01 Jun 2017

KATIE'S BLOG: Peri/Menopause-A Positive Outcome

A few years ago, I was 43, and had just returned to work after a long break bringing up my four children. I loved my life, but was feeling exhausted, teary and down, for no obvious reason. My GP didn't even consider that my symptoms could be to do with my hormones, because of my age, so simply diagnosed depression and prescribed anti-depressants.

After six months, I felt worse. I had “brain fog”, couldn’t think clearly at work, cried at the most inconvenient moments, had random hot flushes in the day and didn’t want to leave my house. I stopped socialising with friends or speaking on the phone to anyone and piled on an enormous amount of weight. The anti-depressants turned me into a zombie, I felt nothing — it just wasn’t right.

I feared it was the pressure of combining home life with a demanding job. After all, I had so much to do, settling one child into university and nurturing the others through exams. I talked to my GP again and she suggested, if it was financially possible, I should try part time work or stop working altogether and focus on my own health and looking after my family.

But my father, Professor Michael Baum, who is a specialist in breast cancer, and very knowledgeable in all areas of women’s health, begged me to seek a second opinion from one of his colleagues at University College Hospital. Despite my age, he thought I could be peri-menopausal.

It turned out that he was right. I was deep in the throes of peri-menopause. The consultant and I agreed I should start taking a combined oestrogen and progesterone pill and wean myself off the anti-depressants slowly. For the first month, I didn’t notice a huge change although I definitely felt my mood lighten. But, after about a month, I noticed a massive difference — it was like I had got the old Katie back. I could think more clearly, felt happy again, started eating better and wanted to get back to doing some exercise and socialising.

It was at this point that I had the idea of starting a Facebook group. There were many groups talking about bringing up young children but nothing much for older women. So “Top Tips 4 Women Over 40” was conceived and two years later, I have more than 11,000 members from all over the world. We talk about everything from healthy eating and keeping fit to relationship issues and medical concerns. Most of all, we discuss the dilemma of looking after ourselves, while also caring for teenage children and ageing parents.

Every day, I talk to hundreds of women on the group page. It is wonderful to learn from them and see them support each other.

It has been the best kind of therapy for me; it has made me realise that I am not alone or going mad and that, actually, going through peri-menopause and into menopause is completely normal.

What I’ve learnt is that too many of us suffer in silence during peri/menopause and don’t seek help. Or we do, but get the wrong diagnosis. There is still a taboo, and many women feel they have no one to talk to. Our group is women-only, closed and a safe space for people to confide in others and get support and advice.

One of the most worrying things I have learned recently is that, 15 years ago, a report came out showing that taking HRT could increase your risk of breast cancer. Overnight, thousands of women stopped using it — they just went cold turkey without consulting any medical professionals.

I asked my father about it, as I wanted to reassure all my members and friends, and this is what he said: “A wise physician always has to weigh up the benefits and harms of any medical intervention. HRT has been a boon to many women suffering from severe symptoms of the menopause. Suddenly giving it up can often make life intolerable.

“The first thing to note is that, although the relative risk of developing breast cancer on HRT is twofold in absolute terms, that translates into two extra cases per 1,000 women taking it for five years. Yet, in spite of this, deaths from breast cancer don’t seem to increase. Furthermore this doesn’t apply to oestrogen-alone replacement for women who have had a hysterectomy. I advise all women contemplating giving up HRT to consult a gynaecologist who is an expert in this field.”

Last year, I organised a retreat day to raise money and awareness for Ovarian Cancer Action (www.ovarian.org.uk) and this year i organised an event to raise money and awareness for The Daisy Network (www.daisynetwork.org.uk) which supports women suffering from early menopause.

GP, Louise Newson, who has a  special interest in the menopause said: “Taking HRT can lower our future risk of heart disease and osteoporosis which are both very common conditions as we get older.”

My next project was developing the Facebook group into this website, offering advice and information for midlife women, now I have the energy to do everything I want to.

So, a problem that started when I returned to work has actually developed into a new life and career for me.

And it’s convinced me that talking about the menopause is something we should all be doing.


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