Going through the menopause – for a second time
Miriam McGuirk had a tough time mentally and physically when she started the menopause early. Little did she know, she would go through it all again decades later
At the age of 37, I became perimenopausal. I noticed sudden mood swings and my energy dropped significantly. My sleep became disrupted due to night sweats.
But I carried on without medical support. At 42, the experts declared, due to a delayed diagnosis of severe endometriosis (after which an operation ensued), I could not have children, and this could be a reason for my early menopause. “Go and have a nice life,” they said. “There is nothing we can do.” I felt lost, baffled and confused.
I hoped that once I hit my 40s, I would enjoy an exciting new era of calm and confidence. My dream: to reignite my passion for writing and developing a creative career. Sadly, nature had other ideas. Without support or help, I pushed to carry on, thinking if I ignore the symptoms, they will eventually go away. But it hit me hard.
Oh, that rush of the hot flush, disrupted sleep, horrendous night sweats, my ever-changing hormones, mood swings, a foggy brain. And I cannot forget the panic attacks. I’d have them frequently, daily and nightly. One, particular sleepless night as I tossed and turned, I could not cool down (yet it was the middle of winter). I felt the palpitations growing, leaving me more breathless than usual. I felt so weak and tried to breathe through the attack until eventually, it began to ebb.
HRT wasn’t something I considered at this point but both my personal and professional life went way off centre. I constantly questioned my ability and decision making.
The natural way
My way of eating and supplement intake, along with daily exercise, had already been strict, clean, and organic. And I read that Japanese women are the healthiest on this earth and go through less symptoms of menopause.
It was time to up the ante and, after some research, I decided to follow a Japanese style diet that included phytoestrogens and omega rich food. I started to eat more oily fish, tofu, soybean, seeds, some grains, alfalfa, and the supplement, red clover.
Exercise is important at any age, but I now realised the need to strengthen my bones and muscle mass even more. I began to do more stretching, I bought a mini trampoline, weights and a Swiss ball so that my routine could include extra aerobic activity, fast walking and swimming in the sea too. I started yoga classes too and without doubt I got fitter. But, to my great disappointment this new programme did not alleviate my ongoing menopause.
In pure anger and desperation, one night, yet again unable to sleep, I sneaked down to the kitchen, and sat at the table with only the light from the moon. In semi darkness I scribbled a poem: The Rush of the Hot Flush…
Have you reached a time
in your life,
you feel confident, chilled and mellow.
Finally, you are in control.
Then wallop all at once, symptoms
The rush of the hot flush,
the sleepless nights, the headaches,
And you think you are having a heart attack.
Don’t you find you pee more too?
So much for all those years of yoga practice,
while you worked on your pelvic floor.
Three more years passed, without respite from ‘the rush of the hot flush’ The symptoms continued, in particular, hot flushes, lack of concentration, mood swings and my anxiety increased. Tears fell, the gut-wrenching kind, uncontrollable sounds, even just in reaction to something I was reading or watching on TV.
Finding the light
Finally, a bubble of light shone, thanks to a combination of reflexology, aromatherapy, and acupuncture. Each gave me some support in managing those testing days and nights. I eventually confided in my dear father-in-law; a doctor, who introduced me to a British Menopause Society accredited Menopause Specialist & Consultant Gynaecologist.
After a detailed consultation, initiating blood tests for oestrogen and progesterone levels, (mine could not have been lower), she recommended HRT implants and I had a coil put in place. My quality of life improved, one, that previously seemed like a faraway dream.
Some years later I moved confidently over to HRT patches. And, the really good news, my passion to write and my life began to truly blossom. I became a full-time author, storyteller, blogger and public speaker.
My first book was published in 2013 and two more books were released in 2015. How I breathed in those woo-hoo moments. And, in January 2019, to further my great joy, I signed with a new US Publisher and I’m working on my debut novel.
Through these uplifting times, little did I envisage, after going through all the challenges of one menopause, I would be plunged into and have to navigate, a full-on second one at the age of 65.
The second coming
At the end of March during our first lockdown, I noticed a lump in my right breast. Initially, I stalled seeing a doctor due to COVID but over the weeks, I felt it grow bigger. It became painful and I consulted my GP in mid-May.
She immediately referred me to hospital and numerous tests were carried out.
On the 12th of June 2020, my surgeon confirmed I had breast cancer. I listened, feeling calm at first, and then burst into tears. For a few days I became numb to the prognosis, as if the cancer was out there somewhere, happening to someone else. And then the realisation hit me.
As if this wasn’t traumatic enough, with immediate effect, I had to stop using HRT patches and say goodbye to what had become a dear friend and ongoing support. Like a tsunami, fast and furious, the fallout of the sudden removal of HRT meant every symptom of menopause returned, without mercy. Along with the shock of my diagnosis and the need to process the challenging road ahead, I also felt emotionally, mentally and physically drained.
On June 30th 2020 – four days after celebrating my 66th birthday, I had breast surgery, and two lymph nodes were removed. My surgeon declared that all the cancer had been removed and in September 2020, I began my radiotherapy programme.
With my oncologist on board, I have taken a break from my anti-cancer drug because of the side effects. By day, my focus and concentration have diminished considerably. My nights continue to crawl by, and the hot flushes suck like demons at every scrap of energy. I am unable to go back onto HRT.
‘How will I cope?
How will I be?
Having this strange alien inside me,
dictating, how I should live my life.
Some say rejoice and embrace
this change in you, ‘tis a new beginning,
A chance, to become, and do,
Create lots of new.’
I shall not give up or give in to this ‘second coming.’ I shall keep on, keeping on, until I find those pieces of Miriam again, including a life of writing and one that is of value and worth living.
Menopause ‘the second coming’ is still raging. My story continues. We women of a certain age and disposition must come forward, speak out and tell the particular story and experiences of our menopause. Because our health matters and so do we.
Menopause without doubt has changed me, but it will never define me.