Having hysterectomy changed my life, says Alliance chief Naomi Long
Alliance party leader Naomi Long has spoken out about her health battles and how undergoing major surgery has changed her life.
Mrs Long told of her struggle with the "incredibly aggressive" gynaecological condition endometriosis.
In an interview with the Irish News, she said that a hysterectomy in August has transformed her quality of life and that she wants to break the stigma around women's health and encourage others to seek treatment. Mrs Long added that while the burden of physical pain had been massively reduced, the surgery also meant she was no longer able to have children of her own.
"One of the things that surprised me when they mentioned hysterectomies was that I was quite emotional about it," she said. "I hadn't really thought about that whole part of my life, that being the end of it.
"It's odd that something that has cost me such hassle my entire adult life - that I should then feel so emotionally attacked at the same time. On balance I felt it was the right decision to make. At 45 I wasn't intending to start having a family.
"Michael (her Belfast city councillor husband) and I decided pretty early on we didn't want to have a family ... it never happened but now I know why," she said.
"Maybe if I had known, looking back it might have been different. As it happens we're happy with how things have turned out. We're content." After being misdiagnosed for 20 years, Mrs Long said she had started to worry the condition was "all in her head".
Having confided to her husband about her condition, she was sent to Ulster Hospital aged 38 where doctors discovered two large cysts, "one the size of a grapefruit and one the size of an orange".
"I was relieved to get diagnosed as it was finally an explanation," she said. "I had lived my whole life with this. I felt embarrassed at times because I had to cancel meetings at short notice or couldn't go out with friends. Sometimes I thought I must have looked like an awful fraud."
Having also received a previous diagnosis for skin cancer, which was treatable, Mrs Long said she was amazed by the support from others.
"The number of women who have come up to me to reassure me that having a hysterectomy was the best thing they ever did is unbelievable. But it's like a secret among a group of women who've had it - as nobody else talks about it," she said.