The Truth About Premature Menopause

Cancer & Me

Being 32 + the menopause = a whole lotta physical and emotional drama!

Premature menopause is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy (when the radiation beam is aimed within the pelvis) often stop your ovaries from working and a whole host of variants means function may or may not return.

In my case, I was told before I started treatment it was highly unlikely function would return and I would start the menopause.  I hadn’t accounted for how early in my treatment it would begin.  About half way through my treatment I started feeling like my bones were pulsating fire through the my skin and I was going to pass out from the furnace burning inside me. Initially I put it down to treatment then it suddenly dawned on me that it could be the menopause.  Because I was in treatment there were points that it is hard to differentiate what is being cause by what, so I was advised to wait until treatment was over and see how I felt.

Waiting to see what happened was fine with me.  I went into a strange denial and clung to a strong hope that it was a side effect of the treatment because early menopause meant no more children and that couldn’t be possible!

I was lucky to already have two wonderful children but a third had always been a strong possibility for husband and I and of course the moment I was told that I probably couldn’t have anymore – all I wanted was another baby.

So I secretly and very deeply in my heart harboured a prayer that maybe I would be the one in a million woman who goes on to have another baby.

Meeting with a gynaecologist after treatment finished smashed this carefully guarded hope as he (and later blood tests) confirmed I was very much in the menopause.  I realised a number of things I was feeling were not me ‘struggling to cope after cancer’ but genuine results of a hormonal change.  They included;

  • Hot flushes and night sweats
  • Disrupted sleep – often accompanied by night sweats
  • Weight gain *sobs quietly into coffee*
  • The skin of a teenager
  • Mood swings and irritability usually accompanied with headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating on anything
  • Fatigue and seriously low energy levels
  • Depression

Oh the joys of being a woman.  As if periods aren’t annoying enough, they finish with this!  As I said, some symptoms could be a side effect of either, or both?!

I was put on HRT as the lack of oestrogen in my cervix meant that internal scar tissue wasn’t healing properly and growing cells which, if left, could turn cancerous – seriously?!  Feeling symptoms melt away was a joy and overtime I physically began returning to normal – apart from the weight gain *still sobbing into coffee.*

Me and Mine

Me and Mine

Emotionally, things took a little longer.  Logically I know that I am lucky and I have nothing to be upset about.  Some women will have to go through this or similar situations that have led to infertility, without having any children at all and my heart aches for them.  Emotions aren’t logical though and not being able to have another child was added to a list of things I had lost to cancer and grieved for.

Now I am able to see that two children, with their mess, arguing, and inability to sleep through the night, is more than enough for husband and I to handle – every cloud!

A few facts about Premature Menopause

  • During menopause ovaries stop producing eggs, periods begin to stop and hormone levels change.  It marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years.
  • Menopause typically happens between the ages of 47 and 53.
  • In Britain 110,000 women between the ages of 12 and 40 are affected.
  • Premature menopause affects approximately 5% of the population before the age of 45.
  • Premature menopause can also be caused by removal of the ovaries or medical treatments such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy. The exact number of women affected by all causes combined is unknown.

Visit The Daisy Network for more information about premature menopause and making decisions about infertility.

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Top 5 Things To Do When a Loved One Has Cancer

Any Human Heart, Cancer & Me

I know that finding out someone has cancer can be just as daunting for a friend or family member as it can be for he person who has just been diagnosed.  Suddenly you are on the side-lines desperate to help and not alway sure what to do, so here are my top ideas…

  1. Listen…

This is definitely the most important and evidently not as easy as you may think because I mean really listen!

If they are talking about their type of cancer, avoid jumping in with comparisons of your friends-friends-Grandmothers-cousin who knew someone with the a similar cancer, because they are trying to talk about their cancer. In doing so they are probably getting their own head around what is happening to them, and need to say it all out loud, so… just listen.

If they are talking to you about their fears, don’t cut them off and tell them to think positively.  They are valid fears (however irrational) and they obviously feel the need to voice them to a loved one, so… just listen.

Whatever the circumstance, just listen!

  1. Take Food…

photo 1Freeze-able food is ideal. Especially when having chemotherapy your appetite isn’t great meaning having little bits to pick at is ideal, if possible, freeze food as small portions then they can have a little now and a little later.  Plus, if your friend is tired, not having to cook and clean up makes eating much easier.

Little snacks are also great. My neighbour used to drop in flapjacks, which were amazing and so handy when I needed a little boost but not a whole meal.

  1. Think About Their Primary Careers…

In some ways I think me having cancer was harder for husband (primary career)! He had to cope with all the fallout, look after me, take over all my responsibilities in the home, do the night-feeds for our baby, work his normal job, etc etc… and without the same level of support or care that I was lucky to experience.

My dad used to do food shops when I was ill and would always buy something’s that were easy to cook that my husband could chuck in the oven, or if you are cooking for your friend, maybe do some extra for their career, but let them know it is for them! Tell them they are doing an awesome job and ask what tasks you can take on for them. Offer to watch the kids at the weekend so they can catch up on some much-needed rest.

It will make your loved one with cancer feel so much better knowing that the people looking after them, are being looked after too.

  1. Just Do It…

Similarly to the point made above, I found it difficult to ask people for help because I didn’t want to burden people. With the ideas listed above, I don’t think you need to wait to be asked, if you are going round – take food / an uplifting movie for them to watch.  Even if you’re not going round – drop some in and leave (don’t use it as an excuse to stay). Phone their husband/wife and say, “why don’t I take the kids to the park on Saturday so you can get some rest.”  They may not want to impose and ask but be thrilled when someone offers.

  1. Be Flexible…

If you do offer to do something, don’t be offended if they say no. Or if they say yes and then cancel. With cancer, you rarely know how you are going to feel from one day to the next – sometimes from one hour to the next so accept that arrangements are very fluid and subject to change at any moment and that is OK because this isn’t about you, it’s about your loved one getting through the best way they can find with your wonderful support.

Any other suggestions?  Leave a comment and let us know! Nx

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