Dana’s story

Dana's premature menopause was brought on by chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.

I was unceremoniously plunged into menopause when I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.  In addition to having to cope with starting chemotherapy, losing all my hair and also losing a breast, I was subject to horrible hot flushes.  They were very intense at first, and would inevitably happen just as I was falling asleep. I would suddenly be uncomfortably hot and prickly and drenched in sweat.  So I would throw off the duvet, and my pyjamas and the beanie I was wearing to keep my bald head warm and wait to cool down, until I could sleep for an hour or two before waking up yet again, drenched in sweat.  So for the months that I was undergoing treatment, I had very little quality sleep.

The hot flushes happened during the day as well.  I remember how, as a child, I would laugh at women fanning themselves with sheaves of paper, and then that was me, at the dinner table, in the synagogue, while chatting to my friends. I would be desperately trying to coax a breeze from whatever piece of paper was available. 

It was unpleasant, but I consider myself fortunate in that the symptoms were manageable and lessened a little over time. I never had to explore treatment for the symptoms.  But more importantly I was nearly 50 when I was diagnosed and began my chemotherapy.  I would have been menopausal anyway.  In the months that I was receiving treatment at the oncology centre I met several women in their 30’s and 40’s and even one woman in her 20’s who were menopausal as a result of their chemotherapy treatment.  For these younger women the transition was premature and deeply painful.

Many of the female cancers are hormone driven.  This means that women who have had breast cancer or ovarian cancer cannot be treated with hormone replacement treatment.  Even natural hormones and many herbal remedies are not considered to be altogether safe as they may feed the cancerous cells.  Low doses of SSRI’s (anti-depressants) are apparently effective in managing hot flushes, but do little to improve the mood swings and anxieties that often accompany menopause.  For cancer survivors the best hope seems to be a combination of counselling, and biofeedback training to manage the emotional and physical fall out of menopause.

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Patricia Dunne
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