Tuesday 08 May 2018
Caroline â€“ Maggie's
Wednesday 04 Oct 2023
After being diagnosed with breast cancer at 35, Alice MacGillivray went through chemotherapy and a mastectomy then had her ovaries removed. As a result, she faced the new challenge of a sudden medical â€˜crashâ€™ menopause.
â€˜Nothing prepared me for it. I was so hot, sweaty and irritable. Iâ€™d be going to the shop feeling ok and all of a sudden I would be like an inferno that wanted to explode. The menopause for me was harder than the cancer, it was too much. I wanted to be out of my body.â€™
The natural menopause is discussed everywhere in documentaries, podcasts and TV shows with celebrities including Davina McCall, Lorraine Kelly and Oprah Winfrey revealing the impact of its symptoms on their physical and mental health.
What is less talked about are the intense effects of medically or surgically induced menopause, which can be triggered by a range of cancer treatments at any age. The symptoms, which include everything from and insomnia to low libido and brain fog, come on so suddenly and feel so intense that itâ€™s sometimes known as a â€˜crash menopauseâ€™.
â€˜A crash menopause can feel like youâ€™re falling off a cliff,â€™ says Lisa Punt, Centre Head at Maggieâ€™s Cambridge.
â€˜When we go through a natural menopause thereâ€™s a slow, gradual decline in our hormones, but with a treatment-induced menopause, you might go from having normal oestrogen to having a lower level than following a natural menopause, literally overnight. The impact can be far-reaching, affecting your long-term health, intimacy and relationships.â€™
A survey carried out by Maggieâ€™s shows how few people having cancer treatment are properly prepared for the possibility of going through a medical menopause as well.
The survey found that 30% of people diagnosed with cancer werenâ€™t even aware that their treatment could cause early-onset menopause. On top of that, many said the menopause symptoms they experienced were worse than their cancer treatment.
â€˜Itâ€™s really shocking that so many people arenâ€™t aware their treatment will cause early-onset menopause,â€™ says Maggieâ€™s Chief Executive Dame Laura Lee. â€˜We know how traumatic an experience this can be for people on top of their cancer diagnosis with people experiencing loss of fertility and a range of debilitating side-effects. It is crucial we shine a spotlight on these issues and that information is more clearly available.â€™
Lisa has spent time with many centre visitors at Maggieâ€™s whoâ€™ve had their cancer treatment thoroughly explained to them but werenâ€™t adequately prepared for the possibility of a crash menopause because it was seen as an after-thought or forgotten altogether.
â€˜In the midst of maybe talking about chemotherapy, mastectomy, and all the other challenges that come with a cancer diagnosis, menopause is something that's not necessarily focused on, but that needs to change,â€™ says Lisa.
â€˜One woman Iâ€™m supporting at Maggieâ€™s was treated for a colorectal cancer at 22. Her treatment brought on a crash menopause and she said to me, â€˜Who would have thought Iâ€™d be sitting through my History A-level exam having a hot flush?â€™ And you know, no one else understood that.â€™
Liz Oâ€™Riordan, has come across medical menopause from two different sides of the hospital environment, both as a former breast cancer surgeon and as a breast cancer patient.
â€˜As a breast cancer surgeon, I had no idea how hard the menopause was for my patients until I became a patient myself. We arenâ€™t given specific menopause training and often donâ€™t hear about it from our patients as we only have five minutes with them after surgery and then donâ€™t see them again for years,â€™ she says. â€˜Thatâ€™s why it is so important that people know that they can come to Maggieâ€™s for safe, trusted, expert advice.â€™
Three weeks after finishing treatment for breast cancer, Anna Cook, 54, went into crash menopause. â€˜I found myself really tired but also unable to sleep,â€™ she says. â€˜I had bad joint pain in my hands and my knees.â€™
But the symptoms werenâ€™t just physical, they affected her mental health and her confidence at work too. â€˜Iâ€™m a really practical person. Iâ€™d worked in the same place for 14 years but one day when Iâ€™d gone back to work, I burst into tears in a meeting and this was really embarrassing. Thatâ€™s when my manager sat me down and I realised that, â€˜no, I actually wasnâ€™t okayâ€™ and I wasnâ€™t â€˜sailing through thisâ€™ at all.â€™
Hannah Walsh, 40, says the symptoms of menopause hit her â€˜like a brickâ€™ after her treatment for breast cancer. â€˜Hot flashes and insomnia have been, by far, the worst menopause symptoms for me,â€™ she says. â€˜It would have been different to have had a few years to adjust to it and get there eventually but to crash straight into menopause is difficult in many ways and itâ€™s upsetting because Iâ€™m not ready for it.â€™
Thankfully, support is available. Lisa has developed a two-hour online 'Menopause and cancer' course for Maggieâ€™s that gives support and practical advice on all aspects of the crash menopause.
â€˜We look at the practical, physical and psychological effects and how to manage them. When people understand how something like a hot flush happens it can be helpful in managing it,â€™ she explains. â€˜We also have some really rich conversations about the emotional and physical impact on intimacy and relationships. It helps make people feel more confident and comfortable when theyâ€™re in a group going through similar experiences.â€™
Maggieâ€™s menopause workshops or individual support are available through all 24 UK centres and have already helped countless people.
Anna found the menopause workshop â€˜empoweringâ€™. â€˜It helped me to meet people who also had cancer and menopause and we could discuss symptoms and problems in a safe and supportive space,â€™ she says. â€˜Menopause is something that every woman is going to go through, so you do feel a bit silly when you have to admit that it really is difficult. I had no idea how much it could affect me mentally and physically.â€™
After feeling â€˜brokenâ€™ by the crash menopause, Alice found support and hope at Maggieâ€™s. â€˜Iâ€™d come into Maggieâ€™s sweating, probably three or four times a week,â€™ she says. â€˜I met others going through the menopause, there was a lot of perspective. I could find the funny side and laugh about it when I spoke to others too.â€™
To find out more about Maggieâ€™s free 'Menopause and cancer' workshops, contact your , email us at email@example.com or call us on 0300 123 1801. Our contact hours are 9â€“5, Monday to Friday.
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