Sunday, January 27, 2013

What Early Menopause Feels Like

I keep this photo as a reminder.  I still feel like this girl.
Today I'm going to blog about Menopause.  It's a sensitive subject.

I decided to write about this after my appointment at the Cardiac Clinic last week.  I've put on a few extra pounds after Christmas.  Who hasn't right?  But I was shocked to see myself on camera.  They say the camera adds 10lbs.  It looked more like 20 to me.

Some days it's hard for me to accept the fact that my body is changing and that I will never be the same as I was when I was in my twenties.  Everyone reaching 40 goes through this.  I know I'm not old, but when I look at how quickly my body is changing, it makes me feel ancient.

I try to count my blessings.  I know that in the grand scheme of things I'm VERY fortunate.  I am grateful to be alive.  I am grateful to have relatively good health considering...

But today I just need to moan and whinge about all the ways my body has changed.  I hate being a complainer but I just need to vent about it all today.  I'm feeling sorry for myself.

When I was told I needed a radical hysterectomy at the age of 32, I looked for every book I could find on menopause so I would know what to expect.  They all said the same grim things - expect to gain weight, have hot flushes, deeper wrinkles, and have issues with your bella vagine.  Then there were the bigger issues - brittle bones, heart disease and forgetfulness.  There were many more symptoms but those are the main ones that I struggle with.

Still me, just softer.
It was pretty depressing and I stopped reading the books.  It won't happen to me.  I'm invincible.

But sadly here I am at the age of 38 and I am struggling with those issues.  I'm not as invincible as I thought I was - and it makes me want to cry.  I made the decision to deal with menopause naturally.  I don't take any hormones or supplements.  I believe the body will regulate itself if you allow it to.  That wasn't the case after surgery though.  The hot flushes hit me like a tonne of bricks.  I filled my prescription and was on HRT for two years before I decided that it wasn't good for me.

There's a lot of conflicting advice out there.  My team of cancer specialists in Canada were adamant that I do NOT take HRT due to my strong family history of breast cancer (and me having ovarian cancer already) and  our family history of stroke and heart attacks.  They said that as long as I ate well and exercised, I should be able to manage menopausal symptoms.

The advice from my doctors here in New Zealand was vastly different.  They said HRT was absolutely necessary because I am too young to be without hormones.  I am at risk of developing osteoporosis and heart disease.  According to them, a woman needs estrogen in her system to keep things healthy.

Who does one listen to??

Pre-menopause 2003 (10 years ago).  Flat tummy and no back fat.
I went with my gut and decided to listen to my own body.  I stopped the HRT in 2009.  The hot flushes took a while to sort themselves out.  I just dressed in layers and learned to deal with night sweats and insomnia.  Exercise certainly helped.  I have to work at keeping my weight down now.  I'm honestly not sure if it's just a normal part of life or if it's menopause.  I've always been super thin - too thin (if there's such a thing).  I used to wish I had bigger boobs and not such a flat bottom.  When I was in my late 20's I was a size 4 (American) or a size 6 (European).  I didn't exercise at the gym but I was always riding my bike and into dragonboat racing and I walked a lot.  I didn't have to do much to stay thin.  And boy could I eat!

10 years later and I'm about 10kgs heavier.  I carry my weight around my midsection and it's really hard to shift.  It feels like I'm in a fat suit and that this isn't my body at all.  They say that estrogen stores in fat cells, so as you age and your estrogen decreases, you naturally gain weight to balance out your hormones.  Technically the extra weight is my storehouse for estrogen which keeps me healthy.  I want to be healthy but I hate being "soft".  I'm more of an average size now.  I'd be a size 8 (American) or a size 10 (European).  I know that doesn't sound fat.  Two words... BACK FAT.  Where did THAT come from?  So now I have boobs (be careful what you wish for) but they are mostly just fat.  I went from being a 32B to a 34DD.  BACK FAT.  I have to reach around and pull all the fat from under my arms forward and they fill a DD cup!  Sexy huh?  Impressive cleavage but I know where it really comes from.  And who knew that you could get fat armpits or elbows?

I store my fat all in my upper body - around my face (double chin), arms, armpits, boobs, back, midrift and a little in my inner thighs.  Otherwise my hips, legs and bottom are pretty fat free.  They've filled out - which I'm happy about - but they aren't giggly.  So that's something to be thankful for.

