Thursday, February 22, 1996
Qualls to undergo hysterectomy

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When I heard that Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls was having surgery, my first thought was not how to get this story into print. So, take away my Connie Chung Investigative Journalism Card. I like this woman, and I was hoping it wasn't serious.

My second thought, a craven one, was that this probably would make a pretty good column. Even a useful one.

Since Roxanne Qualls was elected, she has proved to be a gracious public spirit, a clever infighter, a tough negotiator, a wise leader, a good referee. She has rescued lost dogs and lost causes.

She is not, however, a blabbermouth.

Surgery, anybody's surgery, is personal, private and mostly none of our beeswax. So, I thought I might have a pretty hard time getting her to talk to me and a worse time getting her to let me report back to you.

Surprisingly public

But she agreed to let me tell you about it. On Friday morning, the mayor will undergo a hysterectomy to remove fibroid tumors in her uterus. A fibroid is a benign, non-malignant tumor that attaches itself to the outside of the uterus, in the uterine cavity or just under the inner lining of the uterus.

A hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus and sometimes the cervix, ovaries and fallopian tubes. (I know you'll be proud that I didn't ask which kind she was having.)

About 40 percent of white women older than 35 experience fibroid tumors, and the number is higher for African-American women. That's why the mayor is talking about this personal matter with the likes of me. She's not doing it to collect greeting cards, flowers and helium balloons.

''I was surprised at the reaction when I began to tell my friends,'' the mayor said. Smart women were asking dumb questions. Or, as Ms. Qualls puts it, ''They were clueless.''

Symptoms include heavy menstrual periods, abdominal pain and iron deficiency anemia. The mayor hastens to add that ''none of this is debilitating,'' and she experienced symptoms for two years or so.

Meanwhile, she points out, she has run two successful elections, painted her house and put in crown moldings, reorganized city council and represented Cincinnati in Russia and Japan.

''Roxanne is a prime example of somebody who can't just take it easy,'' says her surgeon, Dr. Jennifer Thie of Crescent Women's Medical Group.

Well, she will take it easy for a week right after her surgery. Then she'll work from home for two weeks after that. ''Laptop, E-mail, telephone,'' Mayor Qualls says.

On duty

''Most of what I have to do requires focused thinking -- strategic planning and the budget,'' she says.

Vice Mayor Tyrone Yates will preside over council meetings until Ms. Qualls returns. But she'll be on duty as mayor as soon as she wakes up from the anesthetic.

She says she has promised her doctor that she will not immediately ''go into 12-hour days, maybe six to eight hours for a while.'' She'll ride a stationary bike for a while. No heavy lifting. That's it.

Piece of cake.

Dr. Thie wants everyone to know that you don't always have to have surgery if you have fibroid tumors. Some can be controlled through drugs, and fibroid size tends to decrease naturally with the onset of menopause.

Some alternative medicine practitioners also suggest a low-fat, high-fiber diet.

You will probably be hearing rather more about fibroid tumors and hysterectomies over the next few years than you actually wanted to know. It's the baby boomers again. Sort of like when we discovered menopause and male pattern baldness.

Mayor Qualls says that persuaded her to use this as an opportunity to get out in front on a women's health issue.

''There are a lot of us.''

It's a private matter in the public interest.

Laura Pulfer's column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 MHz), and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.