is really important. And thank you, also, for your kind words regarding my photos. I’ve only been really interested in photography for about a year and a half, and it has brought me tremendous peace and joy.

  4. RayEtta says:

    By the by, your pictures just keep getting better and better. Such wonderful color and clarity.

  5. June Wemlinger says:

    In my prayers and if it helps at all, I had a hysterectomy at 28, never once took hormones, got through menopause just fine, although a little sweaty sometimes. Pain was minimal and back to work after 6 weeks(and I was a showhorse groom,lots of physical work) So, I know you’ll be fine , you’ll just be without something you no longer needed anyway..praying for speedy and healthy recovery..<3

  6. Lyn says:

    Hang in there life will be better without those body parts. Find you a pillow to cuddle for a few days it will help with the getting up and down. If you get to where you are beginning to watch daytime TV call me and I will show up on your doorstep to help you switch that crap off and entertain you. Will be thinking of you the next couple of days.

    • Thank you, Linda! Short-term problems, long-term gains. I foresee a lot of time on the back deck in the sunshine, but when it no longer hurts to laugh, I may give you a call!

  7. Shawna says:

    Ok the therapy girl talking to you……For everyday you lay around you lose 3 days of strength!!!! I was on bedrest for 4 weeks until my twins came. I gained 3 pounds in that pregnancy. They were born 2 mo early so laying in bed I started losing my muscle mass. So. Take it easy for a week or so then maybe you can enjoy some walks. and while you are laying down, or sitting you can do some general strengthening ex.
    All your feelings are natural, you will do great on your recovery because you are HEALTHY and STRONG. So this is a minor set back. just keep sight of what is ahead. I would have your doctor explain your restrictions. Be my guess no lifting.
    Best wishes and keep us posted.
    Shawna

    • Thank you, Miss Therapy Girl! Your advice sounds very similar to that given by the man I live with, who has no intentions of letting me spend much time on the couch. My doctor recommended being a couch potato for the first 3-4 days and then engaging in light activity for the rest of the week. After this first week, he said I can start walking and can even put a few miles on my indoor bike trainer. No driving for two weeks, no lifting, no outside bike riding for another 6-8 weeks–pretty standard stuff. I’ve already lost some muscle mass leading up to this, so I’m anxious to get back in shape (which won’t happen lying on the couch).

  8. SUE says:

    You are going to be just fine!! I predict that you will be back outside with your camera in less than a week. In the meantime, Norman’s TLC, some sunshine on the back deck with a couple of good books and a key lime pie with distract you from the discomfort!! Your Wonder Woman cape will come in handy!! Enjoy your “Karen time”.

    • Thank you, Sue! And yes, I’ve already noticed a few new flowers in need of my photographic attention … in a few days. In the meantime, I’ve got some great reading material lined up, and just the thought of that key lime pie is making my mouth water. 😉

  9. emjayandthem says:

    I, too, put it off and once it was over & done with – SHAZAM — so happy to not deal with that anymore. I hope you can sleep a lot and enjoy the down time … time to just be still and let your body heal. Like others before me, those parts don’t define you .. your brain and heart do 🙂

    Happy healing!
    MJ

    • Thank you, MJ! It’s reassuring to hear from others who have “been there, done that” and haven’t regretted their decision. My plans for the next few weeks include sleeping, reading, writing, sleeping some more, and walking in the sunshine. 🙂

  10. liliofthefield27 says:

    Karen, Paul McCartney called while you were out…he wanted to whisper words of wisdom to you, and to tell you to let it be.

