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I had a hysterectomy at 39 during perimenopause - this is what happened

Entrepreneur and mom of 2, Hitha Palepu, shares her open and honest story with HELLO! 

I had a hysterectomy at 39 during perimenopause - this is what happened
Donna Francis
Donna FrancisContributing Editor US
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When entrepreneur and mom of two, Hitha Palepu was 39 she had been experiencing perimenopausal symptoms for almost three years. Night sweats, dry skin, weight gain and irritability were the first signs, although at the time, she put those symptoms down to stress at work. Juggling two highly successful yet stressful careers would do that to you, she thought. Plus the stress of the pandemic and day to day family life didn’t help.

“I have a couple careers that I juggle: I run a pharmaceutical company and I'm also an author, content creator and mom, so life is busy,” Hitha explained to HELLO! “So when I was waking up in the middle of the night soaking wet, incredibly irritable, with parched skin and I was gaining weight, I just put it down to stress.”

“And then I read a romance novel called Queen Move by Kennedy Ryan, where the female protagonist was going through early onset perimenopause; and I was like, I have all these symptoms,” Hitha explained. “So I went to my OB who asked me: ‘when did your mom go through menopause?’ and  I told her that my mum had finished it by the time she was 42.” 

Hitha was juggling two careers and motherhood when she was told she needed a hysterectomy © Molly Smith Photography
Hitha was juggling two careers and motherhood when she was told she needed a hysterectomy

Hitha’s OB advised her to keep an eye on her hormone levels. She had also been dealing with irregular Pap tests, so was used to having regular gynecological check-ups. But this still didn’t prepare her for the news that she received earlier this year.

“After a routine Pap and colonoscopy, my OB called me to say that she was starting to see lesions move into my upper cervix, and that she was concerned that they would spread to my uterus, and if left unchecked the likelihood of the lesions becoming malignant and spreading into the uterus was high. So she referred me to a specialist. When I looked up the physician's name and saw that he was an oncologist, I freaked out, but now I know that's typically the person who performs hysterectomies.”

Following a couple of consultations with the gynecological oncologist, Hitha was advised to have a full hysterectomy, especially given that she didn’t want to have any more kids. “It all happened so fast! My first call to my OB was in March, and then just a few months later, I had my surgery at the end of June. It really was quick.”

Hitha felt lucky that one of her good friends had been through a similar experience so she could prepare her for what to expect. “She was in her thirties when she had her hysterectomy too, and it was recent enough that she still remembered so many of the details that prepared me better than anyone else could have.” 

Although Hitha’s laparoscopic hysterectomy was minimally invasive and meant that she was in and out of hospital in one day, the procedure still left her feeling pretty sick.  “The surgery is no joke,” Hitha explains. “My friend told me how painful the gas would be - they pump it into your abdominal cavity so your organs can be removed through the vagina - so the pain was really from the pressure of the gas, not from having the organs removed.”

“I was very lucky to have my friend who was brutally honest with me about what would happen, because it mentally prepared me for what to expect. She told me that even though I will want to curl up into a ball and rest in the days after surgery, that I must get up and walk to help speed up the gas release. She also sent me a care package of peppermint tea and a little uterus pillow to help protect the whole abdominal area as it’s insanely tender.” 

Her friend's priceless advice and insight inspired Hitha to write a very detailed account of her experience in her newsletter. “I wanted to do that for other people going through a similar experience.”

It took Hitha around four weeks to feel physically ‘fine’ after her hysterectomy, but with a history of postpartum and prenatal depression, it was no surprise that six weeks post-surgery, Hitha’s mood and emotional state completely crashed. “My OB put me in touch with a perinatal psychiatrist who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder which I now know, was the reason I had suffered with the previous episodes of anxiety and depression. So that’s been another mental adjustment to adjust to.”

Five months out of surgery and three months since her bipolar diagnosis, Hitha is trying to come back up for air while still dealing with heightened perimenopausal symptoms. “I would say they are probably at a more pronounced rate because our uterus is responsible for some level of hormonal regulation and I don’t have mine anymore. So the weight gain around my midsection is even worse now and my skin is still freaking out.”

Hitha now makes more time for self care
Hitha now makes more time for self care

Hitha is currently looking into HRT, but finds it hard to find the right trusted advice. “I am following up with my OB to talk about hormone replacement therapy, but these things are just not talked about, and when I talk about perimenopause to friends or colleagues, they are like, you're too young for that.”

The good news is that her surgery and the onset of perimenopause has allowed Hitha to reflect on how important her health is, and to find more time for self care. “I think it's really important when you are juggling some really intense things that you have mental releases to allow you to turn your brain off,” she explains. And she recognizes that these practices don’t have to be unrealistic either. “I think the kind of recommendations for stress reduction are simply not compatible with modern life today. Please tell me...who has time to cook all these healthy meals; get in a workout; sleep seven hours and go spend time in nature while having a career, children, elder care responsibilities and whatnot. I get my self care by watching reality television or reading romantic, fluffy novels.”

And as for the future, Hitha is extremely positive. “It’s actually a super exciting and empowering time in my life because I have found that the older I get, the less I care about what people think and I am able to live with a greater sense of self and confidence and focus on my expectations, not other people's.”

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