Another thing that changes in menopause is sex.  This is where I'm at a disadvantage because I don't have a partner.  Being a single woman in menopause isn't easy.  If I'd had a loving partner who knew my body, I think it might be easier.  But my bella vagine has changed.  You lose elastin in your skin.  I'll surely never get a boyfriend after writing this. Those of you who know me are now trying to picture my vagine.  Sorry about that.  But this is important to mention.  One day you will all go through it.  And guys, one day your partner will go through it.  Pay attention.

A softer version of me.  
Foreplay is ESSENTIAL.  Lubrication isn't what it used to be.  Be patient guys and be prepared to work a little harder.  It's just as frustrating for her as it is for you, believe me.  Our greatest sex organ is our brain.  If you can get inside a woman's brain during sex then you are a rare breed of man.  A woman in menopause needs a man like that.   The walls of the vagine get thin, like tissue paper.  It's next to impossible not to tear.  I hear this would be less likely if I used estrogen cream down there... but since I'm not having sex presently I'm lazy about using it.  Not great if I have an opportunity though.  No more casual sex for this gal.

I'm lucky that's all that's changed I suppose.  I've read horror stories.  But as I said, our biggest sexual organ is our brain and I think that women can use menopause as an excuse to stop having sex, particularly if they didn't enjoy it when they had a healthy vagine.  It's a bit sad but hey, it's life.  If we all kept having sex like we were in our twenties we'd never get anything done right?

If I knew how much my body would change, would I have opted for the radical hysterectomy?  At the time I was so unwell.  My periods were so heavy that I was flooding maternity pads in an hour.  For the first two days of my period I didn't dare leave the house.  It wasn't uncommon to sit down and get up a few minutes later in a puddle of blood.  It was embarrassing.  Not to mention my low energy from my depleted iron levels.  That was the start of pre-menopause.  My weight began creeping up due to lack of energy.  Plus at that time I was on 4 blood pressure pills which wasn't helping.

Then I developed another ovarian dermoid cyst indicating that I needed help.  I had a few options.  I could have had a partial hysterectomy where they just removed my uterus and left part of the ovary which would mean I'd still get natural estrogen.  The risk with that option was the fact that I had a polycystic ovary and there was the possibility that I'd need another operation down the road to remove it.  We also suspected that it wasn't working properly anyway.  I decided to have the full radical procedure.  I didn't want to worry about it later on.  You don't mess around when you've had ovarian cancer once.

When you have a surgical procedure in New Zealand, they ask you if you'd like to take whatever parts you've had removed home with you.  It's a Maori tradition.  They believe that the soul is still in that part and they give it a proper burial.  I was intrigued.  I didn't want to take my uterus and ovary home but I asked if I could please see it after the surgery.  I needed closure.

As I was waking from the anesthesia, they brought it in to the recovery room to show me .  I was still groggy but through my blurred vision I saw that the uterus was enlarged with two fibroids.  The ovary had a large dermoid cyst on it about the size of an orange.  They were clearly unhealthy and needed to be removed.  I felt better about my decision.  That first week in hospital, I felt lighter and better than I had for years.  I was convinced my ovary was full of poison.  I was lucky to have had a normal menstrual cycle for 20 years but it was clear to me that the ovary had worked overtime and was sick.

Yep, you got it... 10 years ago...
This is where I have to be grateful for what I have.  I defied the odds by surviving Ovarian Cancer at the age of 10.  I had virtually no long term effects of the experimental chemotherapy drugs.  I grew up relatively normal and healthy.  The only evidence of my illness was a long 8 inch scar slicing down my belly from above the navel right down to my pubic bone.  I went through puberty like a normal young woman.

Okay so I was far from normal.

I couldn't have children but I believe my life wasn't meant for me to settle down and have a family.  I got to see the world and connect with so many people.  I  stayed youthful and never had to "grow up".  Growing up is over-rated.  I still see myself as a 24 year old.  The world is my oyster.

I was created with some of the good genes from my parents to keep me young looking.  I was a "late bloomer".  I was teased for being skinny and flat chested.  I got my physique from my dad who is a very lean man and my skin and hair from my mom who is in her mid 60's and still doesn't have grey hair and very few wrinkles.

