When Cancer Leads to Menopause

By Alex Darby

when cancer leads to menopause

Menopause is Easy (said no woman ever!)

It was May 2013. I was 42.  There I was, sitting in front of my oncologist with a head full of crazy, scary stuff, wondering how the hell I was going to get through everything he was telling me.  He had a well-worn script and mine went something like this:

'Aggressive breast cancer...rare...unlucky for it to come back so quickly...get to five years and you’re doing well...ten years and hallelujah...chemotherapy to start immediately...double mastectomy / reconstruction after...chemo side effects including: hair loss, fatigue, sickness, headaches, vulnerability to infection, increased heavy duty fatigue, infertility, chemically induced menopause……'

Err, hang on a minute mister oncologist... you just said infertility and menopause WTF!! 

I stopped listening.  

He suggested having my eggs frozen.  

I cried.

Cancer is the evil queen of distraction and as there was so much going on (chemotherapy, cancer, you get the picture), when my periods stopped and the intense hot flushes started they were put firmly to the bottom of the ‘to get my head around’ list. Even as a recently divorced, mum of one frightened girl, the enormity of infertility and menopause seemed distant.

Fast forward five years, I made it through that well-worn list (and the rest that no one tells you about), breathing a big sigh of relief that the physical side of cancer is over, the emotional side however, lasts a lifetime.  It has taken all of these five years to get my head around being a woman in my forties smack bang in the middle of the menopause and all that it brings.

This inevitability and rite of passage that every woman experiences just felt like a cruel twist of cancer for me. I wasn’t ready for more of the emotional rollercoaster, or for my beautifully grown back hair to feel dull and lifeless, or for my skin, that has always been a wonderful thing for me, to feel teenage and hormonal again.  

Once I’d realised that my post-chemo glow was over, it dawned on me that all of this stuff happening to me, was the real menopausal deal.

I needed to find a way to make it my friend.

Especially when, after having my ovaries removed last year as a precaution, my menopausal symptoms wobbled terribly (just when I thought they’d already peaked).  I realised I needed to do more to help myself.  

I had a non-negotiable air about me, as there was no way I was going to miss out on time with my daughter (10yrs old), with my now husband (there’s definitely LOVE after cancer), or in fulfilling all the chemo-fuelled promises I’d made to myself when I'd felt foggy brained, borderline depressed and physically rubbish. 

So, in my true ‘bring it on’ style, I tackled this head on.  I can’t take any medication for menopausal symptoms, so I did what any girl worth her salt would do in these circumstances, I researched, read and ultimately retrained as a Health Coach.  As you do. 

I guess at this point your waiting for the magic formula, the special ingredient or the wonder drug that’s going to take all the crap away.  Sorry to disappoint, but they don’t exist unless you want to go down the medical route, and of that I have no knowledge given it’s all banned for me (not bitter AT ALL).  

But this is what I do know.

As soon as I stopped feeling annoyed and hard done by (dare I say victim like) and instead got logical about things, my stress reduced.  As soon as my stress reduced I was able to make more creative decisions about what to do.  

I started to recognise that I was out of balance physically and emotionally and suddenly my light bulb flashed on.  

This is exactly what happened when I had chemo, and as soon as I redressed the balance all was well.

I stopped making excuses – oh my brains foggy, my hair’s wiry, my hips are disappearing – and changed my language, my mind-set and told a new story about me.  

I balanced my blood sugar to stop the roller coaster emotional effect, and I worked on my water intake and quality of sleep.  I’m a juicing fanatic, have been for the last five years, so still take no supplements.  But if I were to stop juicing I’d be reaching for magnesium, omega 3, Vit D and Icelandic sea kelp.

I balanced each meal with protein, fibre, and fat.  I didn’t cut any food groups nor did I stop drinking wine, coffee or mojitos.  

I just eat for me and my body.  I have learned how to listen and understand my body, and most importantly how to respond in a way that isn’t going to knock me out of my balance.

Everything has changed.  

My hair is still short (but growing), a completely different texture than it once was but I love it.  I’m more of a straight up and down girl rather than a hippy hour glass, but my clothes fit, I’m still a size 8/10 and I feel great.  So great I’m training for the New York marathon this year to celebrate being five years clear of breast cancer.  Crazy way to celebrate?  Perhaps, but just for a change I’m choosing to do something massive, rather than it happening to me out of the blue.  

When I’m feeling emotionally flat, I look around me and remember how far I’ve come.  Annoying as it sounds, I’m unbelievably grateful for pretty much everything.  And, if that doesn’t cut it I change my environment, I walk, move to another room, go out, whatever I need to shift the energy.

I found the enjoyable in the inevitable, and since doing that I started my own Health Coaching Practice, I got married, and I get to spend some gorgeous quality time with the light of my life, my daughter, the mini version of me who is fast becoming a shining light in her own right.

Who ever said life gets a bit dull when the menopause comes to town is barking up the wrong tree.  Mine has never been so good.

If you can break the traditional menopause mindset, get creative about the practicalities of how you can balance your body through diet, movement and a big dose of positive mindset changes, anything is possible.  

I’m a big believer in attitude being everything, and my attitude towards this time of my life, although it may have come in a way I really wasn’t expecting, is a positive, life-affirming, I’m beautiful, feminine and me kind of attitude.  

And I LOVE it.

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Alex Darby

With a rebellious nature and a clear objective, Alex is a Health Coach who’s committed to life changing results that last forever, focusing on creating habits and behaviours that result in the kind of healthy body and mind that every girl wants, with the energy of a twenty something year old to boot.  She has spent the last year creating Pink Pineapple Co. and finishing her book ‘From Fear to Fabulous' and is currently most passionate about the work she is doing to help her clients reconnect with their bodies.

Learn more about Alex, her coaching programs and her writing at www.pinkpineappleco.com