“Menopause After Cancer is a totally different ball game”

The menopause conversation is really shifting – we’re all talking about it a lot more and most of us have a much better understanding of the benefits of HRT, along with lifestyle steps that can help manage symptoms.

Defeating cancer and coming out of it is a struggle, and no one underestimates it. But there are so many other negative effects that arise because of side effects from treatment. Take lymphedema, which is a condition where the tissues swell up due to a blockage of lymph nodes. This is typically caused by radiation and chemotherapy and is a common side effect. Thankfully, we can now avail lymphedema treatment to take care of this issue. But while treatments for these common side effects do exist, there’s less focus on issues that are specific to female cancer survivors.

Menopause after cancer is something that’s barely ever discussed. It’s a totally different ballgame and people in the cancer community often feel excluded from the wider menopause conversation. That can leave women feeling even more isolated, confused and scared at what is already a deeply challenging time. Doctors will often tell you HRT isn’t an option, depending on the kind of cancer you had, so you’re left on your own, dealing with a double-whammy of menopause symptoms and the trauma, loneliness, and anxiety that can follow cancer treatment. Menopause after cancer really is the hidden menopause.

Here are the key reasons menopause after cancer is so different:

  • You have sudden and severe menopause symptoms

Going through menopause due to cancer treatment often means it happens very suddenly and symptoms can be more severe. Us cancer survivors don’t get the gradual hormone changes that cause perimenopausal symptoms over the course of a few years – it’s more that our bodies have quit hormones cold turkey, plunging us into menopause suddenly and intensely. And it can be very scary sitting at home on your own after cancer treatment’s finished, wondering whether these symptoms are down to menopause, side effects of treatment or even cancer itself. On top of all that, menopausal hormone changes can often trigger low mood and anxiety – which can make everything that much harder to cope with when you’re already feeling low after everything you’ve been through. You may also be suffering from mood swings, sore breasts, and general aches and pains. It might be worth it to look into getting a 3D mammogram in Sparta (or elsewhere) if you’re experiencing severe soreness or other issues with your breasts, to ensure that there are no problems.

  • You may have to cope with fertility loss

If you’re under 45 and still having periods, cancer treatment can bring on an early menopause – so you end up going through it long before 51, the average age a woman’s periods stop. This leaves you having to cope with the premature loss of your fertility after gruelling cancer treatment, which can be especially painful if you wanted children and haven’t had them. Even if you don’t want children or you’ve completed your family, losing your fertility early can still be very confronting.

  • You have to come off your HRT

Perhaps you’d already been through menopause and were coasting along quite happily on HRT. But then you got the cancer diagnosis and had to stop it abruptly, so you’re suddenly dealing with symptoms you were managing well before.

Women often put up with menopause symptoms after cancer. Lots of us tell ourselves we shouldn’t complain – we’ve survived a life-threatening illness so low libido, hot flushes and insomnia aren’t the end of the world. We’re lucky to be alive – we shouldn’t be moaning. Even if you want to seek help, who do you speak to? It can be difficult to navigate the health system and know whether you should be talking to your oncologist, nurse or GP. And you may well think there’s no point anyway – you can’t have HRT and nothing can be done so you’ll just have to put up with it.

I want to change all this. Here’s my 5-point manifesto for menopause after cancer:

  1. Find the right information

In my quest to help more people with a history of cancer have a better menopause experience I have founded the not-for-profit www.menopauseandcancer.org. We offer a range of accessible, practical support and services which bridge the information gap and create a sense of community and belonging. Head over for more info.

2. Talk about it

Let’s start opening up about it so we all realise we’re not alone. That in itself can be a game-changer. Join my private group chat hub on Facebook and meet other women in the same situation.

3. Download a tracker

I love the Balance app, by menopause specialist Dr Louise Newson. It helps you track your menopause symptoms so you can get a clear idea of what’s going on. That can give you a sense of control but on a more practical basis, it can also help you talk to your doctor about your symptoms without having to look back and try to remember them. I recommend printing out your results to take to an appointment.

  1. Ask to see a specialist

Surviving cancer itself was a big step. You might feel that you should put up with some of the menopausal symptoms as you don’t want to be seen ‘ungrateful’. But you are now living and surviving and you deserve to get the help you need. As menopause care after cancer is usually more complex, you should be seen by a menopause specialist. Ask your healthcare team to refer you. Your GP or oncologist or nurse can do so. Click here to find a specialist through the British Menopause Society.

  1. Empower yourself

You’ve been through such a lot already. You – and your body – deserve nourishment and care. Tune into the Menopause and Cancer podcast to listen to experts who have an in depth understanding of menopause and cancer.

banner science nature support community

You’re not alone

When I first set up a private facebook group – it was for all women in peri-menopause and menopause. But I soon realised that women after cancer needed a separate space – a community of others who understand exactly what they are going through. And so the Menopause + Cancer Chat hub was created. Regardless of what type of cancer you were diagnosed with or how you arrived in menopause – you are welcome. Join the group here.

menopause and cancer facebook community

See a menopause specialist on the NHS

Researching all things menopause can feel like going rather far down a rabbit hole. Confusing and contradicting messages and little support for women means menopause care has a long way to go – on many levels. Did you know that you can access a menopause specialist on the NHS? You can find one here. They are there for people with complex medical histories. Get yourself on the waitlist!

find a menopause specialist

Join our Menopause and Cancer program

One thing is for sure. What works for one woman might not work for you. The 16 week program is created to help you find solutions that work for you. Part on-demand and part-in person via zoom this course will help you have a more empowered menopause experience. For full course details, enrolment and prices click HERE.

empowered menopause finding your path

Non-Judgemental + Evidence Based

All our experts have one thing in common: to share evidence based facts to help you make more informed decisions. Regardless if you are in temporary menopause, surgical or medical menopause – we believe there is always something you can do to move forward. And together is always better than alone.

empowered menopause information

Wanting more

It’s ok to want more. Many women after cancer who are struggling with menopause symptoms say they kind of accept their reduced quality of life. Almost, as if it is a trade off, a by-product to surviving. We want to challenge that and help you have the best possible experience.

empowered menopause client

Sign up to our Newsletter ‘Menopause + Cancer’

We understand that it can be very difficult to see even a glimpse of a positive when the symptoms of menopause might feel very much debilitating at times. Join me on Instagram and Facebook for oodles of inspiration and a little bit of positivity – so that we can start seeing the possibilities of this menopause malarkey. Sign up to receive our newsletter here.

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If you would like to talk to me about your options, when the next group program starts and how I can help you please book a call. So much can happen when we spend a little bit of time on ourselves. Please access my diary through the link below or email me so we can find a date that works for us both.

Dani Binnington

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