Medical Menopause and Me by Laura Killen

My name is Laura, mum to four children and wife to Simon. So, at age 36 I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer, in 2016 my youngest son was just three months old. A year later in November, after 6 months of treatments for a bad back, it was discovered that my cancer had 'metastasised' which means the cancer had spread to my spine. Once breast cancer has spread it CANNOT be be cured only treated.

Fast forward three years and here we are, still stable and finally coming to terms (well as much as anybody can) with my diagnosis

So much has been said about menopause in the media these last few months, you would think it was a new thing. This is because women have never been supported properly in this ever-changing area of their lives. I am so glad it is now at the forefront of discussions; HOWEVER, I can’t help but feel a pang of ‘what about us?’, ‘what about me?’. I haven’t heard any mention of forced menopause.

Forced menopause (also known as induced or medical menopause) refers to menstrual periods that stop after surgical removal of the ovaries, chemotherapy, or radiation damage to the ovaries, or from the use of other medications to intentionally induce menopause as part of the treatment of certain diseases.

I have been dealing with hormone receptive breast cancer since 2016, I was diagnosed three months after having my fourth baby. The shock was immeasurable. However, once a plan was in place and treatments started (six cycles of chemo followed by two weeks of radiation) I was hopeful that I would get through and hopefully continue of with life with cancer firmly in the rear window.

For me however that wasn’t the case, as less than six months after finishing treatment I was in severe back pain. Four months pf physio later it was decided an MRI was needed. In November 2018 while on the way to see my husband who was in hospital at the time, I received a phone call that just destroyed me. My cancer had spread. Two vertebrae had been virtually eaten away by the cancer. I was told I had to have spinal surgery immediately.

So fast forward to now 2021 I have just had a scan which shows my cancer is still stable, which after three years I am very thankful for.

My treatments have however also brought on a rather unwanted side effect in the form of menopause. I get monthly oestrogen blocking injections, designed to shut down my ovaries, along with a daily medication. Joyfully, my most recent bloods test show my hormones have been suppressed.

I am extremely grateful for these treatments as they are keeping my cancer at bay. I do however struggle with the many side effects of menopause, not something I thought I would have to worry about just yet, as I am only 41.

Also, I was not prepared for the debilitating side effects that accompany menopause.  Of course, I had heard of hot flushes and mood swings but there is just SO much more.

I find my symptoms come in waves; they didn’t last that long at the start but now they are starting to take longer to pass.

The symptoms I have experienced so far are:

Fatigue, not tiredness that eases with sleep, proper fatigue that can make everyday life as a mum of four very difficult. Night sweats. Low moods. Brain fog. Weight gain around tummy area. Hot flushes, mine tend to be just from the neck up. Lower patience. Thinning hair. Itchy skin, especially my neck and hands. Lack of motivation for things I used to enjoy. Low confidence. Joint pains. Signs of aging seem to have sped up, despite me having every potion going to help!!

It can sometimes be hard to know where menopause symptoms begin, as they can be very similar to those of secondary cancer, or drug side effects to be more precise.

I have got better at distinguishing between the two, as I said mine seem to come in waves.

Once I began experiencing these symptoms of menopause, in my naivety, I went to my GP and oncologist to see what help there was out there. I knew HRT wasn’t an option but hope there would be something, even some advice for someone in my position. This was not the case, instead I was made to feel that menopause was the least of my problems, because let’s face it I have CANCER!!

As people are discovering, what with all the press coverage (on something women have known for years), is that menopause can have such a detrimental effect on daily life and when it is forced menopause, it means symptoms can be even more heightened.

So off I went to search the internet for advice, not always a good idea, but I just needed to find someone with a similar experience. I know there must be many women out there going through the same thing as me, but I have yet to find them. It seems to be something that remains unspoken about within the cancer community, which can make you feel very alone.

Things I have found to help myself so far include letting those around you know how you are feeling, so they know any mood swings are not intentionally directed at them. I found that antihistamines took the edge off itching, but you should check with your doctor what medication is suitable for you. Skincare and having a morning and evening routine, not only helps my skin but makes me feel at least I’m doing something for myself.

I have never had dry skin on my body until recently and I am aware of being careful of what I can use which is why I love the products from Jennifer Young's products tailored to addressing side effects of medical menopause. The Well Being Beauty Sleep Ritual body moisturiser smells and feels so lovely. I also love the Frankincense Facial Mist, which not only cools hot flushes but has anti-aging properties (win, win). I shall be looking at the hair and scalp products next to see if I can give my hair a boost as it can really affect my confidence. I wish I had found them sooner! I can do all this safe in the knowledge these products are suitable for me and my needs.

I will continue to try and find ways to ease my menopause symptoms and try to recognise when a wave is building and try to ride it out with as little collateral damage to myself and those around me as possible!

Laura Killen

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