As a parent coordinator with the Long Beach Unified School District, Nancy Wolfe spends most of her daylight hours advising parents about the high school CHOICE process, providing helpful information to consider when choosing a high school for their teen. Not today. It’s the weekend, and Nancy is in deep thought, assembling an array of spices, vegetables and mixing bowls on top of her kitchen counter. She’s getting ready to prepare one of her famous sauces for an afternoon barbecue with her husband, Randy, and their two daughters.
“I have one cookbook I use – the one my mother put together with generations of our family’s favorite recipes. Besides that, I taste my way through whatever it is I’m concocting,” says Nancy, 61.
IN ONE MOMENT
Until recently, relaxing anywhere was a challenge for Nancy, whose health took a turn two years ago.
“I felt a pop and just knew my uterus had collapsed,” says Nancy. “For the next 19 months, I felt it every day.”
Nancy’s routine workouts, swimming, cycling and even sitting became uncomfortable tasks. She tried everything to find relief, from placing pillows behind her back at work, to trying new sleeping positions.
“Nothing worked,” says Nancy. “Anything I did, especially in a seated position, reminded me that things were not right.”
ALL TOO COMMON
More than 40 percent of women between the of ages 60 and 79, and at least half of women age 80 and older, will experience a pelvic floor condition. Both women and men have a pelvic floor, which is a series of muscles that act like a sling to support organs such as the bladder, uterus (women), prostate (men) and rectum. When these muscles are weakened, they are unable to function properly and may result in urinary or fecal incontinence, as well as pelvic organ prolapse.
For women, natural childbirth – especially for those who have had more than one baby – and C-sections can affect pelvic health. Many attribute their symptoms such as the urgency to urinate, constipation and pain in the vaginal area, as a normal part of aging. This often delays medical intervention and treatment.
“So many patients are unaware that their condition can be treated or even reversed,” shares Jocelyn Craig, M.D., urogynecologist and medical director, Center for Women’s Pelvic Health, Long Beach Medical Center. “Pelvic floor dysfunction has implications beyond incontinence and bowel habits – intimacy and sexual relations may be affected, causing further embarrassment. It can be a really uncomfortable thing to talk about. But there’s treatment available if patients simply take the first step and see their doctor.”
ENOUGH WAS ENOUGH
Nancy was desperate for a solution. Both her gynecologist and a urologist confirmed her own suspicion – her uterus had prolapsed, or dropped.
The physicians recommended an elective hysterectomy to remove all or part of the uterus.
Nancy also learned that she could be a candidate for robotic-assisted surgery, which sounded ideal. She knew that traditional hysterectomies involved a few days in the hospital as well as a large incision and scar.
“When I heard about a more minimally invasive option, it was absolutely my preference,” says Nancy. “But I wanted someone who specialized in what I had, and someone who saw patients like me every day. I heard a radio commercial about an entire program dedicated to women and pelvic health at Long Beach Medical Center. Right then and there, I was in.”
The Center for Women’s Pelvic Health at Long Beach Medical Center offers comprehensive treatment for women with pelvic conditions. Treatment
options range from non-surgical approaches like medication, pelvic muscle rehabilitation and intravaginal devices, to a spectrum of surgical procedures, including minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery.
Nancy met with Dr. Craig and immediately knew her care was in the right hands.
Dr. Craig scheduled Nancy’s robotic-assisted hysterectomy to remove her ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus. When performed through an open incision, this major surgery carries a risk of blood loss and a longer hospital stay.
Robotic-assisted technology, by contrast, is so advanced that surgeons have unprecedented visualization and dexterity. Faster recovery times allow patients to go home the next day, while less scarring leaves patients with little evidence of their procedure.
“The robot’s arms and fingers act as extensions of my hands, where I’m in control of every step, but with greater precision and accuracy than ever before,” says Dr. Craig. “Times have dramatically changed when it comes to hysterectomies.”
A NEW ZEST
Nancy awakened from surgery with little discomfort. “I was so surprised about how good I felt,” she said. “By the next day I was eating and ready to go home.”
The five, tiny half-inch incisions on Nancy’s stomach healed, and within three weeks she was running errands and sleeping comfortably. Five weeks postsurgery she returned to work.
Today, Nancy is back to creating mouthwatering soups and sauces to share with her friends and family. Free of pain, she values the simple things in life again, like exploring new recipes in her kitchen or sitting poolside with a good book.
“My husband and I have been married for 32 years. He’s my rock,” says Nancy. “And my care team at Long Beach Medical Center is dear to my heart. I am free physically and life is wonderful.”