Saturday 31 July 2021

Menopause: Our experiences and coping; BRiC's Collective Voice

Our most recent Sunday discussion focused on the topic of Menopause, its impact on us and how we deal with its effects. This heated discussion revealed that chemically induced menopause through breast cancer treatment affected those of us who were in our 30s and 40s as well as those of us who’d experienced a natural menopause prior to diagnosis. What was agreed on was that the severity of a chemically induced menopause was much greater than a naturally occurring one. For those of us who’d already experienced menopause there was a chance to be affected by it yet again.

A running concern through our comments revealed the lack of communication from our medical teams about menopausal effects, or how to manage them. We were to research the effects of treatment induced menopause ourselves and seek help on how best to manage the symptoms which are at most times debilitating. There were very few who reassuringly had more manageable symptoms. Many of us were grateful to support groups like BRiC who provided some information on how to address the symptoms.

Menopausal symptoms are challenging and can be debilitating. BRiC members discussed a vast range of symptoms affecting our quality of life: from vaginal atrophy and dryness, lack of libido and sexual dysfunction threatening our ability to maintain intimacy, to brain fog, forgetfulness, joint pain and cramps, as well as fatigue and hair loss, weight gain and let’s not forget hot flushes and insomnia… the list continues.

For many of us such symptoms persist for years post active treatment mainly sustained through endocrine therapies such as Tamoxifen, Anastrozole and Letrozole. The impact of such symptoms adversely affects our workability with many of us reporting that we’ve either had to scale down, take early retirement, or change jobs to less-demanding ones. Our self-esteem is affected and our confidence diminished in the workplace, with some of us reporting we felt dumb and stupid (something also pointed out by family members). A radically induced menopause with full blown symptoms can leave us emotionally and physically shattered and increase our vulnerability to anxiety and depression.

We discussed the possibility of supplements aiding in the management of menopause, though these were organic developments not necessarily prescribed by our medical teams. Some of us mentioned Vitamin D and Calcium with Magnesium, as well as cod liver oil. Any supplements taken should be discussed with our medical teams we noted. Some of us mentioned that acupuncture has helped and many emphasised the positive effects of exercise and diet, though shedding weight even with a balanced diet and much exercise was a challenge for many. The benefits of exercise are long documented and research from BRiC shows that challenging our brains in adaptive ways can help with brain fog improving cognitive health. With research documenting a causal role for cognitive function in protecting against anxiety and depression, this self-management tool can only empower us with the control that cancer has so cruelly taken away.

Unfortunately, unlike cancer-free women, HRT is NOT an option for us as it can fuel recurrence and increase our chances of secondary breast cancer especially if our original diagnosis was hormone related. In fact some of us wondered if our diagnosis was fuelled by HRT in the first place. In addition, most women who are not affected by breast cancer do not know that HRT is NOT an option for us, so some comments on how HRT can help us may come across as insensitive. The fact is that there are no simple solutions for us.

No one symptom of menopause affects us in isolation, the symptoms are very much linked providing a difficult environment to function healthily at best of times. Our emotional, sexual and cognitive health are all interlinked as our bodies work in harmony. A collective threat to our basic functioning is damaging and our members' experiences clearly demonstrates the emotional and physical pain they endure. This calls for an urgent need for measures to systematically address menopausal effects, longer term. A link suggested by one of our admins: Dr Caroline Humber, provides some useful information as a starting point, but more needs to be done:


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