August 21, 2023

Adapting to Early Menopause


Here she is again, continuing on from Wednesday’s post - the amazing 36 year old ovarian cancer patient from Philly guest blogging about early menopause - Emily Beck.

The Dark Side of the Moon

I am not mystically inclined.  I love The Lord of the Rings as much as the next person, but I have never been a druid (one of my friends in middle school claimed that she was), a sun worshiper or a witch (a college roommate was most assuredly one of these.)  But one of the hardest things to adjust to about menopause has been losing my connection to the cycles of the moon.

For some people it’s probably hard to imagine missing anything about menstruating.  (No more cramps?  No more PMS?  No more tampons? Where do I sign?!?)  But cancer robs us of so much that we take for granted, and for those of us who are sent into either surgically or chemo-induced early menopause, it takes away the primary way in which most of us feel connected to the rhythms of our body, the hormonal cycles we often curse, but which define so much of what it means to be a woman.

In the year-plus before I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I was trying to get pregnant.  I had begun the tedious (but fascinating) process of taking my basal body temperature and paying somewhat pathologically close attention to the nature of my vaginal discharge.   Charts and notes related to my menstrual cycle piled up on my night table.  I was peeing on ovulation detectors in the bathroom at my office, and rushing home to demand sex on the appropriate day.  I was, to put it mildly, in tune with my body.

After my hysterectomy, it was as though the tuner connected to my hormonal cycles broadcast nothing but static.  Without the signs to which I had grown accustomed (tender breasts, the changing texture of my discharge, and of course the thrills of a monthly period), I suddenly felt unmoored – disconnected from my woman-ness, and from the cycles of nature (the moon, the tide) that I had always associated with my monthly hormonal evolution.

I remember distinctly a stretch of time, probably during college, when the first day of my period continually fell on the same day as the full moon.  Suddenly, I had a new sense of the ways in which my body and the experience of being a woman connected me with nature.  It was pretty damn cool.

Now, over a year and a half post-hysterectomy, I am still searching for new ways to feel connected to the earth and to stay aware of my body’s rhythms.  The patterns are new, but the goal is the same:  to stay in touch with the physical essence of being a woman.

Have you gone through early menopause?  Does it make you feel like you are missing part of your womanhood?  How have you adapted?  Any tips of suggestions?

Check out It Girl, a chapter in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s, in which Mary Ann talks about feeling the loss of what she always considered to be her womanhood.

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  1. Tara Says:
    August 21st, 2009 at 9:35 PM

    I was treated for cervical/endometrial cancer and I can tell you I hated my periods; I had endometriosis for years and was always asking for a Hysterectomy. Dr. said I didn’t need one (oh how hindsight is 20/20; damn well wish I’d had one now!!) >:(
    I felt NO connection to the Earth or my ‘woman-ness’ during ‘that time of the month”; in fact, I felt more like a girl when I was NOT menstruating!

    Anyway, now that I’ve been thrown into early menopause in my 30s from the stupid cancer; I HATE it even more! >:( I had such bad periods, but at least they meant I “functioned” properly. Now I feel like ‘damaged goods’, like I’m defective and my sex life; well it’s pretty screwed up :(. Menopause is for old ladies; NOT for us!
    Stupid cancer!!

  2. Pat Steer (Gaelen) Says:
    August 22nd, 2009 at 4:23 PM

    When I was first dx’d (at 48) I was still actively menstruating — late fertility wasn’t a surprise, since my mother didn’t experience menopause until she was nearly 50, and she got pregnant with my youngest brother in her early 40s.

    My first chemo treatment immediately put me into chemical menopause. During each long chemo break, and after the last surgery, I thought I might come out of menopause — I felt the same hormonal swings and physical symptoms that used to signal the start of my period.

    Then, my recurrence involved radiation, more chemo and a hysterectomy, and I went firmly into physical menopause. I don’t feel disassociated from my woman-ness, so much as wondering what my next revelation about my body will be. I don’t miss hormones having tantrums with my emotions — but some days, it would be nice to know ‘what’s next?’

  3. kaferine de nerve Says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 8:03 AM

    2 years out now from my hysterectomy. the 8-week mindfulness for stress and pain reduction at UNC’s integrated medicine helped me deal with the stress and discomfort of early menopause. i do not take hormone pills for health reasons. i have developed a sense of humor about the hot flashes-my personal summers. i laugh at the moments in a crowded grocery store when i just want to rip my clothes off. learning to breathe into the heat, feel it, experience the sensation as a very personal moment with my body has been helpful. meditation works for me as method to be with any emotional swings.

  4. denny Says:
    March 17th, 2015 at 2:00 PM

    mastecomy in 1990 and chemotherapy - 2nd mastectomy in 1996 no chemotheraphy. 1998 full blown menopause - hotflashes, memory loss, weight gain, no energy, loss of memory etc etc etc. as a single mom of two, life was challenging. However i was still able to date and enjoy myself - enjoy life - had a serious long term relationship. Until one day it all came to an end. at age 45 early menopause destroyed my ability to be intimate or have intercourse. the pain is too unbearable and the risk of taking estrogen, well, not real happy about the odds of getting ovarian cancer from the hormones. so, i stay by myself, unable to have physical relationships and who wants to date someone who is completely broken as a woman.

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