Let's talk menopause

Laura menopause collage

Menopause can be scary and bewildering. It’s a step into the unknown and especially so if you step into it far earlier than you’re meant to. Laura, 28, is slowly learning to deal with the symptoms and what it means to go through menopause as a young woman. Here she shares some of the things that have helped her on her journey so far. 

"At the age of 27 I was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer, and just four days after the diagnosis I started chemotherapy, as well as a medication that kick-started the menopause. Twelve weeks later, I had radical debulking surgery, which included a full hysterectomy.  Learning that I had cancer and that I’d also be entering the menopause at 27 was overwhelming and I don’t think I had the emotional resources to fully comprehend it at the time. I began to feel really anxious a few weeks into treatment because I had no real idea of what the menopause would be like. I’d heard of some but never understood just how bad they could be. I’d also never really considered the impact on mood and emotions. 

It’s been about 1 year and 8 months since my diagnosis and the start of my menopause and it continues to be a learning curve for me. There are still times when I feel like an older lady trapped in a young woman's body, but I hope that by sharing what I have learned so far, I can help other women feel more in control.

  • 1. Seek professional advice

    Consulting Dr Google is always tempting but it usually just causes unnecessary worry. Before my operation, all I really knew about menopause was the infamous ‘hot flushes’, but I very quickly realised that it was much more than that. Having cancer already makes you overly vigilant about symptoms in your body and experiencing menopause symptoms at the same time was really confusing and anxiety-provoking for me. What I found most helpful was talking it through with my clinical nurse specialist at the hospital, rather than hunting online for the answers. I was able to talk though the possible symptoms, some of which I’d never even considered, such as moods swings and changes to your skin. 

    Woman on laptop
  • 2. The power of a cold drink can

    I don’t actually like fizzy drinks but they quickly became a regular companion for me as a way to cool my body down. I find that putting a cold can on the back of my neck is a really good solution to managing the hot flushes. My boyfriend also purchased me a Cool Me (instant cooling towel), which comes in a small pack and can easily fit in your handbag.  

    Drink can
  • 3. Thinking through your outfit choices

    I now find it very hard to regulate my body temperature in the day; I lose track of how many times my jumper goes on and comes off. It can be quite annoying because sometimes only seconds after having taken a layer off, I then get really cold again. I’ve found that layering is key and I now tend to wear thin jumpers with a vest or top underneath throughout the year. I’m also learning about which fabrics make you feel hotter, and that drop armhole tops (like the photo on the right) are good options. These tops mean I don’t have to wash something after wearing it once. Even the shoes you wear can help with your body temperature. I used to love wearing boots, but now find that these can be a major contributor to overheating!   

    Menopause friendly top
  • 4. Acupuncture for night sweats

    After surgery, I immediately started experiencing the menopause night sweats. They were so intense to begin with that I couldn’t sleep and I ended up having to take sleeping pills most nights. I would wake up looking like I had been swimming with my hair drenched in sweat. The night sweats caused me a lot of anxiety, not at all helped by the fact that I wasn’t actually sleeping properly because of them. 

    My specialist nurse referred me for acupuncture as there is growing evidence supporting its effectiveness. For me this has been a great help. I was having it every few weeks to begin and the acupuncturist then taught me a self-needling technique so I could continue doing it myself. I no longer take sleeping pills, the night sweats are not at all as intense as they were and I sleep a lot better. 

    Acupuncture
  • 5. Holistic treatments

    Since my diagnosis, I’ve tried various alternative treatments to help with relaxation and anxiety (especially menopause-related anxiety).  At the moment I have Reiki therapy, massages and reflexology. Reiki is a very spiritual healing treatment that involves a light touch on or around the body. I’ve found that it helps me to stop focusing on the thoughts that whirl around in my mind by being more in touch with my body. Massages have also helped me loads; having a massage actually increases the levels of oxytocin and serotonin in the body. Finally, I have found reflexology - basically a system involving massage, or a degree of pressure, in certain areas of the body - to be really good at helping me to relax and relieve tension and stress.

    Massage
  • 6. Finding a new beauty regime

    I discovered that menopause might be the reason for my nails weakening but found that a regular trip to the nail bar helps with this one. Tips, gel powder and shellac have got my nails back on track and they look nicer than ever before! It’s not a cheap solution but I find it really worth the money because it’s one less thing to have to deal with.

