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Not a pause but a Seismic shift

by Carly Hughes

Age 42 years, fit, well, active and in a relatively new relationship after years of a single parent. This was me.

The operation to remove the lump in my breast was easy - surprisingly painless. I was not expecting problems with the hormone blocking treatment (tamoxifen plus zoladex).

As a GP with an interest in women's health I hope I had always been sympathetic to women with menopausal symptoms. But, to be honest, I always suspected that some women were just more likely to worry about their health than others. And I was not one of those women! As a feminist I did not believe my hormones defined me, or even affected me that much. How wrong I was...

The flushes were overwhelming, exhausting and unpredictable. I was almost always hot in bed, and couldn't bare bedclothes or to be touched. I was surprised that I could feel so hot without going bright red or sweating - though I know some women get this too.

It was the overwhelming tiredness that was so tough to cope with. I slept for 15 hour days - getting out of bed was a real challenge. I lost all my motivation and drive - only my children and animals that kept me going. My mood plummeted - despite a good prognosis for my cancer and a loving, supportive family. I stopped making plans for the future. Having been someone who had always had a 5 year plan (and achieved it) this was quite a change. I felt a failure for not coping better - I'd always been strong in challenging times.

As so many women do - I started antidepressants. They helped my mood a bit - but I still had no energy to get up and go. So I stopped the hormone therapy, against all medical advice and the pleas of my partner. I made a bargain with god - just wanting to see my children through school.

Within 2 weeks I felt better - more energy, less sleep. Within 4 my mood improved. Within a year I was retraining at work, setting up a new service and back to making my trusted 5 year plans! I was looking forward to the future again.

Of course at 59 years old I have now gone through the natural menopause - which for me was less dramatic. I miss oestrogen - if it were medically safe for me I would take it at the drop of a hat. My drive and libidio is reduced - but life is good.

I want to apologise to any women who I did not take seriously as a GP. Oestrogen is a fantastic and powerful hormone, and I respect it's effects enormously. I think we need to look at other lifestyle factors to really support women through menopause - diet, exercise , mindfulness and psychological support.

To be positive, I think there are some great aspects to post-menopausal living! Life is smoother, more stable without the monthly cycle. God has been kind to me - I get to see the joy of my children growing into capable and kind adults.

As a GP, I still see women perplexed and surprised by the changes the menopause brings. We need more information and education about menopause - including the positive views that things will get better.

The landscape may have shifted, but once the earthquake settles nature takes over and the new ecology establishes itself. Let's embrace our hormones when we have them but not spend time mourning their loss! Life is more than the ability to reproduce - and postmenopausal women are an integral part of our society.

Finally, I am thankful for being a women and all the experiences it brings. Hormones may be a rollercoaster - but the ups and downs have enriched my life.