How my experience of surgical menopause changed my life
Hannah, a 44 year old Cranio-Sacral Therapist from Surrey, tells us her story of going through surgical menopause aged 40, explaining her strategies to manage her symptoms, and how her experience led her to start her own business.
During my teenage years, I experienced very heavy and irregular periods which were a symptom of having polycystic ovaries. I met by husband later in life and we started trying for a baby a year into our relationship. Although we knew it might be difficult to conceive, 18 months later I fell pregnant and were over the moon. On my three month scan, a cyst was picked up on my left ovary and at my five month scan, the doctors said the cyst was now a complex cyst. They discussed surgery at this point to remove the cyst but then decided to take a watch and wait approach and to remove the cyst if I ended up with a C section birth. I ended up having a pretty traumatic birth and an unplanned C- section but gave birth to my beautiful daughter, Laura. The doctors couldn’t find the cyst and life moved on.
A year later, I was due to back to work post maternity leave and could feel bi-lateral lumps in my pelvic area and was booked in for surgery. Just before this, my mum was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and died within six weeks. She died five days before my surgery and two days before my daughter turned one. My whole world turned upside down. My grief was put on hold whilst I faced my own health concerns.
My first laparoscopic surgery removed part of my left ovary and my omentum and was diagnosed with serous borderline ovarian tumours. I required two further surgeries approx. every six months to remove recurring tumours and gynaecological organs in order to preserve fertility. I started to experience my first menopausal symptoms when parts of my ovary were removed, resulting in profound mood swings. I just felt like I didn’t know ‘me’ anymore and I didn’t understand why. When the tumour reoccurred again on the remaining part of my right ovary, we knew we were at the end of the road conceiving naturally and with the agreement of my gyne oncologist, opted for egg retrieval and embryo freezing. After this, I had my final surgery in 2016 to remove my right ovary and within 24 hours I experienced intense hot flushes, night sweats and my body and mind plummeted into an unknown world. This is known as Surgical Menopause.
Within a few weeks, I was prescribed HRT as this was necessary to prepare my body for IVF and to keep my womb lining shedding and healthy. I absolutely hated the rollercoaster of these drugs, moving from huge amounts of energy in the first half the cycle, to heavy bleeding, chronic tiredness and feeling low in the latter part of the cycle. Sadly, after two rounds of IVF and miscarriages in 2017 and 2018, our fertility journey was over. I came off all the HRT drugs and decided to take a more natural and holistic approach to managing my symptoms. The journey was rough, my body and mind plummeting again with the lack of hormones. The tiredness was crippling and I knew I needed time to come to terms with the loss of body parts, my fertility, my grief for my mum and my grief for the children I wasn’t to have. My anxiety rocketed, particularly around health issues and I felt trapped by fear.
I initially went to see an integrated cancer care herbalist who prescribed a menopausal herbal remedy which I continue to take in the morning and at night, plus a nervous system support supplement which helped to reduce my anxiety. I take Vitamin D, Vitamin C and calcium. I eat healthily and do meditation and yoga which keeps me grounded and calm. I noticed hot flushes were triggered by certain foods, alcohol or heightened emotions but being with what I’m taking and how I manage my life, I rarely have night sweats now. I have three yearly bone density scans as osteoporosis is a concern and whilst the last scan showed a slight decrease in bone density, my menopause consultant is supportive of my choice to avoid HRT given that I feel my quality of life feels worse on it than off it. It is of course recommended that women going into menopause at an earlier age take HRT.
After my fertility journey was over, I finally said goodbye to being a social worker of 17 years and decided to train as a Cranio-Sacral therapist and start my own business. I started seeing a Cranio-Sacral therapist during my IVF treatment and continued during the two year training course, working through layers of fear, anxiety and grief my body and mind had been holding onto. It’s been life changing and the combination of Cranio-Sacral Therapy both as a therapist and client, alongside herbal remedies and a healthy lifestyle has meant I am feeling healthier and happier than ever before.