30-Something And Going Through Menopause

30-Something And Going Through Menopause

I was 30 when I got diagnosed with an extremely rare abdominal cancer (pseudomyxoma peritonei) and told I would need a huge operation to survive, one that involved the very likely removal of a few organs, including my reproductive ones.

Everything was quite a blur at the time, but with this cancer being quite a slow growing kind, I had some time before surgery to go through IVF and freeze my eggs, just in case. 

When the time came for my surgery, I went in having no idea what organs would be taken out until I woke up. I was petrified of the surgery itself, and I was scared of what each missing organ would mean for my body and my health going forward. Some organs can be removed and your body adapts without needing much external interference (such as the appendix or omentum), and other organs require a bit (a lot!) of support to keep your body running as smoothly as possible long term (such as the ovaries or spleen).

I felt so nervous about my ovaries being removed, because it would put me into instant early menopause. I remember crying because I thought my personality would shift with the change in hormones, and I would become some terrible version of myself. Thankfully though, while hormones affect a lot of things, my personality was safe. (I mean, I wouldn’t have minded a slight change, maybe less anxiety? No? Ah.)

I had an appointment in a menopause clinic to discuss what would happen if I went into surgical menopause. They explained all the possible symptoms, and that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication would be a good idea due to my age, along with a healthy lifestyle and mental health support.

In the real timeline of events, I had two surgeries before the one that took my ovaries, losing an organ or two each time (current organ count: -7). I was also informed after one surgery that they found endometriosis while poking around (#blessed).

After I woke up from the third surgery, I was told that my ovaries had been removed, and that I would be entering into early, surgical menopause. I braced myself as best I could with 68 staples running down the length of my torso, and waited for the symptoms to hit. 

“Maybe it’ll take a few days for my body to realise” I’d said optimistically, “Or maybe I just won’t get any symptoms.” Ha! It was the next day, and I got all the symptoms. At once. While recovering from a laparotomy and chemo-infused treatment.

I wasn’t able to start hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication until a month after surgery, so I haphazardly dealt with the symptoms as they hit. The hot flushes were anytime, anywhere, no reason - body hot. I would pull off whatever clothing I had on, sit and marvel about how hot it suddenly got, then be freezing 10 minutes later. Every night I would wake up multiple times, after previously always sleeping through, in varying depths of sweat. It’s then really hard to control your temperature, because once you’re back to sleep, you’ve either got too much or too little over you, and whatever it is, is wrong. But don’t worry, the brain fog the next day helps you forget the night’s trauma, and if you look out the window, you’ll see the neighbour’s cat and start bawling your eyes out because you love cats and you miss your cat (who had been gone for 15 years). 

It was at that moment (the cat moment) that I realised I was in deep menopause. “Oh I think I have the emotional symptoms too” I’d said. “Yup…” replied my mum, who had obviously clocked this days before, and was quickly making me a cup of tea to calm down. 

Prior to this, everything I’d ever heard, read, or seen about menopause was the traditional ‘woman in her mid-to-late 40s begins the slow journey through menopause.’ There was nothing slow about my journey; I was 32, and had no frame of reference at the time. It was a chaotic, emotional, confusing, sweaty time. I felt a loss of control over my body, and went through a bit of an identity shift, grieving the old me and learning to adapt to, and accept, my new normal.  

Knowing that I was soon due to see my endocrinologist (AKA hormone doctor), I was a little apprehensive about starting HRT; it just felt like more medication in an already medicated body. But honestly, as the day drew closer, I would have swigged medication from an old man’s boot to ease those symptoms and feel an ounce of normalcy again. 

Once I began taking HRT, my symptoms did start to ease. There was some trial and error over the next few months as my doctor and I found which particular HRT suited me best, and I now live with mostly-eased off symptoms. I still wake up most nights in a sweat and often have brain fog, but the hot flushes have really taken a backseat, and my emotional state is…well, I’m not crying all the time now. Just some of the time, but definitely not every time my bunny does something cute. 

Menopause at any age can be a really rocky period, but there are so many things to help us muddle our way through. Speak to your doctor, or get a referral to see a specialist. In NSW, the government is opening menopause hubs across the state, such as this one at the Royal Hospital for Women, to support those facing severe symptoms. You can also get support, info and guidance at the Australasian Menopause Society and Women NSW. It’s been super helpful connecting with others in the same boat; us menopausal-ers love to compare night sweat stories!