Premature menopause

A woman standing on a bridge

Caroline* tells us about her experience of premature menopause after surgery

Around one in every 100 women will go through premature menopause. Every experience of the menopause is different, and what Caroline experienced is not typical of what many women go through. But it’s important to share and understand stories like hers, and to acknowledge the huge impact that premature menopause can have on people’s lives.

I was a first-time mum when I went for my six-week postnatal check-up. ‘You seem to have a polyp on your cervix,’ said my GP. ‘We’ll get that checked out.’ But by then, I had a cancerous tumour the size of a 50-pence piece. I was 30, with a 10-month-old daughter, and I needed a radical hysterectomy to save my life.

They gave me the choice, so I kept my ovaries to stave off the menopause. However, my gynaecologist warned that even just having my uterus removed would probably accelerate the menopause. So by the time I was 35, I was having hot flushes, night sweats and brain fog. Then when I was 45, I got breast cancer. As part of that, I discovered I carry a gene which predisposes me to ovarian cancer, so I had my ovaries removed – plunging me deeper into menopause.

Severe menopause symptoms

During the day, lengthy hot flushes seared my flesh and prickled my skin, making me feel overwhelmed and panicky. At night, I struggled to fall asleep and then would wake a dozen times, often drenched in sweat. And I’d never get back to sleep after 4am.

Sometimes the hot flushes came in rolling waves, lasting hours. One episode went on for 11 hours, making me incapable of anything. I remember lying on the bathroom floor, sobbing down the phone and begging my husband to come home from work, 40 miles away.

I’ve been living with these menopause symptoms, and more, for 21 years now. Apparently, for some women, they never stop. My sleep is as bad, made worse by very hot feet. The night sweats often wake me and, as revolting as it sounds, my side of the bedsheet is a different colour from my husband’s. But finally, the hot flushes are diminishing.

Finding a way of coping

I don’t often talk about it. I feel a bit of a weirdo, because my symptoms seem so extreme and they’ve lasted so long. When someone mentions their hot flushes, telling them about mine would make me sound unpleasantly competitive.

I’ve just learned to live with it. The brain fog bothers me, because I feel I don’t operate at the same level as I used to. And the thought of a good night’s sleep fills me with longing.

I think what makes me endure, and not complain, is that the fact I’ve survived two cancers (and a head-on motorway crash, but that’s another story). I’m grateful to be alive, menopause symptoms and all. You have to find your joy where you can, and just muddle through the rest.

*Not her real name

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