As a 36 year old woman, I have been living through the menopause now for 4.5 years all thanks to cancer. The menopause started to show effect in March 2012 three months into chemotherapy treatment. I look back now and laugh because the day I got told I was menopausal, snot was literally dripping off my top lip. I couldn’t stop crying for no reason. Every time someone looked at me I cried. My lovely oncologist escorted me into a quiet room so I wouldn’t upset other patients and explained that my ovaries had stopped functioning because of the chemotherapy. I didn’t really think about the consequences of the menopause, I just wanted to stop crying.
People often ask me what it’s like having the menopause at such a young age. I suppose everyone is unique but here are some of the symptoms and side-effects I experience.
Changes in my skin
Personally, I feel that I am aging a lot quicker than if I wasn’t experiencing premature menopause and have become obsessed with skin care. My skin has become much more dry and flaky than before cancer. I use coconut serum twice a day on my face and eat good fats such as avocado, nuts and oils to keep my skin plump. I am much better at looking after my skin than when I was in my 20’s. Going for regular facials, cleansing twice a day, hydrating and eating well, are all important for healthy skin.
Being a weeping willow
I am super emotional and cry fairly easy. I cry when I think about nice things, horrible things, when I think about good memories with friends, when I speak with my parents or siblings, or watching movies. This all sounds fairly normal but it can come on at any time of the day whether I like it or not. As a manger of a team I sometimes have to close my office door or take a walk and tell myself to get a grip. I used to be quite a robust character and now I’m a blubbing wreck. Managing how often and where I cry is a daily task.
Stiff and painful joints
My joints can be so stiff and painful at times that I literally feel like an old woman. This is particularly worse when I’m cold and in the mornings and it is why I practice yoga. After practising yoga for two years I can now help my joints loosen up in the mornings by doing 10-15 minutes of stretching. It really makes a difference. Eating a lot of oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel also helps keep my joints subtle.
Whether it is the menopause or I am still experiencing chemo brain, my memory has deteriorated a lot over the past 4.5 years and this can be quite stressful at times. Sometimes I forget silly things like dates or pin numbers but other times I forget important information and this stresses me out which doesn’t help. I thought I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder early this year and this might be the cause of my forgetfulness but after having months of counselling, it still hasn’t change. I have to put little strategies in place to help myself remember such as lists and alarms because I don’t think this is going to change anytime soon.
Changes in body temperature
Whilst most women going through the menopause get hot flashes, I am the complete opposite. Once a sweaty betty wearing special deodorant to reduce sweat patches, I am now always cold and this makes me miserable. We moved to Hong Kong to be warm most of the year but I work in a ridiculous air-conditioned office and have to put a heater on. This is probably the symptom moan about it the most. I hate being cold!
Lack of energy
Some days I am thriving and can do anything I want to. Other days I am on my knees exhausted and thankful to just make it through the day. My energy levels are so inconsistent and I have to manage this the best way I can without being too hard on myself. I try to eat well and fit some form of exercise into my day to prevent the energy lows but it isn’t always possible. On these days, my go to meal is a carbonara cooked by the husband and I choose a movie over exercise. I never feel guilty on these days, life is all about balance and doing what is right for you at certain times.
Not being able to conceive
This can sometimes be a dagger through the heart but most of the time I have accepted it. It was all such a rush when I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time and I didn’t have any time to freeze my eggs. I was so content with this decision up until March this year when we started the adoption process. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I have been working through it at counselling ever since. Sometimes I am so happy to be here, alive and thriving in life that it doesn’t bother me and other times it is so heart breaking that I can’t breathe. I guess like all women with fertility problems, it takes time to heal.
Although the symptoms of premature menopause can be challenging at times, nothing beats being alive and well. Sure I have the odd princess ‘why me’ moments but on the whole I am just so thankful I survived cancer and will do whatever it takes to stay alive and well. Practicing self-care, nourishing my body with good food and trying to do some daily exercise is so important to me as it helps me feel strong. Life is full of ups and downs, and I choose to put things in place to reduce the impact of the down times.
My current focus in life is to ‘Live, Laugh, Love, Travel and Experience’ as much as I possibly can….because….why the hell not!