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Early Menopause - by Rebecca Walden

Rebecca C. Walden is a writer/speaker on breast cancer, faith, mental health, and parenting good humans.

Rebecca C. Walden is a writer/speaker on breast cancer, faith, mental health, and parenting good humans.

My body is still working out.

I would love to tell you with certainty what breast cancer surgeries, chemotherapy and estrogen therapy will do to your menopausal status. But the truth is, my body is still working out the details.

Just as surely as I think I know what’s what, I’m thrown for a loop (which means just in case supplies are stashed in every purse and my car console – and also means these tend to last a long time, because early menopause is nothing if not erratic).

My Gynecologist told me I was menopausal

Until Labor Day 2022, I was quite confident – even in the face of my oncologist betting I was wrong – that chemo-pause had sealed the deal. I had clocked a full 23 months with not so much as one sign of a menstrual cycle. I’d even had initial bloodwork at my (now retired) gynecologist’s office, which confirmed my FSH level as clearly in menopausal range.

“Your ovaries took the hit,” she texted me, after sharing the findings. “But that’s good because you don’t have any estrogen production which will complicate everything.”

Fine by me. I’d already been enjoying one of the few silver linings of cancer treatment – a faster getting ready routine and the savings on haircare while my hair took its time growing out. Why not add saving more without having to buy feminine products to the list? And getting to swim anytime without extra hassle or worry?

Hmmm.... maybe not

Back to Labor Day 2022 – the joke was on me. My husband might’ve heard these words from the beautifully appointed master bath of our Texas Hill Country Airbnb:

“Are you freaking kidding me?!”

Pro tip – don’t travel without essential supplies, even if you think you’re beyond essential supplies season. Trust me on this.

As though my body were making up for lost time, I didn’t even get a full 28-day reprieve. Of course I didn’t pack any essential supplies (see above) for a major business trip in Atlanta at the end of the month because the thing had just happened. Right call, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

This is how you find yourself in an Uber with three male work colleagues (who happen to be some of the greatest humans on the planet) who are not only willing, but happy to make an Uber stop at the nearest pharmacy so you can get what you need (again, see above #essentialsupplies…to borrow from a famous credit card campaign many moons ago, don’t leave home without them).

That’s when it got scary.

I couldn’t stay on top of the bleeding. Think trips to the restroom every 10 minutes or so. Think ruined clothing. Think “Am I even able to lose this much blood and be ok?” I lost count of how many times I thanked the good Lord that I’d chosen black pants and a long tunic for that plane ride home.

A CBC panel the next day revealed that I was A-OK and that this was likely my body trying to regulate itself after months of intense cancer treatment. Gosh that would’ve been good to know before I thought I was hemorrhaging.

It also would’ve been good information to know before I subjected myself to the painful procedure that is an endometrial biopsy. Vaginal bleeding can be a sign of endometrial cancer, which I’d been told I am now at slightly higher risk of developing through Tamoxifen treatment.

Not that I regret the decision. If cancer taught me anything, it’s that you don’t bury your head in the sand when unusual for you symptoms make themselves known. Praise be it wasn’t endometrial cancer (though the report said the sample wasn’t ideal – to this I tell the medical community, “Find a better way to do that procedure!” Ha. But also I’m not kidding).

Tracking my cycle has become an exercise in futility

I’m now almost a year out from that and tracking my cycle has become an exercise in futility. I’ve had a period twice since then, with no predictability or pattern.

I’ve also noticed some really pronounced and unpleasant symptoms that make me think I’m inching ever closer to (albeit early) menopause. As an active and otherwise healthy 45-year-old, there is no reason why my hip joints should hurt to the point that it’s hard to walk. Adding a scoop of powdered collagen to my morning coffee has actually helped this tremendously, much as I doubted it. But things just ache in a way that shocks me, given the amount of exercise I typically fit in during a given week. Is it post-chemo? Is it middle age? Is it Tamoxifen? Is it menopause?

I suspect it’s a little bit of all these things, but only time will tell.

The tears sometimes take me by surprise, and the things that can make me irritable on a moment’s notice are a source of embarrassment. I do hope this season hurries up and takes care of what it needs to; in the meantime, I’ll rely on God’s grace and my family’s good humor.

After all, this too shall pass.


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