Unfortunately I also got my blood pressure and the cancer genes from both parents.  This is why I wasn't meant to have children I believe.  I wouldn't want to pass those genes on.  It wouldn't be fair.

I realize that people REALLY struggle with weight and that even though I call myself  "fat", there are people out there worse off.  I just know what my body is supposed to look like.  I know how I used to be.  I'm not happy with the softness around my midsection.  I'm not prepared to just accept it and let it grow (because if I do nothing about it, it will).  I am going to work my tits off (literally).  I'm entitled to be neurotic sometimes, aren't I?

Ten years later and 10kgs heavier.
I've become THAT person.  The middle aged lady who tells thin people that I used to be thin too.  That lady used to annoy the crap out of me.  Ugh.

It's a tricky one.  Being too thin indicates not enough estrogen.  Being too fat around my belly is dangerous for blood pressure.  I'm aiming for being strong and fit and healthy.

Seems Kilimanjaro has come at a good time then.  Bring it!

Follow my transformation.  I bloody hate exercise.  Did I fail to mention that?  I've got to be prepared to make this a lifetime goal or to accept my soft "plush" body as it is.  Only time will tell.  For now I'm going to fight it!   I'm clearly not ready to become a woman yet.  People tell me I look good.  I know I can do better.  This is not for anyone but me.  

I'm delusional.  Now that I've written it all down I feel better.  I look at the photos and see myself differently.  I look good.  I'm not FAT.  But when I look down at my belly rolls hanging over my yoga pants I disagree.

We all have body dysmorphia in some way or another.  We see ourselves differently than others see us.  Sometimes we see ourselves negatively and sometimes positively.  This is why I like photos because you can choose the best photos of yourself and only look at those. But we have to look at our naked body every single day.  If I have to look at it, I want to be proud of what I see.

Be kind with your comments.  This is not some ditch attempt to get compliments.  I don't need them.  I won't believe you anyway.  But if you'd like to share how you feel about your body or getting older or if you're going through pre-menopause or early menopause then I want to hear from you.


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katharyn houk said...

Wow...what a great blog! I am so very in tune with how you feel about your body. I feel the same about mine. I am 45...wishing I were in my 20's again...when I could tan all summer long,go without makeup and look good!, lose 5 pounds in a day...and truly "live". I got colon cancer a year ago. My belly will never be like it once was. And it was never perfect...but it was workable! Now...i feel like my insides are pushed up to my lungs, it hurts to have to bend over to trim my toenails, and I just had both my ovaries removed this past week. So...after already feeling old and huge...I feel even worse! I have taken 1 hormone pill...and just havent decided if I want to continue to take them or not!
I appreciate your blog...your honesty...your view of yourself! I thought I was the only one! Thank you thank you thank you!!!!

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Tracy Pepper said...

Hi Katharyn,
Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate the feedback and to know that I'm not alone in this. In general I'm an optimistic type and I try to see the positive in everything... but the truth is, there are days when you struggle with the changes. We are grateful to be alive, yes this is true. We can accept that life won't be the same. But it doesn't mean we don't feel and we don't grieve. It's grief. Plain and simple.

But we can use our experience to enhance our lives in a bigger way than we can comprehend sometimes. This is where we need to have faith and trust that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

I wish you all the best on your journey. I see you've found my expedition page on facebook. Please feel free to ask any questions about HRT as your symptoms worsen (and they will hit hard). It's not going to be easy but you can do it. Eat well, exercise and get air conditioning. :)

Most importantly, laugh and enjoy this crazy thing we call life.

Big Hugs to you!

Anonymous said...

Nice to have found you! I also had a radical hysterectomy at 34 and am battling the medical profession to deal with it naturally. I get a script each six months-to a year with my surgical follow up....and re-evaluate. Last one was October, with a three month script....Can't bring myself to go back and get another....but these hot flushes, say no more!! Thank goodness for winter is all I can say. Much love to you and your journey, and for your blog xx

Tracy Pepper said...

Feel free to find me on facebook and follow me on my journey. Just look for Tracy Pepper's Expedition of Hope :)

Give your body the time and love it deserves to regulate itself naturally. Don't think of the hot flushes as something bad... think of them as a normal part of life. I believe that will help. And start exercising if you aren't already. Walk every day. Eat clean and healthy whole food. Sugar and caffeine makes hot flushes worse.

Good luck and I'm glad you found me too!