It’s inevitable, it’s inescapable yet it can feel difficult to talk about, accept or even understand.
The menopause is something I wish was taught in schools at the same time as menstruation, as all these huge passages in our lives, as women, are significant phases for us to embrace, not fear. But we often only get to have that conversation when we’re in the throws of ‘what the f**k is happening to me!’
I was early to the menopause party as chemo not only killed any cancer I had, it also killed my ovaries. A small price to pay and I was okay with that. I’d battled IVF and won, so counting my baby (now more teenage) blessings is something I do on a regular basis. My oncologist let me know rather matter of factly, that my periods would stop pretty well immediately into my chemo cycles, I’d go straight into menopause, it might be temporary but more likely to be permanent. End of conversation.
He was right, the severe hot flushes and peculiar twitchy leg thing started what felt like overnight, but at the time, I had bigger fish to fry so I cracked on with project ‘survival’ and actually did okay.
I properly embraced life. I spent the time I had whilst recovering from surgeries and treatment working on myself. I turned project survival into project living. For four years, I managed my super severe menopausal symptoms purely through mindset and deliberate and healthy living. I planned, I adapted, I worked towards achieving things I’d never achieved before. My mindset was strong. All was seemingly going to plan, my quality of life was fantastic, and even though I knew my body had been through an immense amount of trauma, the odd fractured bone here and dwindling energy there wasn’t getting me down or getting in my way. I never once considered HRT as I felt like I didn’t need it, even with 20-30 hot flushes a day.
As part of my ongoing ‘cancer care’ I needed to have my ovaries whipped out. Prevention being better than cure and all that, a sentiment I was fully on board with, as soon as I knew it was necessary I was all over it. I needed to have the surgery and I needed to have it now. Well, it took two weeks from initial instruction to actual surgery, but you know what I mean. My consultant informed me, again very matter of factly, that I may have a slight ‘menopausal wobble’ post surgery as even though I’d been menopausal for four years, my ovaries still produced oestrogen, so them no longer being around, meant my oestrogen levels were about to plummet. I could handle a wobble, so thought nothing more if it.
There’s a good reason why you ‘should’ have counselling before having this surgery. I didn’t. The wobble was more tsunami than tiny tremor.
Initially, I was still physically doing okay. Hot flushes aside, I recovered from surgery amazingly well, and even started training to run the New York marathon. As a non runner previous to this training, fracturing my foot and tearing my calf muscle just seemed part of the deal, I had no idea it was the start of what was to come. The biggest indicator that all was not well with project living, was the intense brain fog I had that was reminiscent of the chemo brain I’d experienced years earlier and my mood had well and truly fallen off a cliff.
It was when my daughter asked me where my laugh had gone, that I started to realise I’d become a shell of my former self. I was upset all the time, I felt like my confidence had taken a good long break and my thought process was more pin ball machine than steady and clear. And don’t get me started on this rage I had bubbling up inside that came out over the most ridiculous things.
To save my self, my marriage and my daughters sanity, I searched high and low for help, which for a girl with my history was hard. And I’m saying that politely. But as my project life had taught me, there’s always a way when there’s a will. Beating cancer was one thing, but having such a shocking quality of life because of the menopause, which is kind of a permanent deal when you’re in it, felt like a sick joke.
Putting my research hat on, having frank conversations with my consultants and practically begging doctors to help me, it was when my consultant said that quality of life is the most important consideration that everything changed. “You’re not stupid Alex, do what feels right” he said. So I did.
I researched my ass off and made a personal choice. I started HRT in 2019 and within about four weeks my life made a welcome return and I stopped being a shadow of my former self and regained full control of my faculties. I was able to survey the wreckage I’d left in my wake and start to rebuild project life to all it’s glory, with my marriage and daughters sanity in tact. Just about.
So I’m a woman with a family history of breast cancer who’s also had breast cancer who used to have severe menopausal symptoms. I take HRT as I made a personal choice about the quality of my life and those I love, once my ovaries had been whipped out. I’ve done it fully understanding my risks and taking responsibility for my wellbeing as part of the deal.
Taking responsibility for life is everything. I can’t farm out that responsibility to others, because others can only advise based on their expertise so I can make informed decisions on the back of that educated advice.
It’s got to feel right. Sometimes regardless of what is being whispered in your ear, written on social media or prescribed by a clever consultant, if it feels wrong, research why.
I owe my life to my very clever consultants and I appreciate their support.
Is it time for you to look at your own menopause journey through your own eyes rather than those aiming to rack up millions of followers or those who haven’t done their own research and are looking for validation within their own pain? It might be the thing that makes the quality of your life through this potentially incredible time better than ever.
Menopause is a hormone deficiency. You’ll start to feel things changing in your mid forties, if not earlier. You’re either peri-menopausal or post menopausal, you hit the latter after a year of having no periods. As oestrogen levels drop, you’ll find the fat around your belly won’t budge because those fat cells produce small amount of oestrogen. It’s now more widely known that osteoporosis, dementia and heart disease are potentially connected to falling oestrogen levels. Because of the changes in how women hold onto water, the effects of alcohol, more accurately the hangover the next day, can be much worse because there’s less water to dilute the alcohol.
With any deficiency, you’d supplement whatever it was to get back into balance. That’s what HRT does. The study that freaked everyone out years ago that potentially linked breast cancer to HRT, is full of holes. Check it out.
HRT is a choice that each woman can make weighing up how she feels about the risks. Regardless of this, exercising for bone health (pilates, yoga, weights, running) becomes essential not just a nice thing to do, taking supplements like magnesium to stop the weird leg twitchy thing, reducing alcohol and eating for heart and bone health is more critical than ever, HRT or not.
There’s some great resources to inform, the one I used is here.