This is my personal journey through having surgery and getting back on the bike. Every surgery is different and how every person experiences it is unique. Consult your doctor about your specific situation when prepping for surgery, recovery, and getting back into the saddle.
I don’t know about you, but I get VERY fussed if I can’t ride my bike.
Now, I am fine with not riding the bike when it’s my choice. For example, when I am giving my body time to rest and recover, or I am cross training.
But knowing that there is going to be a time that I CAN’T ride coming up on the horizon? That’s another situation altogether.
Riding my bike is what makes me feel good and strong. I love the feeling of knowing I can throw on my gear and hop on my bike and pedal.
Additionally, I love knowing that I have my Peloton waiting for me in the basement and at a moment’s notice. I can just run down there and ride. Sometimes I don’t even bother to change into my workout clothes!
Therefore, when I found out that I needed to have surgery this spring I was instantly anxious.
My mind was racing. How long would I have to be off the bike? What would it feel like when I got back on? But this is the start of the outdoor cycling season?! Did the surgery have to be now? How long could I put it off? These are just a few of the questions that started pouring into my head and out of my mouth.
In this article, I detail my journey from surgery to recovery. I discuss finding out I needed surgery, how I prepped for it, and how I ultimately recovered and got back on the saddle.
I hope that if you find yourself in a similar situation that you will find my experience and advice helpful.
Remember, you should always consult your doctor and come up with a plan together about getting back to your regularly scheduled activities…both on and off the bike.
When I Found Out I Needed to Have Surgery
About a year/year and a half ago, I started having some pain in my abdomen. I later found out it was my uterus. At the time I just knew it was sharp pain and it was abnormal.
It was intermittent, happened at different times, wasn’t life altering or anything along those lines, but it was definitely unusual.
I asked my OBGYN about it at my yearly exam. We discussed what it might be and took a wait and see approach. Fast forward a few months and it was clearly not going away and was getting worse.
He sent me for an ultrasound in early spring. I kind of thought it wouldn’t find anything. I thought this was going to be one of those “eliminate all the things” sort of situations, but oh it did.
Turns out I had a 5 cm cyst on one of my ovaries. This is what was causing the pain, and my doctor recommended I have it removed.
He said that we could wait and see if it gets smaller on its own. However, since the pain had been going on for so long at this point he didn’t think that was likely.
Now, my doctor, bless him, is very laid back and non-alarmist. I know him, trust him, and I knew that if he was recommending this it probably needed to happen. BOO.
Managing My Thoughts About the Surgery
As I mentioned before, my mind started racing. I have about a million questions. My doctor patiently answered them all.
The first one (you’re shocked, I’m sure) was “How long do I have to be off my bike?”
He said, “Until you feel comfortable riding.”
Uhhh ok…”about how long will that be?” I asked.
He said, “Everyone is different.”
On the one hand, I was infuriated and wanted something more concrete. On the other hand, I really respected the fact that he wasn’t giving me false hope.
After more probing it became clear that it would probably be about a week before I would even want to try riding. After that I just had to listen to my body and play it by ear.
I realized right then and there that I would need to manage my expectations surrounding this whole experience. I knew that there wasn’t going to be a cut and dry timetable for any of it.
It became clear that my mindset around this surgery would have to change. Yes it could be a quick and easy recovery, but it might not.
I was going to go in hoping for the best, but knew I would need to listen to my body and take it one day at a time.
Preparing My Body for Surgery
I knew I wanted to take the energy I normally put into a big ride and direct it towards prepping my body for surgery.
For example, I kept riding right up until my surgery. My body was feeling really great on the bike. Bike riding at least wasn’t painful! Also, I had been getting stronger through the winter months in preparation for the spring cycling season and my weekly Wednesday night group rides.
Additionally, I kept eating food that fuels my body. You see, I wanted my body to be as strong as possible going into the surgery so that I could (hopefully!) recovery quickly.
The week before my surgery I led my first group ride of the season. It was so much fun! I was glad to have that time on the bike to kick of the spring and keep things as normal as possible.
The night before my surgery I planned a really low-stress evening. I had a great dinner full of fuel to get me through the following day.
The Pre-Op Room
The day of the surgery I was pretty nervous. I had never had a planned surgery before. The only surgery I experienced was a planned c-section when I had my son.
It’s not too surprising that I had some jitters, but I essentially decided to try to treat it like a spa day.
I know. You are thinking that was very naive of me…and you would be right. But still, it kept me calm and happy!
The nurses in the pre-op room were wonderful. They brought me heated blankets. I was reading a book on my kindle. Also, I had packed my little backpack with some post-surgery snacks, assuming that after the surgery I would be HUNGRY.
My doctor came to see me, the anesthesiologists came to chat with me. I was going under general anesthesia, not “twilight sleep” which I guess is a little less under?
They asked if I normally get motion sickness. I said yes so they said they would give me extra medicine for this. I didn’t really think too much about it.
Post-Op Room and Journey Home
So I woke up, and it was all over. Woooo! The surgery went great according to my doctor.
The problem? I felt awful. Not in pain really thanks to pain meds. However, I was very, VERY nauseous. I threw up…a lot. In fact, I lost count of how many times I threw up.
I briefly thought of how naive I was to think that I would be sitting in recovery happily eating my post surgery snacks. That was NOT happening.
