07 Mar 2022

My story : Breast cancer and the menopause

The Latte Lounge is wanting to support women by sharing real-life menopause stories. This story is written by Jackie Woolf.

I always thought that by the time I reached my 50s, I would be sorted – calm, happy and accepting of who I was and maybe even love myself a little.

But I was wrong.

Instead, I’ve been moody, mad and miserable.  

In a nutshell, the most I’d ever known about the menopause was that it involved a flush or two, and then it was over. 

And with so little spoken of it, I can see why that was the case. 

The first time I experienced a hot flush, it was not one of my own. It belonged to a lady on the train. I was young and curious and recall being captivated as I watched her turn crimson right before my eyes. 

Chemotherapy

The second flush did belong to me, and it occurred in my mid-thirties as a result of treatment for breast cancer. 

The potency of the drugs affected my ovaries and threw me into a temporary state of menopause. 

Thankfully my treatment was successful, my cycles returned to normal, and life moved on - though it was never quite the same. I’m not sure it ever is after a cancer diagnosis. 

As for the menopause, I didn’t recall giving it another thought until some 15 years later, when it became apparent that my periods were less frequent. 

Then they stopped. And I was menopausal, I think.

Or was I ‘pre’? Or even ‘post’?

Learning I carried the BRCA gene

I still find the stages of menopause to be somewhat confusing and like to refer to them simply as ‘the menopause’ with no ‘pre’ and no ‘post’. This requires less effort on my part, plus it keeps things simple for my brain. 

Not long after, I learned that I carried the BRCA gene, for which the suggested course of action was a) removal of my breasts and b) removal of my ovaries – more formally known as an oophorectomy. 

And with that knowledge, I sailed straight into my gynaecologist’s office and asked him to ‘whip ‘em out’. 

My ovaries that is. Plus, their respective tubes. 

My speedy decision was based on the fact that I was already menopausal and no longer needed them. 

The breast decision was a longer process.

The oophorectomy went well; I recovered well and other than experiencing some mild symptoms of what I considered the ‘ageing process,’ all was well in my ovary-less world.

And I was grateful for that.

But as time went on, and the months passed by, my ‘ageing’ symptoms gathered a worrying momentum and a power of strength. 

Symptoms after treatment and going through the menopause

I was sleepless and overtired, and I was also very hot. 

I was angry and moody, and I felt miserable a lot.  And I’d lost my zest for life.

Getting old is hard, I concluded. 

The process sucks. 

However, early one morning, at the height of summer and in the midst of a dramatic mood swing, I had a moment of clarity. 

And my penny dropped.

I saw that what I’d thought were signs of ageing and a natural part of life were not that at all. Something else was at play. 

The ‘M’ word. 

The menopause

And its entourage of symptoms.

At first, I kept my findings quiet, as a secret just for me. I was embarrassed, I think, and partly ashamed, and so silence was key.

But as things got tougher (and as I got hotter), I started to share what I was going through.  To my surprise, this paved the way for other women – and even the occasional man – to share, too.   

I was reminded of how important and reassuring it is to know that we are not alone in how we think and feel and that somewhere out there, another human being is experiencing the same thing – not only in menopause but also in life.

Unexpectedly, I began to keep a diary where I noted all my thoughts.  It later occurred to me that a great way to spread the word and possibly do some good in the world would be to share it.  

And so my mini-blog was born in the hope that it might add a touch of lightness and brightness to the subject, as well as help women know that they are not alone in the madness of the menopause or the mayhem of their lives.

It wasn’t long before I got a spring back in my step, woke up my creativity (which had been dormant for so long), and, most importantly, connected with fabulous like-minded women going through the same thing.

And as I started considering what other good might come in my menopausal years, I felt a wave of excitement I had not experienced in a long time. 

Or possibly just a hot flush.

Written by: Jackie Woolf

If you feel you might be suffering from peri/menopausal symptoms, download our FREE perimenopause symptom checker here:

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