Hear from Lydia about her experience of being menopausal when she was 24 as part of her cancer treatment.

For over three months now I have been menopausal. I was put on Zoladex to try and starve my tumour of oestrogen in the hope it would inhibit its survival and the tumour would shrink. Zoladex is a hormone treatment that acts at the level of the pituitary gland, where it shuts off the production of hormones, for women this is primarily oestrogen and progesterone. Lacking oestrogen has many effects on the body, and the side effects of Zoladex (and menopause more generally) are numerous, and looking at the patient booklet, it seems I have had them all!

Every woman goes through the menopause at some point in life, either naturally, from surgery, or induced by drugs like me. Yet the menopause is still a rather undiscussed subject and I think a lot of people are still unaware of half of the symptoms, especially those less common. We have all heard of hot flushes, but I for one wasn’t aware of the joint pain and headaches.

I recently watched a documentary hosted by Kirsty Wark on the BBC called ‘Menopause and Me’. Kirsty spoke with a variety of women who had gone through the menopause, all at different ages, for different reasons, and who struggled with different symptoms. The symptoms they covered were:

  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Sleep disruption
  • Anger
  • Low mood and depression
  • Tearful and emotional
  • Fatigue
  • Aching joints
  • Reduced bone density- osteoporosis
  • (Splitting) Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Loss of libido

Some little extras added by me:

  • Weight gain
  • Insatiable appetite
  • Smaller boobs
  • Thinner hair
  • Thinner eyelashes
  • Dry skin
  • Loss of strength

Fun wish list aye?

The commonality that all of the women experienced was the feeling of ageing that comes with the menopause, being past it, ‘a cow put out to pasture’ 😔.The feeling that you have left the childbearing era of your life behind. Who would have thought that in 2017 where having children is a personal choice that doesn’t define your femininity, that being past childbearing age affects women’s body image and sexuality. I have to admit that I have also felt like this, I would like to think that how I think and feel about myself isn’t related to my lady organs. Yet, somewhere inside me, in my instincts or genetics, the risk of infertility and having a broken womb makes me feel like less of a woman- totally mental right? My broken womb and induced menopause haven’t changed how I look on the outside, and shouldn’t change how sexy I feel, yet somehow cancer killed my vibe. As Jennifer Saunders so perfectly put it, there is just an: ‘Indefinable something that you don’t have any more’ but ‘I’m still completely able to do what I want to do’. It’s a subtle change, it’s hard to put your finger on and almost impossible to describe but it’s real and discernible.

Most of the women who felt this sense of ageing and reduced sexuality were in their 50s or more, and compared to me, actually ageing. Yet I can safely say that even at half the normal age, the menopause does make you feel old, past it and terribly unsexy. There is nothing quite like aching joints and a dry vagina to make you feel like an old witch.

Nearly all of the side effects I experience are associated with ageing, the worst of all for me being fatigue and sleep disruption. As someone who always exercised a lot and was generally fit and healthy, being constantly tired (and not just normal tired, cancer tired- it’s a thing, honestly), having no energy has large repercussions on my day to day life. No matter the fact that I look like I’ve had no sleep, with permanent very sizeable bags under my eyes- which isn’t exactly the youthful glow I’m going for! On top of this, the tiredness also seems to dull my brain, and I regularly end up swapping incorrect sentences in words or saying the wrong word obliquely. Which makes me feel even more of a dumb twat than I used to.

This, often accompanied by severe, splitting headaches (the kind that makes you want to rip out your eyes balls) can be enough to drive anyone loopy. It can often be hard to concentrate, and you feel like you’re running at 50% of your usual capacity. This can make life difficult and excelling at anything, especially work or anything slightly intellectual, a struggle. Which at 24 when you have only just started trying to build your life and career is a real hindrance. Oh, to be menopausal on the brink of retirement,  that would be so much more convenient.

Being young is all about the sex, drugs and rock and roll right? So being menopausal at 24 is a massive *cock block*. For one, you’re usually pretty exhausted, which doesn’t always make you feel up for it. For two, when you are actually fancying a fumble, it can be rather awkward and disruptive. Searching around the room for some SERIOUS lube can be a bit of a mood killer, and makes the thought of sleeping with someone new rather daunting. Certainly can’t go back to their house… what if they don’t have any lube? What if they do but it’s not the heavy-duty stuff? You might also have to have an awkward chat about why it’s not working, ‘it’s not you, it’s me… I’m just menopausal’ *cue confused look*.

So far being menopausal has been a manageable inconvenience for me, the symptoms are constant but mild. They aren’t earth-shattering, and I can carry on with day to day life with little disruption. If you met me you probably wouldn’t notice a thing. Yet they add an extra layer of complexity to life, I have to make allowances and compromises to my activities and behaviours (even down to what I wear), to allow for my symptoms, which affect me daily. I am constantly aware of them and they occupy a significant part of my ever-decreasing brain space. Yet for me, this is temporary, and certainly the lesser of two evils. My menopause might just save my fertility or even my life. So for now, menopause and me have come to an understanding.

Check out our Lifting the Lid on Cancer and Menopause event where Lydia and Nicky along with a panel of experts discussed the topic and answered questions from the community.

Watch video here