    I don't wear much makeup at the moment because I sweat if off so quickly. Makeup for the menopause… There’s an idea! Recently, I also discovered that skin can become very dry due to the lack of oestrogen, which may be the reason for the eczema that I am now contending with on my eyelids.

    Manicure
  • 7. A menopause friendly haircut

    Once I was ready to have a proper haircut post-chemotherapy I agreed with my hairdresser that she would give me a shorter style. I’ve varied the length of my hair over the years but my hair has changed quite a lot in texture and thickness since chemo and because of the menopause. A shorter style means that my hair looks fuller and also that my neck is exposed, which has really helped with the hot flushes!

    Menopause haircut Laura
  • 8. Cover carefully

    I have a magical duvet. It's so thin and keeps me much cooler than the normal one I used to have. Even the thought of a thick duvet makes me feel hot – this coming from the woman who used to walk around the house in thick jumpers, fluffy socks AND a holding hot water bottle! 

    Duvet
  • 9. Rusty joints

    The menopause can cause a decline in bone density, which can lead to joint pain. This is something that I’ve been struggling with quite a lot over recent months. Mornings are especially hard for me because it takes a while for my joints to kick into action. Having a hot shower or bath helps, but the main thing that has worked for me is regular swimming.  My body feels so light in water it and eases the joint pain quite a bit. I try to do this up to three times a week and I really notice the difference if I don’t go for a few days. My team at the Royal Marsden also keep an eye on this with bone density scans, and recommend supplements to support bone health. These include vitamin D and alendronic acid. In addition to the supplements, I make sure I drink lots of my dad’s famous milky tea!

    Swimming
  • 10. Vaginal changes

    Menopause leads to a lack of oestrogen, which can lead to vaginal dryness and irritability. There are a variety of non-hormonal creams that you can use to help with dryness such as ‘Replens’, which I’ve found helpful. I am currently trying out another cream called ‘Hylofemme’, (again non-hormonal), because this one is better for also helping with thinning of the vaginal tissue. Yep, that's right, yet ANOTHER weird and wonderful side effect of menopause that I knew nothing about! 

    This cream is trickier to apply because you have to re-use the applicator and I wasn’t sure how or where to keep it between uses... Luckily, my creative sister came up with an ingenious idea. Remember those handy travel toothbrush holders? Well they aren't just handy for holding toothbrushes!

    Laura toothbrush holder
  • 11. Laughter

    I am a 28-year-old woman going through the menopause. It’s arrived a lot earlier than it should have and can feel quite isolating given that there aren’t many people my age who know what it’s like. There are times when I’m out with people and experience hot flushes and end up worrying about whether they are obvious to other people around me, which makes me more anxious and the sweating worse! My experience of living with menopause has always been made easier for me by being able to laugh and see the funny side of the situation, which helps me feel more in control. For example, when I’m out with people and can feel a flush coming on, rather than try to hide it, I tell people that I’m about to have a power surge.

    Laura laughter

At this point I bet you’re thinking “This all sounds terrible! Are there any perks to menopausing?” Well if you look hard enough you can always find them: Firstly, I'm saving LOTS of money on tampons (which helps fund my expensive nail habit!). Secondly, gone are the days of getting caught off guard with a period.

Menopausing in your twenties comes with a whole host of symptoms and issues to tackle. The obvious and most life changing one is loss of fertility. However, my life was at risk and I didn’t have a choice. I also didn’t have time to freeze any eggs before starting chemotherapy because my cancer had already spread. Despite how this made or makes me feel, I try to remind myself that I gave up something to save my life and give me the chance to still have a family in the future. For me, going through menopause now is the payoff for being able to hopefully be a mum in the future, just in a different way to how I previously thought. 

Menopause is different for everyone and there are other reasons and situations why women (of all ages) will menopause early. There are  things that can happen to your body which feel alarming when they are new to you. But over time you begin to know your own pattern. Try not be afraid of the symptoms and remember sites such as menopauseamatters.co.uk are there to turn to for support. Also, you will continuously come across different things to try that might help with the symptoms, and my motto is try them all! 

My specialist nurse at the Marsden has also told me about a monthly Young Women’s menopause clinic that is run at Northwick Park. They’ll be able to offer advice and solutions to little issues that menopause can bring. I look forward to attending the clinic in the coming months."


Would you like to write a blog for Ovarian Cancer Action about your experience? Email Tori@ovarian.org.uk.