Menopause Mondays: Ask Ellen! Step 1: Don’t Wait!
Today’s Menopause Mondays kicks off an exciting new section of the EllenDolgen.com blog. I’ve created Ask Ellen as a way for my readers to benefit from more stories from the sisterhood. Our strength and empowerment rely on each of us opening up and sharing our experiences with each other. There’s no reason to hide or suffer in silence…let’s celebrate ourselves! We have a lot to learn from one another if we just open up and break through our fears….let’s be powerful! In my first Ask Ellen conversation, I speak with Leigh who is 48 years old and lives in the Utah Valley near Provo. She’s a busy wife and mother of six children (three still living at home) who admits that she’s waited too long before reaching out for help. One of the topics we discuss is why women wait when it comes to their own health. Why do we put off doing the things we know are best for ourselves? Leigh’s story will inspire you to take that first step, to reach out, to start talking and asking questions, and to set off on your own path towards hormone happiness.
Well, let’s jump right in. How long has it been since you had your last period?
It’s been a little over a year, like 14 ½ months.
Is this the first time you’re reaching out for help?
I had just done my normal, go to the doctor, and get the Pap smear thing. My doctor visits have been a little bit sporadic for the last 3 years anyway. I had two kids get married last summer, so I was really busy. I just kept thinking, “Man, it’s been a while since I’ve had a period,” so I finally made an appointment with my gynecologist. The hot flashes actually started a little over a year before my last period ended. I was having hot flashes, but they weren’t as strong as they are now. I was sure that I could just do this myself. I’m a nature girl. I like natural things. I didn’t understand a lot about it. I thought, I’ll just grin and bear it. I didn’t spend a lot of time reading material because I thought I was too young. I didn’t think this was something I needed to deal with. I’m busy, and I’ll get around to it. In the meantime, I didn’t understand why I was sometimes more irritable than usual. Occasionally, I did wonder what was going on with my body.
As I got older, I began to feel that I was wiser about being healthy in other ways, so why was I ignoring this part of my health? I was big into diet and exercise and even aspects of emotional health but not perimenopause and menopause – I thought that it was something that was just going to be a hiccup in my day. It was something I was going to power through, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Now that I’ve read your blog and have read your book, I’m like, wow, this is really something I can’t ignore even though I had previously thought I was too young for this to be happening. I thought, “Grandma’s have this happen, not me!”
I know most of us think this happens when you’re old. Whatever old is! My Mom is 92 and still going out to dinner with “the girls” and having fun! You were in your mid 40’s when you started having hot flashes. Are women in their 40’s old!?!? I think, NOT! Perimenopause is the 6-10 years when the symptoms first appear before you reach menopause. The average age of menopause (when your period has stopped for 12 consecutive months) is 51. It makes sense that a woman would begin having symptoms in her early 40’s. The only thing that doesn’t make sense is why is this fact such a secret???
When did you realize that you were entering perimenopause?
Probably 2 years ago when my periods started getting sporadic. It was when the hot flashes started that I went, oh, this is for old women. Why is this happening to me? I was probably in perimenopause for quite a while and didn’t realize it.
That seems to be the common response because most of us are completely unprepared for perimenopause. How could we be? No one ever had an informed conversation with us!
Even when you go in and are diligent about the mammograms and Pap smears, I mean, really, [my doctor] could have said something to help prepare me! I had babies forever with this doctor; we had this relationship. I felt like, why didn’t he give me a warning? Even this last time when I said, I haven’t had a period, I was kind of guessing, I think it’s been about a year. My doctor didn’t do a hormone panel to help see if I was in perimenopause or what the causes of this might be. I had to call back and ask to have it done.
You story is not unusual, so don’t feel like you’ve completely neglected yourself. This is a different medical specialty. The doctor who delivered your baby may very possibly not be a menopause/hormone specialist. It’s time for you to find a menopause/hormone specialist to be your partner in this menopause business!
