Liz Newman-Horne shares her experience of premature menopause with us.
At 32 years old, I was diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome…
…(an inherited cancer syndrome associated with a genetic predisposition and a significantly high risk of developing several types of cancer). I was initially seen for a breast lump, and once my family history was examined (which has a significant amount of cancer diagnoses on both parent’s sides), I was investigated for possible genetic mutations. Four weeks later, I was informed I had Lynch Syndrome.
It was a frightening experience. As a Specialist Cancer Nurse at a world-renowned Cancer Hospital, I found I was to be in the position of patient! I receive annual screening (which isn’t particularly pleasant at times!). It was also suggested at age 35 that I have a hysterectomy. I’d always had problems since starting my periods and was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in my early 20s. I’d been unable to have children, so the decision was not easy. Overall though, with an 80% chance of developing a gynae cancer, I felt the benefits far outweighed the risks.
Initially I felt OK for the first 6 weeks, then as my own remaining estrogen dropped, the symptoms appeared rapidly…
In May 2015, I underwent a robotic total hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy, and was informed I’d been immediately “plunged into menopause”. The surgery and care was fantastic as I was able to have it in the hospital where I worked (and no, I didn’t see any patients from my hospital bed!). My wonderful husband of 13 years was by my side all the time, providing reassurance and comfort. I commenced HRT (patches at first, and several months later was switched to gel). Initially I felt OK for the first 6 weeks, then as my own remaining estrogen dropped, the symptoms appeared rapidly; aggressive headaches, nausea, tears and constant bladder infections. I muddled through, increasing the HRT dose every few weeks or so. I was given Vagifem for my bladder symptoms, which took some time to work.
I was also diagnosed with depression and anxiety (very common following this surgery).
Again, I received little assistance medically, and have learnt new coping mechanisms through time.
I received little support from the medical teams and was told to be patient and that things would improve. I was desperate for help. Over time though through trial and error, I’ve discovered things that help – hair loss shampoo’s, nail / skin supplements, dietary and lifestyle changes. Luckily, I have also used my medical knowledge and obtained advice from colleagues. I was also diagnosed with depression and anxiety (very common following this surgery). Again, I received little assistance medically, and have learnt new coping mechanisms through time.
I have changed my entire lifestyle – diet, workplace, and commenced Yoga and Meditation. I still use Vagifem which helps (to an extent), however, I still find vaginal dryness and bladder issues the worst. I really struggle with the ‘bad days’, when I see my thinning hair, my dry / brittle nails (which used to be strong, shiny and the envy of my friends), and the irritable bladder. On these days I try to be strong and remind myself that had I not had the surgery, the outcome could have been very different.
I’m finally starting to feel ‘human’ again.
Sadly, my mum passed away 19 years ago, so its been tough without another woman that I’m close to. Luckily, I have a supportive husband, brother and dad, plus some fantastic friends. They’ve all been patient and understanding despite my mood swings and depression. Then 18 months ago, I met a new colleague who had been through the same operation and who swore by the HRT Implant. Following overcoming my initial reluctance to try it, I went ahead with it as I simply couldn’t function anymore. It has changed everything – it has taken time to accumulate, but I feel so much better with it, my levels are now at a higher level and I have a much better quality of life. I’m finally starting to feel ‘human’ again.
I feel there really needs to be more support for young women going through premature / surgical menopause. I have raised this to everyone I’ve met along this journey, and I’m hoping things will improve for the future.