If we’re lucky, our lives will be a series of decisions.
Lucky because having options is well, a privilege. Some of these decisions will be made without thought: left or right? You go right, because you’ve taken this route a thousand times and it’s the easiest way to get to work.
Then there are harder decisions.
Will I have a hysterectomy at 28 years old because of an overwhelming fear I’ll develop cancer? Yes.
There were three distinct moments that led me here. A few years ago, I learned that my mother’s sister was diagnosed with aggressive Stage 4 cervical cancer. It spread quickly throughout her body, including to her ovaries.
Soon after, I learned that my cousin was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer.
My aunt passed away a few months later. As suddenly as the cancer seemed to appear, she was gone.
That first moment came after walking into a fancy funeral home to find my aunt’s body stretched out before me, cold to the touch. The colorful, strong, foul-mouthed woman I once knew was nowhere to be found. Death had opened its welcoming arms and enveloped all that she was. As I helped prepare for the funeral, draping her body in a white sari, it occurred to me that I never want to leave this responsibility to those who loved me.
The second moment followed quickly after, sitting in the car with my eldest aunt — sister of the woman in the funeral home and mother of the cousin fighting a losing battle.
What do you offer someone in that situation? I had nothing to give.
Cancer caused an unexpected shift in the women in my family. It brought waves and waves of unfiltered fear, not just the fear of losing the women you love — your mother, your sister, your aunt — but an all-consuming fear of drowning yourself.
During that time, it felt like every other week someone was at the doctor’s office having something checked or something removed.
One cousin underwent a prophylactic hysterectomy because of recurring fibroids. Her doctor discovered cancerous cells in her ovaries in the process.
The third and final moment came after spending the day with my cousin. She told me her cancer had progressed to Stage 4 and had spread to her liver. She had been a Christian for at least as long as I’ve been alive, always encouraging others to meet her God, but in that moment her faith was wavering. I had no answers for her.
After my cousin eventually passed away, I promised myself a total hysterectomy for my 28th birthday. Maybe it was naive, but it felt justified.
Now, I’m just two months away from 28 and am uncertain. I’ve never been overly attached to the idea of having children anyway, so what do I have to lose? My lingering uncertainty led me to Elizabeth Lyster, an obstetrician-gynecologist.
Lyster described a hysterectomy to be “the surgical removal of the uterus,” adding that it can be done with or without the removal of a woman’s ovaries. A “total hysterectomy” would include the removal of the cervix.
According to Lyster a hysterectomy shouldn’t be considered unless you’ve exhausted all your other options. However, there are exceptions.
“In some cases, hysterectomy is a good first option, such as with very large fibroids or fibroids in locations not well treated with less invasive options. ... Another situation where hysterectomy might be considered earlier in the treatment process would include suspected cancer, either of the uterus or the cervix,” says Lyster.
My next step is to undergo genetic testing to understand what my hereditary disposition really is and speak to women who have had preventative hysterectomies themselves.
Cancer is a hell of a thing. It shows up to destroy and diminish.
But in some ways, it serves as a thread that connects each life it has touched; a thread that binds and reminds us we’re not alone.
I’m grateful for the women I’ve lost, and the women who remain.
I’m grateful for the option to decide.