Menopause education and knowing the edges of “normal”
At Gennev, our mission is to connect women with the very best menopause resources available to manage their health in midlife. We’re working hard to gather up medical and wellness professionals with expertise on the changes in women’s bodies; vendors offering truly effective solutions; and the very best, most accurate and complete information we can supply.
Because Ann-Marie Archer.
Because there’s so little information and conversation, even an informed woman who takes good care of herself didn’t know what, who, or even if to ask for help when her body did some pretty frightening stuff.
“I don’t want to scare anyone, but …”
At 51, Ann-Marie still wasn’t menopausal or even close. Her periods were erratic and had been for a while, but she wasn’t having hot flashes and her blood tests showed no indication of menopause, so she and her doctor assumed things were fine, if delayed.
Things weren’t fine.
Her periods were extremely heavy – sheet-changing heavy, taking-an-extra-bag-full-of-tampons-when-traveling heavy – but hey, no hot flashes, and that’s how you know it’s menopause, right?
“My doctor never said, ‘We should do something about this,’” Ann-Marie says. So they didn’t.
“I’m an informed woman,” Ann-Marie says. “I felt ridiculous asking my doctor if this was ‘normal,’ because I should know if it’s normal. But how can anyone know what’s normal if no one talks about it?”
Two events finally convinced her that it was time to push for more help.
“I was in the office of the business my partner and I owned at the time. It was summer, and I was wearing a sundress. I was 51 or 52, I was having my period, but it was no big deal. I stood up to go the restroom, and suddenly, I was bleeding so badly that it was all over the floor, everything just came out, it was horrifying. Fortunately, the only other person in the office with me was another woman, and she was able to help me. “
With her help, Ann-Marie was able to make it home and change into completely new clothes. Then she went back to work.
“That should have clued me in that something was very wrong. Something wasn’t normal.
But I thought, well, that’s just what menopause is.”
“That should have clued me in that something was very wrong. Something wasn’t normal. But I thought, well, that’s just what menopause is.”
She did talk to her doctor, but she didn’t get any satisfying answers. Tests once again seemed to indicate there wasn’t really a “problem” – just “menopause stuff.”
“It was horrendous,” she says. “There were no good options. The doctor said she could put in an IUD or she’d prescribe the Pill, but that just didn’t feel right. There was no discussion of ablation or other possibilities – only choices I didn’t want.”
When it happened a second time, this time during a massage, it scared Ann-Marie badly enough that she convinced her doctor to run some additional tests. And there it was: pre-cancerous cells in her uterus. She had a hysterectomy in December of 2016 after, she says, “years and years of suffering vaginal pain and excessive bleeding. Because I didn’t have enough information.”
The surgery revealed enormous fibroids that hadn’t shown up on any of the previous tests, including an ultrasound. “How could they not know?” Ann-Marie asks. “They were so big, my uterus was two-thirds again its normal size. Turns out my swollen uterus was pushing on my bladder, which explained the incontinence I’d been complaining about. I’m a weight lifter, but I could barely sneeze without wetting my pants. The surgery took two hours longer than they expected because of the giant fibroids no one knew were there.”
Women need menopause education
Silence and shame are their own kinds of cancer, Ann-Marie says, but they can be just as deadly.
“If I had known more, if I had more to read, people to ask, if there was more menopause education, I would never have let it go on this long. When I talked to the oncologist about the hysterectomy, I said I assumed they’d leave my ovaries. She advised against it, saying there are no warning signs for ovarian cancer. The crazy bleeding was my body’s warning of the uterine cancer, she told me. Who knew? If I’d known that, I would have demanded tests a lot sooner.
“Women aren’t useless after 50 just because we’re no longer having babies. At 55, I still hadn’t gone through menopause, and my doctor just sort of shrugged it off. If I can’t get information there, how can I possibly know how serious it is? Something’s missing, for women.”
What’s missing, Ann-Marie says, is information. Information on the limits of “normal.” Information on the body’s signals and signs when something’s wrong, and information about all the options to fix it.
“Don’t just talk about hot flashes as if that’s all menopause is. Women manifest symptoms in so many ways, we need to share information and get educated. Let’s talk about ‘here’s what perimenopause is, here’s what menopause is, here’s where normal ends.’ We need to know when everything’s OK and when we’re heading for trouble.”
“My uterus went to the Dark Side.”
And it’s not just the bad stuff we need to know, according to Ann-Marie. Education can fill us in on the positives to come as well. For example, Ann-Marie had no idea how much better she’d feel after her hysterectomy.
“My uterus went to the Dark Side,” she says, laughing. “Once I got it out, I was happier than a pig in sh*t. My naturopath put me on naturally occurring hormones [BHRT] – it took about six months to get the balance figured out – but I’m right as rain now. I just wish I’d done it years ago.”
Her BHRT includes a tiny amount of testosterone, which has also had an unexpected impact: “I always had a healthy libido, but now you can’t keep me out of the bedroom. Who knew that was going to happen?”
[ready to get your sex drive back? check out our conversation with the SexMD, Madeleine Castellanos]
Ann-Marie’s advice to others experiencing dramatic symptoms? “Educate yourself. Find whatever information you can, then go to your doctor and push until you know all the options, all the risks and benefits. Don’t settle if none of the choices seem right for you or your body.
“And all of us need to talk, no matter what our experience has been. Talk with your mom, your daughter, colleagues, friends, other women. Keep talking until we figure out what’s normal and not, what’s to be expected, what the signs are that you need medical help. The more we talk, the more we learn, and the better we understand where the edges of ‘normal’ are.”
[ready to feel better? take a listen to our podcast on Chinese medicine and getting your balance back]
The more we know, the better our understanding of menopause and midlife. If you have a story to share, please share on Gennev's Facebook page or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, Gennev’s closed Facebook group. And, as always, if your symptoms don’t feel normal, or even if they’re just impacting your quality of life, please talk with your doctor.
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