#MyMeno by Gemma Howard

I’m now 34 and entered surgical menopause a year ago as a result of emergency surgery. It’s safe to say, age 33, I wasn’t remotely prepared for what was to come. 

My menopause was brought on as a result of a major operation after an IVF procedure. In hindsight it’s hard to say which symptoms were caused by the menopause and which were related to recovery from the infection, but about five days after my surgery I began to experience intense night sweats. Various symptoms then crept in and lasted for the few months until I got my HRT sorted. Now, thankfully, most of them are under control.

It took me a while to get access to the correct HRT so I had about three months of upheaval while I waited for my coil to settle. These were difficult times and I had to take each day as it came. Thankfully I was off work sick at the time. I had hot flushes in the day but found the night sweats more intense and often overwhelming. I would also find myself waking up at 3am and then not being able to sleep again. Palpitations were a daily occurrence (worse in the evening) and my body seemed to overreact to very small stressors. For example, a small stumble, dropping something or being in the slightest rush would set off a flush and terrible feelings of anxiety. It was exhausting. My hair began to fall out in clumps, my scalp became very itchy and I also struggled to manage vaginal dryness and discomfort.

Those few months when I wasn’t on HRT were the hardest, it felt as though I was barely surviving at some points. It was also very hard to adjust from being a couple going through IVF, with the hope of having another child, to then being in surgical menopause knowing pregnancy wouldn’t be a possibility any more.

Fast forward to today and I’d say my lifestyle has become healthier and I really appreciate good days and how lucky I am to have supportive people in my life - these are the positives that have come about from my experience. I now make health and diet a priority most of the time, however, I still feel like I’m learning what works for me. I miss my old lifestyle but I have to be very careful as certain foods and drinks trigger my symptoms. I feel very grateful to have a husband, family and friends that have been firmly by my side throughout.

HRT has been an integral part of my treatment and recovery. At the moment I find oestrogen gel, a progesterone coil and a small dose of Testrogel (testosterone) help manage my symptoms effectively, alongside SYLK gel. Instagram pages set up by professionals have also been invaluable. Louise Newson (@menopause_doctor), Diane Danzebrink (@dianedanzebrink) and @emma.bardwell are great sources of information and support. A Facebook group specifically focused on surgical menopause (Surgical Menopause UK Support) has also helped by allowing me a virtual insight into other women going through the same thing.

Regular exercise, such as cardio and strength training, plus Kundalini yoga, together with a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep are vital, but as I said earlier I’m still learning what works for me. It’s hard to do all these consistently so I see my journey as very much a work in progress.

My operation wasn’t planned so I had no pre-op and little aftercare. No one even mentioned the menopause to me in hospital or explained what impact it may have. Worryingly, the consultant discharged me from hospital with a prescription for an oestrogen only patch. Thankfully my GP questioned this as I still had a womb, so she changed my prescription to a joint patch after reading up on HRT. 

As there are no local menopause clinics nor specific surgical menopause support in my area, it was down to me to research information and was fortunate enough to afford to see a private consultant. This doctor has been great, allowing me to make informed choices about the right HRT treatment and monitoring and tweaking my dose as needed.

My main reason for wanting to tell my menopause story is the lack of support and guidance for those going through menopause (specifically surgical). I’ve been lucky enough to read the right websites at the right time, be able to pay for treatment and have a supportive family around me, but I know this isn’t the case for all women and it makes me sad and angry. 

Looking back I wish I’d had the knowledge and confidence to access menopause support from my GP. It would have been so beneficial for someone to have just given me an information leaflet about the surgical menopause after my operation. As it was, I was left completely in the dark and had to stumble blindly through the first few months after surgery on my own.

My advice to other women is don’t suffer alone. Start by getting a referral from your GP. Louise Newson and Diane Danzebrink both detail how to confidently and assertively ask for a referral on their websites. Often GPs aren’t trained well enough in the menopause - through no fault of their own - so that conviction of knowing what you want to access and why is critical.

Menopause has and continues to be challenging but is manageable with the right tools, support and hard work. And - for anyone who hasn’t experienced it yet and might be feeling fearful - it’s important to remember it’s different for everyone.