January 5th, 2015, I started menopause. I was 36 years old, a wife and mother of two small kids.
Most of us can remember the first date with our significant other, the date of our first menstrual cycle, our first time away from home, the birth of our children, or other different anniversaries, but most of us don’t know the exact date we joined the menopause club. I do.
My family has been hit hard with cancer.
Going back for many generations, cancer is a common thread among many of my family members. More currently, nearly all of my immediate family have been touched by cancer, and a fair number of them, unfortunately, have lost their battle. Two cancer survivors are my aunt, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 50, and my mom, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 62. Fortunately, these two fighters are still with us today and are part of the reason I chose early menopause.
There is a genetic disorder, BRCA1, which, if you carry this gene, is linked to higher risks of breast and ovarian cancer. My mom tested positive which meant I had a 50% chance of carrying this genetic mutation. I found out in September that I carried this gene, and after much discussion with my husband, decided immediately to take action and have a prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy. In layman’s terms, I chose to have my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. By doing this, I was able to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer by nearly 85% and reduce my risk of breast cancer by 50%. It also meant that I would be medically thrown into menopause…YIPPEE!
Prior to surgery, my doctor reviewed at great lengths the possible menopausal symptoms as well as reviewed my chances of getting ovarian or breast cancer due to me having this gene. It was, honestly, a no-brainer. “Out with the ovaries, I can handle menopause,” I told myself.
The funny thing is, you don’t really miss your hormones until you no longer have them.
My surgeon told me it could take a few weeks after surgery before I noticed any symptoms of menopause. And while I hoped and prayed I would sail through menopause symptomless, I had a hunch it wasn’t going to be that easy. I remember my mom going through menopause. I can look back and laugh at it now, but me going through my own teenage hormonal garbage while my mom was a raging menopausal psychopath during menopause was a recipe for disaster.
In my mind, I had everything figured out. In reality, within 2 weeks post-surgery, I was a mess. I was waking up in the night, drenched in sweat. I would be in a room full of people, and start sweating and get bright red in the face. My mood was that of a killer whale, mixed in with an emotional pregnant woman watching a sappy show on Lifetime. It was ugly. I was ugly. Something needed to happen, and fast. I already knew that because of my family’s high-risk history, I wasn’t able to take hormone replacements. This meant I needed to find my own ways to manage.
Here are some non-traditional remedies I tried:
- Black Cohosh– Believed to reduce hot flashes, and help with sleep
- 5-HT – Believed to be a mood booster
- Evening Primrose– Also believed to be a mood booster and hot flash reducer
These all seemed to make a small dent in the mess I was in, but I was still struggling. I would cry in the shower for no reason, I was yelling and screaming at my kids, and I was a raging witch to my husband. Eventually, I was able to recognize a lot of this and take a step back to analyze. Menopause was literally kicking my butt, and I was only a few months in, with potentially many, many years ahead in this menopausal chapter, and I needed to pull myself together.
A friend recommended an over the counter menopause relief supplement. I immediately went out and bought it and began the daily dose. Within a few weeks, my mood was improving, my night sweats and hot flashes were reduced and I was feeling better. Along with this supplement, at homeI have also found other ways to help me manage my menopausal symptoms which include:
- Regular Exercise– This can mean a short walk outside, an at-home workout, a gentle yoga class, or an hour-long, butt-kicking spinning class. This really helps with my mood.
- Fresh Air– We all know fresh air and Vitamin D are key, especially for those of us living in Vermont. It really does a body good and is especially helpful in leveling my mood.
- Less Alcohol– As much as I enjoy a glass of wine, or an occasional gin and tonic when I don’t partake in these lovely adult beverages I have fewer hot flashes and reduced night sweats.
- Reduced Caffeine Intake– I LOVE coffee. There is nothing I love more than wrapping my hands around a cup of steaming hot coffee Now I enjoy a cup of coffee, but usually, choose decaf to help ward off the hot flashes and night sweats.
- Following a Whole30 Type Eating Plan– Seriously, this I didn’t expect. I love following cleanses, and different eating plans just for a challenge. The sleep I got when consistently following Whole30 was AMAZING, and I experienced greatly reduced night sweats and was not restless.
- Being Kind and Gentle to Myself– This is hard. I can be pretty hard on myself, and honestly, don’t tend to take a lot of time for me. But I have found if I can slow down and take a few deep breaths, that whatever I am feeling at that moment, I can handle it.
If I was to tell you I felt like I did when I had my ovaries, I would be lying. But I would also be lying if I didn’t share how grateful I am to be able to take these precautionary measures to help reduce my risk of following in many of my beloved ancestors’ footsteps. I am a previvor. Living as a 38-year-old mom in early menopause is nothing compared to the hardship faced by those who are battling cancer.