    As for my own *ahem* words of wisdom, I don’t know their intrinsic value, but let me give this my best shot. This is based on a conversation I had with my mother a few years after she had her hysterectomy at age 54. A woman’s instinctual nature is toward interconectedness and relationship, be it spouse, children, other family members, and friends. Feminists are going to shoot me for saying that, yet it’s true. In most feminine lifestyles, a woman, for the first half of her life, is focused on the core function of nurturing and family management, and then, at our age, we undergo a long but diminishing sense of the empty nest…and of ourselves on many levels. I aint preachin’, nor am I stating this is the case with you, I’s just sayin’. Our natural instinct to care for others is rather hard to elude, and ideally should not be “lost” in aging. BUT…life is cyclical, and at this juncture in the road, the focus and breadth of a woman’s caring nature must contract…in order for other parts, the “unlived life of a woman”, for lack of a better term, to be born, to grow, to be nourished, and to feel the warmth of the sun and wind on the face.

    To bid adieu to our former selves is hard; to bid adieu to our procreational body parts, yes, can be exceedingly daunting for many women. I myself don’t know what my reaction will be, if and when. But I truly believe (as does my mom) that as we enter our new life chapters, our prose is more profound and layered, for we as women now realize that it’s less to do with our physiology than it is do do with, finally, truly connecting to our souls and conciousness, in ways we never could during our “mama” years.

    Am I making any sense here? I hope so! In midlife, and afterwards, one does meet one’s opposite. For some, the transition is quick; for others, a more prolonged process is necessary. You’ve bid adieu to body parts, but NOT to your core being. So, girl, let it be…feel what you feel during this time, don’t suppress or deny anything, whether it be sadness, fear, etc. Cry, laugh, throw pillows across the room, eat the candy…let it be. When your new moon is in the seventh house, and your Jupiter finally aligns with Mars, a “fifth dimension” of you will soon be ready to get up on the saddle and explore new hidden treasures, more aromatic flowers, new paths, new songs, new quotes, new vibrant dances and colours to savor…all on a profoundly more deeper and enriching level. You’ll no doubt gaze upon old songs and paths with equally deeper peepers. THEN, get ready to really and truly let this revised and richer Karen BE.

    Phew! That was a long one! And again, I aint preachin’! Just throwing it out there. 🙂

    • liliofthefield27 says:

      Oops…”Consciousness” !! Typos! LOL!

    • Wow … who needs McCartney when I’ve got Lillian and her mom to guide and advise me? 😉 Truly, thank you, and yes, you are making perfect sense and have eloquently revealed so much of what I have been feeling and thinking. I’ve been so discouraged at the prospect of saying goodbye to my former self that I haven’t allowed myself to consider that I just might like the new me even more. I feel so much more at ease after reading your words of wisdom, and I am looking forward to meeting my “fifth dimension”–I’ll bet she’s quite a gal. Thanks again!

  11. Mary Fritz says:

    This is just in time. My sister is going in for a different type of surgery, but she is scared and worried about different things. I can’t wait to forward this to her.
    Had your surgery when I was 44 and have never regretted a day after. Had the initial scare beforehand and afterwards all was good.
    Love your blogs!

    • Thank you, Mary. I have found time and again that, regardless of the situation, it seldom turns out to be as dreadful as my overactive imaginations leads me to fear. I hope your sister’s surgery goes well and that she finds relief, especially from her own fears and worries.

  12. bronxboy55 says:

    I’m sorry I didn’t read this post sooner. I trust the surgery went well and that you’re well along on the road to recovery. It’s a profound question, this issue of parts and loss and how we define ourselves. As others have said here, you will no doubt be the same woman — and the same person — a sensitive and brilliant human being who will continue to grow and touch others. I hope you’re enjoying your peanut butter M&Ms right now. And I know you’re feeling good about those Cardinals.

    Parrot Heads?

    • Thank you, Charles. I am recovery nicely–tomorrow my “no driving” ban will be lifted, and six weeks from now I can get back on my bike. The M&Ms are long gone, but my beloved Cardinals continue to make me smile. “Parrot Heads” are Jimmy Buffet fans–and just in case you’ve never encountered Jimmy Buffet, he’s an American singer/songwriter known for his “island” music. “Margaritaville” is probably one of his most famous songs (but not, in my opinion, one of his best). His songs are light and happy and make me long for warm sand and salty breezes …

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