and another thing: early onset menopause

and another thing: early onset menopause

As if you haven’t had enough thrown at you by now, let’s just throw in the menopause for good measure just to make sure that life is really shitty. And because it is prematurely imposed by the treatment, its symptoms can be more intense than a natural menopause. Oh that is just great. Thank. You. Very. Much.

Chemotherapy can bring on an early menopause in some women. Sometimes it can bring on a temporary menopause. Hormonal treatment can also bring on an early menopause. However, some women may not have the menopause during or after treatment.

Symptoms

These vary from person to person, and not everyone will get all symptoms. I thought it might be helpful to list out the menopausal symptoms that I suffered so that if you are experiencing something similar you can seek medical advice from your chemo nurses, oncologist or GP. For me I started to notice menopausal symptoms early on during chemo, but sometimes it was hard to tell what was down to chemo and what was down to the menopause. It was all just a mixing pot of general crapiness.

Hot flushes during the day – These were intense waves of tingling, unpleasant heat moving from my neck upwards to the tip of my head which lasted from a few seconds to 30 minutes. Sometimes my face reddened, other times it didn’t. I also felt my scalp sweating.

Night sweats – These were similar to the hot flushes, but they happened at night and it was kind of like a hot flush taking over my entire body. Top to toe.

Emotional rollercoaster – I used to be a level headed person who didn’t get hormonal ups and downs on a monthly cycle. Welcome in the menopause and I am UP and DOWN all the time. I cried for no reason and didn’t recognise myself. I lost my confidence, I was anxious all the time and oh my, the mood swings!

What is the menopause and what is a chemo side effect? The following symptoms of the menopause are so similar to my chemo side effects that I just can’t work out what is down to what, so I have added some links so you can access some super helpful information about how to help them:

Breast Cancer Now have information on periods stopping
CRUK have information on the effects on memory
CRUK have information on fatigue and tiredness
CRUK have information on weight gain
CRUK have information on decreased sex drive
Breast Cancer Now have information on vaginal dryness

How to help alleviate the menopause symptoms 

1. Lady Care magnet. It sounds a bit weird though. You pop a magnet in your knickers for 24 hours a day. That is it.

2. For night sweats I keep a small can of water spray next to my bed, have a fan in the bedroom and use a chillow which is a cooling pillow. There are various different makes of this type of pillow but they all work on the same basis. Bamboo night wear can also help because it is highly breathable, absorbent and temperature regulating. If you are sweating at night and having to change clothes in the middle of the night then wearing this might help.

3. The menopause affects your bone density over time and can lead to osteoporosis. To help prevent this, the advice is to ensure you have enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet (check with your GP/oncologist about whether supplements are suitable for you and you may wish to consider taking advice from a specialist nutritionist about which supplements would help), do gentle weight bearing exercises (again check with a professional if you have had recent surgery, are now at risk of lymphoedema, or having treatment). See the Macmillan website page on menopause for advice on this.

4. HRT is not recommended for ladies who have had breast cancer.

5. Acupuncture helps some people but check with your medical team first.

Fertility

If you have not had children and you are embarking on breast cancer treatment then you will need to discuss fertility issues with your oncologist. There is a Breast Cancer Now booklet on fertility which you can order or download from here. 

Osteoporosis

Menopause can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis. Breast Cancer Now have a booklet covering any concerns that you may have and it can be ordered or downloaded here.

You may wish to look at the National Osteoporosis website from which I found this helpful article.

HELPFUL RESOURCES AND MORE INFORMATION

Macmillan – managing menopausal symptoms 

Cancer Research UK – breast cancer and menopausal symptoms

Breast Cancer Now booklet

Menopause Matters is a website providing up-to-date information about the menopause, menopausal symptoms and treatment options. It is not breast cancer related. It may give you some information on how to manage your symptoms.

There is an excellent article in the Telegraph called “Your guide to dealing with chemotherapy induced menopause”. Go to www.telegraph.co.uk and search for the title.

NHS Bridgewater Community Healthcare information sheet on the menopause

Menopause Support: is a website providing lots of information and support for women going through the menopause (non-cancer related).

Other excellent websites dedicated to dealing with the menopause:

Henpicked

Hotflush

Live Better With…menopause (products to help during the menopause)

The information and content provided on this page is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice.

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