Overcoming Obstacles: I'm In Surgical Menopause and I'm Not Allowed HRT
Hi my name is Paula and I was 45 when my story began on 26th January 2016 when I attended my regular pap smear appointment.
The nurse mentioned I had some discharge but I went away thinking it was probably normal and forgot about it until a letter arrived to say I needed follow up investigations. I attended colposcopy clinic on the 15th of March feeling quite anxious and had biopsies taken (a little uncomfortable but manageable). At that point I was informed I would need further procedures and investigations under general anesthesia , that is when the waiting game began again and believe me this is the worst part: wondering if you have cancer or not! My scheduled procedures ended up being cancelled due to finding out I had MRSA in my nose and I had to complete a course of treatment over 4 weeks before I would be clear of infection.
It was the 3rd of May when I got an appointment with a Gynecologist, by this point I was exhausted with worry. The doctor informed me I had Cervical Glandular Intra-epithelial Neoplasia (CGIN). It is an abnormality of the glandular tissue lining the inside of the cervical canal, these cells produce mucus (this was the discharge the nurse had seen when doing my initial smear). The skin-like cells of the cervix can become cancerous if not treated urgently. She also mentioned at this point that a hysterectomy would need to be performed after the investigative surgery had been carried out in order for all the cells to be removed. This was both unexpected and shocking.
Fast forward to the 31st of August 2016, the day of my hysterectomy. It was decided that morning that my ovaries should also be removed as I have a family history of ovarian cancer and it would prevent a possible additional surgery down the line. I remember a brief comment by one of the doctors informing me that I would be in surgical menopause and that was it! I had TAH/BSO.
Within in 3 days of my surgery my hot flushes started, crying as if I had the ‘baby blues’ for no reason, constant headaches and insomnia. By my six week check up I thought I was going crazy it was only The Surmeno Connection Facebook support group that kept me going and made me feel I was not going through this alone. I was told my cells had not turned into cancer which obviously was a huge relief and I began taking HRT estrogen patches. After 4 months and increased dosages I began to feel more like myself again. My patches became my new best friend, my life raft to feeling well, and I returned to my job as a nurse in January of this year and felt I was getting back on track. Little did I know things were going to become a lot worse for me...
Due to being on the HRT patches I requested an appointment for breast screening as a colleague of mine had been screened prior to starting her HRT. There was nothing out of the ordinary or unusual about that I thought so attended a mammogram on the 9th of February 2017. History is now repeating itself as I received a letter requesting me to go for biopsy as an abnormality had been detected. The dreaded waiting game had started again and following the results of my biopsy I was diagnosed with breast cancer!
Fortunately in my case the cancer was contained and had not spread but it required me to have a wide local incision and 7 weeks of Radiotherapy. The worst news of all was that my cancer was estrogen positive and I was told my HRT would have to go as it was ‘only feeding the fire’ as the consultant put it. This was the worst outcome for me as I knew my life would return to misery I had experienced without my patches in Surmeno. I was also aware that I would be at increased risk of heart problems and osteoporosis and that my life span could be shortened by about 10-years without using hormone replacement therapy. This was a devastating blow to say the least.
My last breast cancer treatment wrapped up in July of last year, and it took the rest of that year to adjust yet again to life in Surgical Menopause sans any HRT. I have tried using antidepressants to control my flushes but in my case the side effects of these drugs gave me more problems to deal with and I had to make the rather sizable decision to come off them. I am now relatively drug free apart from all the supplements I am using. I am using evening primrose, sage, Vitamin E, and magnesium, none of which have helped as I think the Surgical Menopause symptoms are too strong for supplements to aid but I continue to take them anyway in the hopes that they are doing some good.
More recently I have noticed my skin drying and I am having discomfort in my joints and bones as well. I have had a DXA scan and all is good with that at this stage. I continue to have hot flushes, insomnia and brain fog but a good diet and exercise seems to be helping with this a little. I have also noticed a deterioration in my eye sight and dry eyes which can also be linked with surgical menopause.
The good points of surgical menopause and breast cancer is that I have made some lovely lifelong friends in the community of women with surgical menopause thanks to The Surmeno Connection and I always have someone to talk to and relate with, when many of my other friends and family do not understand the difficulties we are going through on a daily basis with our health.
I returned back to work again at the end of December on shorter hours, my poor body cannot stand those 12 hr shifts any more since surgery. I think now I am slowly adjusting to living with the side effects that the Surgical Menopause and breast cancer has given me, it’s not easy and some days are better than others but I am still fighting and alive and for that I am grateful. My only wish is that I had been better educated about living with the surgical menopause before my ovaries were taken, I think I would have taken the risk and kept them knowing what I know now. My advice to anyone going through this is: KEEP YOUR OVARIES IF AT ALL POSSIBLE.
PAULA is 45, married to David, and has one adult son living at home. She lived in Sheffield UK until 10 years ago when her family moved to the Republic of Ireland for a lifestyle change. She is a registered nurse working at a local nursing home in County Leitrim. She has always enjoyed traveling, and her favorite hobbies include crochet and yoga.