People all around me seemed to be recovering just fine but I was a hot mess. My husband came to pick me up, and it was the worst car ride of my life. I threw up some more…it was not the best.
The rest of that day I don’t really remember honestly. I am guessing it was not great.
And, the day after I was in a TON of pain. When I talked to the doctor over the weekend they mentioned that the pain was likely due to all of the throwing up I did right after surgery. Turns out bodies don’t like to be wrenched like that after they have had major surgery.
How I Recovered: Expectations vs. Reality
I am going to be brutally honest here. My thoughts prior to surgery were that I was going to prep SO well. My recovery would be a breeze.
It was not. Not even close. Recovery took significantly longer than I expected, and I think even longer than my doctor expected.
Prior to the surgery I figured that I wouldn’t even need the full week. That I would be back to normal in no time.
After the surgery I had to take additional time off work. I was nowhere near getting back on the bike.
It would be a lie to say that I didn’t do a little bit of wallowing.
There were a few “why me” moments for sure.
I knew, deep down, that this wasn’t productive, though. I decided instead to throw all of the energy I used to put into my activities into recovery instead.
Listening to My Body and Ignoring Everyone and Everything Else
My body was NOT ready for the things I wanted to do post-surgery. At all. I really needed to give it time to heal.
I rested as much as possible. My entire core felt like it had been ripped out and pieced back together again, and I really had to honor that.
I think that my family was probably a bit impatient with how long it was taking. They were trying to be understanding, but it was just weird for me to be laying about all day.
I wanted to do all the things I normally do but knew that would set me back. It was so important that I resist that urge.
Also, it was imperative that I be honest with myself. I needed to NOT try to get back on the bike too soon.
I did a brief ride about a week and a half after surgery on the Peloton. It was definitely too soon, so I gave my body ANOTHER week to heal before I attempted it again. That was STILL too soon.
Managing My Thoughts…Some More…and Then Getting Back On the Bike
My brain was thinking this was taking too long and I was getting frustrated. I knew, though, that I needed to stay the course and play this out in a way that didn’t make my recovery even longer.
I still had plenty of twinges in my abdomen, and sitting for a long time was uncomfortable. Therefore sitting on the bike? Not comfortable!
Eventually I got to a place where I accepted that the recovery I thought would take a week was going to take longer. Perhaps a month, or even two.
I had to release the expectations and meet my body where it was. Once I did this I was able to get to a place of peace and acceptance.
Then? Once I was feeling like I could move around a little better without pain?
I started easing back into short indoor rides.
I started slowly upping the intensity, frequency, and length as my body could handle it.
All in all, the recovery I was hoping would only take a week or two took well over a month. At the month and a half point I rode my annual 50 mile charity ride for Bikes Fight Cancer.
I gave myself permission before I even started the ride to bail out of the 50 mile for the 25 mile route if my body wasn’t feeling strong enough or ready.
At the split I felt strong enough for 50 miles, and I did the 50 miles! I realized after I would have been just as proud of the 25 mile ride, though. By this point in my recovery I was so grateful that I could ride my bike at all. I was happy with whatever my body was able and willing to do!
Where I am At Now
All in all, though I would never wish major uterine surgery on anyone, I learned SO much from this experience.
My advice to you if you are encountering surgery is to go into it with an open mind.
Prep your body as best as you can for the experience. Fuel it well, get good sleep. If your situation permits, keep moving your body the best you can in the lead up to the surgery.
I was lucky. Though my condition was causing me intermittent pain, riding didn’t cause or contribute to the pain.
If you aren’t able to ride and can move your body in another way, that’s great! However, if you aren’t able to keep incorporating movement that’s fine too. Focus on the other things like fuel, sleep, and hydration.
Know that every surgery and every person is different. Try to temper your expectations and take each day as it comes, especially when you are in recovery.
On the days where it feels like you will never get any better, remind yourself that it will. Each day will be a little bit better than the day before if you are listening to your body. Just do what you can, and what your body is ready for.
When your pain is lessening and it feels right to get back on the bike (with the approval of your doctor, of course!) then get back on the bike.
There were times when I was a little hesitant, and a little unmotivated. I just reminded myself that every ride counts, no matter how short. I didn’t need to hop on and do 20 miles on my first ride back. Sometimes about five was all I could handle, and that’s OK.
Now, I am about two and a half months out from my surgery. The pain and soreness are gone. The scars even have faded somewhat.
I am not nearly as strong as I normally am at this time of year, but that’s OK. I missed a whole month on the bike!
My core is not as supportive as it was prior to the surgery, so that is what I am going to work on next.
I am confident I will continue to get stronger, and will increase my core strength and biking fitness.
It takes time to physically and mentally heal and recover from surgery, and that’s OK. Don’t rush it. Listen to your body. Give yourself some grace. Your body will thank you. Trust that it will do what it can in its own time. This is what I did.
Mentally I am SO much stronger. Physically? I’m getting there! It will come, and I am here for it.
More Stuff You Might Like
About The Author
Stacy Ann Smith is a New England-based cyclist who strives to stay upright on her bike. She is the founder of Sascy Cycling, and her mission is to encourage women to love their body and focus on what it can do, not what it looks like. When Stacy’s not cycling she is teaching high school history and eating pizza with her husband and son.