What is your age and stage?
I’ll be 62 in December, and you know what, I have no idea where I am as far as the menopause is concerned.
How old were you when symptoms started?
I was perimenopausal when I was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 50. My oncologist was horrified when after my first bout of chemotherapy I promptly had another period. They blitzed me with another round of chemo and I literally went into full menopause within 24 to 48 hours. It was like being thrown at a wall.
I came off the medication about a year ago, and apart from the occasional “hottie”, I don’t think I have any symptoms.
Were your symptoms what you expected them to be?
I can honestly say I had no clue what to expect from the menopause. Plus, because I was undergoing post breast cancer treatment and medication, from the ages of 50 to 60, I really didn’t know the difference between what might have been menopause symptoms and what might have been medication side-effects.
I guess I associated sleeplessness, irritability and moodiness with my medication – which was keeping me alive, so I had a positive view of those things. They meant I was alive after all!
It’s only by reading MPowered Women that I thought, “Oh, hang on, maybe those symptoms were the menopause?”
What was the most challenging thing to deal with?
One big side-effect of menopause that I had to face was suffering the most dreadful chafing on my cross country runs, thanks to vaginal dryness. No one, but no one, tells you about that, which is why I want to mention it here.
My “Ah ha!“ moment was reading something that posed the question, “Why would you not moisturise your inside as much as you moisturise your outside?”. OMG! Thank heavens for Replens long lasting vaginal inserts (www.replens.com). I started using them every three days and almost instantly got rid of the soreness I’d been experiencing after my daily runs. What an amazing difference they made. You don’t realise how vaginal dryness affects you until it no longer affects you, if you see what I mean.
It has also meant that at age 61, I have a better love life than I have ever had before!
Were there any positive symptoms?
Oh yes. I remember going running in Boston in the snow. It was something like -11C and, oh how I thanked God for those hot flushes! They made me feel positively cosy. I remember having a right giggle about it, I had my own central heating.
What are the things that have got you through?
In no particular order:
- Weight training.
- Daily cross country running (wearing Hoka trainers gave me a new lease of physical life, www.hokaoneone.eu).
- Gyrotonics, which keeps me flexible and strong.
- My Replens vaginal inserts.
- Red clover tea (www.amazon.co.uk) and fresh mint tea.
- Nivea Cream everywhere after every bath and shower.
- Dr Teal’s Bath soak and Bath salts (www.drteals.com).
What made the biggest difference?
Red clover tea and keeping fit. There was this one time I was in my local tea shop in Norwich, Norfolk and hadn’t even noticed I’d broken out in a sweat. The lovely lady who worked there immediately suggested Red clover tea. Long story short, that tea became part of my salvation. My breast cancer surgeon was so impressed with its results that he now recommends it to all his patients.
I have been told by my gynaecologist that any menopausal symptoms I may have had have been massively diminished due to the fact that I run and power walk every single day, do not eat meat, weight train one to three times a week, take a hip hop dance class every Tuesday and do gyrotonics weekly.
I don’t do all of those things because I’m a superwoman. I have used them as a method for dealing with my mental health and mood swings ever since I was 25, and as a result they’ve become part of my lifestyle. It makes me cross when people tell me “I am lucky” On more than one occasion I said, “Well, I’m about to go for a run at 5am in the rain/snow/35°C heat – you’re welcome to come and be ‘lucky’ with me!”
What advice did you seek from others?
Although I didn’t actively seek advice from anyone, in retrospect, I realise that my childhood had a big impact on me.
My darling late mother was West Indian and I spent part of my childhood in East Africa: Two cultures that have a far more positive view of menopause and ageing women. They celebrate the wisdom and experience and hardiness of older women and so weakness and suffering are not things that are subconsciously planted in the minds of women, as I believe they are in western societies.
If you are continually told that menopause will cause you to be ill and weak and sickly and unable to do things, trust me, the power of the mind will amplify and demonise all those things which are a natural part of growing older.
What the best advice you received?
My gynaecologist told me that menopause is another stage of life: just like starting menstruation. Now menstruation was true hell for me. I suffered dreadfully with period pains all my life. I started menstruating aged 9 1/2 and didn’t know what the hell was happening to me. No tampons back then. We had sanitary napkins fixed with safety pins to an elastic belt around the waist. My period would last at least a week, usually ten days. My blood loss meant I struggled with iron deficiency, fainting and non-stop vomiting. I was put on the pill at 14 because it was deemed less of a medical risk than my period.
Trust me, after 40 years of that hell, at least going into menopause you have years of coping mechanisms behind you.
What do you wish you’d known?
Honestly? Absolutely nothing. In my case I’m glad I didn’t hear a whole lot of horror stories. I’m glad I have been surrounded by vital, can do, energetic older women.
I remember my mum borrowing my daughter’s skipping rope. She must have been 70 at the time, but she could skip as fast as any boxing pro and was an awesome dancer.
As a kid in Tanzania, I saw women out in the fields with babies strapped to their backs. Elderly women walking miles for water, carrying massive pots or bundles of wood on their heads. It’s only relatively recently that I have come to realise that my ideas of menopause and women’s strength in later years has been moulded by witnessing women being physically strong throughout their lives.
I guess that’s also the ‘advice’ I absorbed about growing older.
What has been the impact on your daily life?
Again, because of my breast cancer treatment, back when I was 50, and the medications I was on until last year, I’m not too sure what was menopause and what were the effects of life-saving medication.
Back then, during a whole year of operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, I weight- trained and worked out and carried on working; presenting my daily Talk Show.
Under the hot studio lights I would get hot flashes which were like having a bucket of water thrown over me. I remember a false eyelash sliding down my cheek and my director furiously hissing into my ear piece, “Your eyelash has come off! Your eyelash has come off!”.
But that didn’t distress me. It was something to have a good laugh about at a time when there wasn’t a lot else to laugh about, because five minutes later I’d spend the commercial break throwing up into the nearest waste bin!
As for moods and anxiety… maybe it’s easier when you feel you have good reason to be anxious and moody. I would get like that before my six monthly breast check or when I thought of dying. I was having psychotherapy and talking things through on a weekly basis made me feel normal – whatever the hell ‘normal’ is.
Anything you’d do differently?
I was going to say “Be kinder to myself”, but no. Toughing it out made me feel all Warrior Woman! I would have fallen apart if I’d felt like a “victim” to anything, and that includes breast cancer.
Your thoughts on this time of a woman’s life?
My thoughts in general about this stage of a woman’s life? Well it was an absolute breath of fresh air to see a recent British Vogue with the ‘Age: The Non Issue’ supplement. I’m sick of that old fashioned notion that women over 55 suddenly become passionate about twinsets, tweeds and pearls. I loved the Vogue issue because it featured women like me, women who still shop in Topshop and Zara, who are still working, keeping physically active, wear makeup, travel and don’t equate living on their own as being lonely.
Youthfulness isn’t about obsessing over wrinkles, it’s about being sprightly and energetic. I’ve seen women with the most amazing cosmetically enhanced flawless faces, but they still seem doddery because they’ve neglected to maintain physical strength and vitality.
Your menopause was…
….a minor issue because once you’ve faced a life threatening illness, what others see as some kind of ghastly inconvenience, you see as proof and a reminder that you’re still bloody alive and kicking.
You feel MPowered when…
…I’m in a hip hop dance class, rollerblading, working out with weights or hiking in the countryside I love feeling my body’s strength, because it’s something I’ve worked damned hard to create and maintain .and it has literally helped save my sanity – and my life.