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My surgical menopause

by Kimberley Harding

At the age of 30, whilst pregnant with twins, I was sat with my gynaecologist having a discussion about having a hysterectomy. Not your typical conversation when the priority should be about the birth of your future babies, however for me, it was necessary.

I have Lynch Syndrome which is an inherited disorder that increases my risk of getting certain cancers, particularly bowel and endometrial cancer. Having had bowel cancer at 22, if there was a way of reducing my chance of having cancer again, I was going to do it! I therefore chose to have preventative surgery to remove my womb, cervix, ovaries and fallopian tubes.

I had numerous appointments with my gynaecologist to discuss the surgery. He mentioned each time I saw him that I would go into surgical menopause. I was also told that because of my young age, I would need to take HRT to prevent the early onset of osteoporosis and heart disease and to stop myself becoming 'ill' as he so put it. Being very naive and with no questions on my part, I said this wouldn't be a problem and I understood. After all, the menopause was only going to be a hot flush or two...(!)

I was 33 when I had a total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo oophorectomy. 6 weeks following the surgery, I started taking my HRT tablets, one daily, as instructed. I initially felt fine. The odd hot flush but nothing I couldn't handle. After a couple of months, my flushes became more frequent and intense. I also experienced night sweats, chronic fatigue, anxiety, brain fog, insomnia, mood swings...the list goes on. All symptoms associated with the menopause that I had not known about. I started to neglect my children, my family and friends. I became withdrawn and felt like I was drowning in a sea of confusion and despair. I didn't know who I was anymore and what was happening to me. At the point where I considered stepping out in front of a bus, I knew I had to get help.

I trawled through any website I could find about the menopause that could properly explain to me why I felt so horrific. I discovered there were 34 symptoms associated with it. I only knew about 4! I found out about different types of HRT and that they were supposed to manage my symptoms. I found out about alternative ways to ease symptoms, the importance of oestrogen... Why was I not told any of this? Armed with my new found knowledge, I went to my GP and told him exactly what I wanted and he agreed. I was given estradiol gel, that I still use now and it was exactly what I needed to start feeling more like me again.

I couldn't believe that after my surgery I had no further appointments. I had no relevant information given to me about menopause, not even a go to website for advice or support. Yes, I was warned of surgical menopause but I was no way prepared for all the symptoms that followed. I had no one to turn to or talk to that could fully empathise with me. I started a Facebook blog to share my experience with the menopause and to pre warn women what it was all about. It also became my therapy, a way to get out all my frustrations and feelings. It wasn't until I started my Instagram page that I finally found the support I needed. Menopause specialists, nurses, doctors, real women talking about everything menopause. The biggest comfort was knowing that I wasn't alone in all of this.

What I have found to work for me doesn't work for everyone. Every woman experiences menopause differently. Surgical menopause is also very different to naturally going through menopause. There's no easing in or gradual change. It's like your body goes into complete shock over the sudden loss of hormones and has no idea what's going on. Symptoms can be more severe and there can be an enormous impact on your mental health.

I'm no specialist on menopause but I know what it is to feel it. I let myself suffer for far too long and I had I known properly what to expect, I would have gotten help and advice a lot sooner.

Follow Kimberley's Instagram.