menopause [men-uh-pawz] : noun, Physiology. 1. the period of permanent cessation of menstruation, usually occurring between the ages of 45 and 55. Nontechnical name: Change of Life
The above mentioned word is regarded as the time in a woman’s life where she leaves her fertile years behind her. Numerous women fear it. Some embrace it. There is no crystal ball that can predict when you will experience menopausal symptoms. However, for those women who have breast cancer, menopause will likely make an appearance years before it would have originally started due to medical and/or surgical means. Both medical and surgical menopause tend to be more intense than natural because symptoms appear gradual over time.
Chemotherapy is well known to damage and destroy fast-dividing cells. Indeed, they fight off those cancer cells, but they also destroy healthy cells, like your nails and hair. Chemotherapy can also be harmful to the ovaries where rapidly dividing egg cells reside. Younger women may experience menopausal symptoms only during their treatment or for a year afterwards. In these cases, their ovaries may recover from the damage of chemotherapy, but studies show that they may still be more likely to experience early menopause. The younger you are, the more likely it is that this menopause will only be temporary and your periods will come back. For those women who are older and closer to the premenopausal age, their ovaries may never recover causing menopause to be permanent.
If you’re a younger woman and your periods do come back, this usually happens within 1 year of completing chemotherapy. Also, keep in mind that missed periods don’t necessarily mean you are completely infertile (unable to have children). So if you’re premenopausal and have a male partner, be sure to use some type of non-hormonal birth control to guard against getting pregnant during treatment. Since birth control pills cause higher levels of hormones than your body makes, they’re considered to be unsafe for anyone with a personal history of breast cancer. Doctors usually recommend barrier methods (condoms, diaphragm, non-hormonal I.U.D., for example).
Medication can cause menopausal symptoms as well. Hormone therapy, like the common drug Tamoxifen, works by stopping estrogen from binding to the estrogen receptor. This basically means that it keeps estrogen from doing its job correctly which can cause sudden and/or short-term menopausal symptoms. Some medicines are designed to suppress the ovaries. Ovarian suppression medicines stop the ovaries from making estrogen. The good news is that these medications typically work only while you are taking them.
Surgical menopause is also intense. In fact, this could be the most extreme. Removing both your ovaries causes immediate and permanent menopause. Most women experience their first symptoms the day of surgery. The “change of life” literally happens overnight. Unlike natural menopause that can take years, surgery forces a woman to face menopause head-on.
I’m found that I am stronger than I thought I was while going through this journey. My favorite phrase has been ‘This too shall pass.’ And it did…maybe not as fast as I hoped it would, but it did eventually pass. This is the best advice for anyone experiencing cancer or menopause symptoms. Everything will always pass. It’s just weathering out the storm that takes a while.