Wednesday 3rd March 2021
1. The menopause is more than your periods stopping
As far as I was aware, the only symptoms of the menopause were your periods stopping and the occasional hot flush. But, what I had to find out for myself was that the menopause can cause loads of other bothersome symptoms, such as fatigue, achy joints, vaginal atrophy (where your vagina thins due to hormonal changes) and brain fog. It can also cause other health issues later on, like changes to your bone density.
I was suffering with these horrendous symptoms, thinking they were late effects due to the chemotherapy, but they were actually due to the menopause!
Keep in mind that not everyone experiences the same symptoms - some may find the menopause a breeze, whilst it may hit others like a ton of bricks. It’s best to make sure you do lots of research online about the menopause as well as talking to your clinical care team about any questions you have, so that you can identify any symptoms you may be experiencing.
2. You need to be your own advocate
My naive 15-year-old self assumed that the initial hormone replacement therapy (HRT) I was prescribed by my consultant would eradicate all of my menopausal issues, and I would be back to a normal teenager again.
Whilst it helped to reduce the severity and frequency of hot flushes, I still continued to feel exhausted and achy.
It turns out the doctors weren’t giving me the right HRT dose for my age.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to receive inadequate menopause treatment, because doctors simply aren’t trained on how to deal with young menopausal women.
Therefore, it is crucial that you empower yourself with knowledge to become your own advocate and direct the treatment you receive, rather than the doctor deciding everything for you.
To learn more about the menopause and what it means for you, you can read the guide I wrote for young women after their cancer treatment.
3. Don’t be afraid to talk about your vagina
Personally, the most bothersome menopausal symptom I had was the vaginal atrophy. It became so bad that even sitting down for longer than 20 minutes was becoming painful.
It was an issue that I was too embarrassed to talk to my doctors about, so I tried to ignore it, hoping it would get better.
Please don’t suffer in silence, like I did. Remember that doctors talk about vaginal issues all the time, so it won’t be awkward. It is better to speak up and get the help you need, instead of letting it get worse and suffering as a result.
4. You are not the only one
For a long time, I felt like the only teenager in the world who was going through the menopause. It was a very lonely place to be. But, you must remember that you are NOT the only one!
An organisation that really helped me connect with other young menopausal women is called the Daisy Network.
The Daisy Network really helped me because they made me feel accepted when I felt most alone. Being able to go on their Facebook group and chat to others who know exactly what I was going through was very therapeutic for me. And, being able to attend workshop sessions about unspoken topics, such as the menopause and sex, really changed my attitude about myself. They made me realise that the menopause is a very small part of me and should not define my life going forward.
5. It is okay to feel sad about it
As a cancer survivor, I should be appreciative of the simple fact that I am not dead, so I felt too guilty to complain about such trivial problems such as fatigue, low sex drive and vaginal pain.
This meant that I suffered in silence for months on end.
But, now I realise that the delay in getting the right menopause care massively affected my physical and mental wellbeing, ultimately hindering my cancer recovery. So, please speak up and get the help you deserve. If you aren’t feeling any better with the HRT your GP or oncologist prescribes, then make sure to ask for a referral to a menopause specialist to get the best advice and support going forward.