When asked to write my story for NZ Early Menopause Support Network, I did not realize what emotions it would evoke. To get some detail and facts for the preparation of this article, I had to read through my medical history of the last 34 years! Overwhelming at times, these memories are now nothing but just that; fortunately I have forgotten a lot of detail and probably for the best. That must be hormonal!
I started my teenage life with terrible period pains at a very young age. Even school was considered too much on some days of every cycle. I was put on the pill and re-assured at the time that my symptoms would improve (heard that before?). When I was 17, I was rushed to hospital with suspected appendicitis. And from that moment on, my life was to change forever, except I would not know that for many years to come. There was no appendicitis of course, just ovarian trouble. No diagnosis, just “go home, you’ll get better” I was told, and the patchwork of abdominal scars had begun. Within the year, I was to be back in hospital for exploratory surgery and told I would never conceive, just like that….. in a doctors’ room, (with the wisdom I have now, I know that was fortunately just his opinion). But at the time I just cried and cried, and received very little support from friends and family.
In my early twenties I was lucky to marry someone who supported me throughout this awful part of my life, as he still does today. (I call him my “rock of Gibraltar”). And I did surprise the medical fraternity by falling pregnant soon after we got married. I was euphoric and felt the best I had for years. My hormones were happy at last! And surprise, surprise, I fell pregnant again whilst on the mini pill and breast-feeding. They were born 11.5 months apart!
Following the birth of both children, there were many operations for ovarian cysts, endometriosis, many laparoscope’s’ and then a hysterectomy at 28. Nothing to worry about of course, until the remaining ovary decided to present with cysts and adhere to the bladder and bowel. Not only had I endured much surgery, but suffered from severe glandular fever for which I was hospitalized for three weeks when the children were young. Mentally and physically I was exhausted! Not able to continue on like this, it was decided that the remaining ovary would be removed and I was to be put on HRT (Premarin).
I stabilized for some time but soon the symptoms of severe abdominal pain returned. The oestrogen levels within the Hormone Replacement Therapy were exacerbating the growth of endometrial tissue left within my peritoneum (especially on the bowel) and after much consultation and deliberation we decided to discontinue the HRT. Not an easy decision at such an early age.
As a result, I went through menopause at the age of 31, knowing full well the long-term side affects. I remember distinctly being worried about my loss of femininity, of not feeling and not looking like a woman. And yet that issue has affected me the least of all. I feel incredibly feminine; turning 50 this year I have no problems with how I feel about myself. At the time however I was worried about growing facial hair and my voice deepening and neither has happened. I am proud of the fact that I am still modeling at 50. Of course I did suffer from hot flushes, headaches, and mood swings for about two years, but then my body got into the groove of things. Loss of libido is something we just live with.
I was however diagnosed with Osteoporosis at 48. The initial treatment of Calcitrol failed to increase the bone density and after suffering several fractures, it was decided to commence Fosomax. This drug enables the kidneys to absorb the calcium in my diet to keep my bones strong. Having considered myself as a physically strong person when young, the obvious loss of strength gives me cause for concern and hopefully with weight bearing exercise such as walking for about 20 minutes most days, and attending my yoga classes, I will not only stay mentally focused but physically fit. I am determined to reverse the effect of osteoporosis through eating well and exercise. I thought the ski boots were put away forever but I have noticed since practicing yoga, my flexibility and strength have improved dramatically and I live in hope that I will challenge the white slopes again perhaps with greater caution and less speed.
An early “surgical” menopause at the age of 31, brought with it very mixed emotions and I was worried I would “grow old” before my peers. For instance, I still don’t know the affects of prolonged use of Fosomax on my body. I am aware of slight memory loss, but whether that would have occurred at my age any way; I guess I will never know the answer.
One thing I do know is that I would rather forget my treatment by some medical professionals, very willing to file me in the “too hard” basket! Not only was it frustrating, but degrading, and often to my detriment. The physical pain I felt was enough to bear, and at times overwhelming and very lonely! Over the years alternative medicine and therapeutic massage has been my savior. Today I still suffer with bowel problems and chronic pain.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of support groups! When I was first diagnosed with endometriosis, there was very little information and certainly no support group. (I had never even heard of this disease). Having been a foundation member of the Endometriosis Support Group in Australia some twenty years ago, the Association now provides support for many women around the country, promotes public awareness and supports research, and I am so proud that I was part of that very hard working group in the early days. (My beautiful daughter has now been diagnosed with endometriosis).
With the help of its members, the New Zealand Early Menopause Support Network has the same opportunity; to not only support each other, but also to raise public awareness and understanding of premature menopause. Education and information will provide much needed support to our future generation of women. I encourage all members to be actively involved and hopefully you will be able to look back one day and say:”my efforts were very worth while”.
Remember, there is always someone worse off.