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My journey through menopause – Heather Butler, Head of Advice

Article Banner-Heather_ My journey through menopause

At the age of nineteen I was diagnosed with debilitating endometriosis and had been told many times that the only cure was a hysterectomy, but I could not give up on having a family of my own.

Following two years of fertility treatment I was blessed with two little miracles, a dream come true I was a Mother at last.

But that didn’t stop the demon endometriosis it was relentless, day after day, month after month as anticipated it did get much worse, severe pain, fatigue, anaemia, irregular pre-cancerous were all thrown into the mix.

Shortly before my 40th Birthday and after a barrage of tests, I was once again sat with my gynaecologist only this time there was no reprieve a radical hysterectomy was the only way forward. I had a mass in my uterus and they could not rule out anything sinister.

The very next day it was happening I was in hospital having the operation. I was still reeling from the day before and had not had the time to absorb anything that had been said to me.

I recall I had so many unanswered questions, why was I being told the difference between a surgical menopause and a normal menopause, weren’t they the same. Because of my age I would need some form of HRT to prevent the early onset of osteoporosis and heart disease and to stop me becoming ill, as he put it.  How bad could it be ‘after all it would only be a hot flush or two?’

How wrong could I be? It started off that way but then the intensity of the hot flushes grew from days to nights, along with the chronic fatigue, severe anxiety, and brain fog, mood swings the list went on and on. I thought that this cannot be the menopause, nobody told me this.

It was only when I started to read up on it that I realised that there were more than 30 symptoms relating to the menopause, I thought how can there not be a follow up menopause clinic to help you through. I had dealt with the surgery the news that the mass was cancer, I had support and was dealing with that. What I really needed help with was this demon that was taking over my body.

The 6 week check could not come quick enough, I had done my research, although I knew I would not be able to take oral HRT I knew there was an external gel I could use. I went in positively demanding it, I guess another symptom of the menopause means you are so desperate you don’t hold back.

After a while I started to feel like me again, not totally but life was bearable, that was until…….

At 47 and discovered a lump in my breast, ‘please no’ I screamed inside it can’t be, sadly yes again I was in that space hearing the news ‘you have stage 3 breast cancer and its aggressive’

Two weeks later I am undergoing Chemotherapy, followed by surgery then radiotherapy and then a year of targeted therapy. 

No more HRT for me, how was I going to cope? Dealing with cancer treatment again for a period of time I could handle as there would be an end in sight. What scared me the most was that on top of everything, all those symptoms of the menopause were going to return and I really didn’t think that I could deal with that.

home was my safe bubble, something that I quickly came to realise when I returned to the workplace, I left being this confident individual that could think on her feet, spin many different plates, work extra hours and still be hungry to do more…….Reality however was my confidence was gone, I could no longer make a decision with conviction, nobody said that I was doing a bad job, I was putting the pressure on myself, I just could not get any perspective.

Instead of walking around with the confidence that I previously had and wanting to be involved in everything I would find myself crying in a corner for no reason. I had always been a great planner and organiser, but I had lost the ability to organise and most frighteningly it felt like my memory was going and I felt very confused. 

Gradually with the support of professionals and a very understanding Boss I did get the support I needed, like anything over time we learn to develop coping strategies. I am also a firm believer in ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’

Although I cannot fault the support that I had during treatment and I will always be eternally grateful that I am here today. It highlighted to me that there is a desperate need for support during the menopause whether that be surgical or not. These symptoms are real they have an adverse effect on your ability to lead your life.

Mine is one story, there are thousands and thousands of women out there with a story like mine.

Please don’t write us off, many like me have had worked hard to build up their careers and have been top of their game until that time when the menopause hits……

That person is well and truly still in there, they may not be as reactive, they may forget something, they may have to leave a room because they are having an embarrassing hot flush, they may get their words mixed up, it may even get so bad that their confidence is shattered and they even leave a career that they have given their all too.

I am no specialist by any means on the menopause and I only speak from my own experience, if I had not had the support in the workplace which continues today, I would certainly be a statistic of the 10% of women that had been written off.

Angela Clay

A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.