First and foremost, remember, you are not alone. 6,000 women enter menopause every day! Some women breeze through with very mild to moderate changes but others, like myself, experience more severe symptoms. My first really bad symptom was memory loss. I would be in the middle of a sentence, and my mind would go blank. It never dawned on me that this could be associated with menopause. I didn’t know that there are some 34 symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. I really thought I was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. So, it was really very frightening.
Wow, very frightening. I can see where you might not have wanted to address that either because you wanted that just to go away.
So, in terms of treatment strategies, when the healthy eating and exercise wasn’t able to keep your hot flashes at bay, was there anything else you tried?
I thought the only option was hormone replacement therapy and had not heard, from my doctor, great things because of the studies about cancer. I had blood clots in my last 2 pregnancies, and they said I might not be a good candidate. I went the homeopathic route and didn’t have enough success as I wanted. I figured that I would just have to deal with this because I was concerned and fearful about going on hormone replacement.
Then this last summer, I got to the point where I’m like, “No. This is ridiculous.” I remember at my son’s wedding, I was getting ready, and I started to have a hot flash! I was saying, “Not now!” and I got the fan, and I’m thinking, “Not now! I just put my dress on!” That’s when I started to do a little more research and ask questions. Then, oddly enough, I was backpacking in the Grand Canyon in August with my cousin and his partner. We were camping, sleeping in tents. One night, I woke up at least once every hour burning up with a hot flash. I was so tired because I kept waking up, and then we were hiking all day. I was having hot flashes all through the day, too, and I happened to joke to my cousin that I couldn’t tell if I was having a hot flash or if it was just because it was so crazy hot outside. That’s when his partner told me about your blog. I’m so glad that I mentioned the problems I was having. I have talked to a few friends, but I think it’s really sad that nobody really talks about it.
It’s still a taboo subject, and we need to break that taboo! It’s 2012! Women need to be educated, so they can make good decisions about their health. That’s my mission!
The problem is women are more used to being caregivers than asking for help. It’s not selfish to take care of YOU. Moms are usually the core of the family, so if you are not feeling well; it is going to affect the whole family. My family was definitely going though perimenopause right along with me. The first step is to put yourself on your own To Do List!
Before I started talking about it and doing some research, I thought there’s not a lot anyone will be able to do for me anyway, so …
Well, for most of us, no one had prepared or educated us on this topic. It’s no surprise women are confused and lost and would rather shove it all under the rug! The good news is that there are many options; however, there is no one size fits all approach. I think fear, really, keeps us from getting the help we need. What you have to do is evaluate the quality of your life and then together with your specialist, evaluate the risks and benefits of the options available to you which will be based upon your specific health history.
I’ve waited longer than I should have. I do understand that now.
Your next step towards hormone happiness is to find a menopause specialist.
Then, read up on the newest information which has been released recently, 10 years after the 2002 WHI (Women’s Health Initiative) study results. Also, before you go to your doctor, I recommend that you fill out the Menopause Symptoms Chart in the back of my book. This will help you communicate clearly and quickly exactly how you feel to your doctor. I really encourage using the symptoms chart because your doctor will need to evaluate how you feel along with the results from your blood work. A women’s numbers may be in the “normal” range, but if she can’t sleep, can’t think, her libido is crashing, she’s hot flashing and flushing, her vagina suddenly takes a trip to the Sahara Desert and sex hurts, then those so-called normal ranges are not normal for her!
Has your perimenopause and menopause journey affected your relationship with your husband and your family?
I’m a pretty tough cookie! We all kind of joke about the irritability and the hot flashes. I remember one time I was having a hot flash earlier in the summer, and I said, “Everyone come over, look at my forehead!” Everyone runs over, and they watch as my forehead starts to bead up with sweat. They were all like, “Cool!” So, I’ve made them aware of it and made it fun. Now it’s more of let’s help Mom rather than just think she’s crazy.
Congratulations for speaking up and being honest instead of pretending to be fine. It is wonderful that you involved your whole family in a fun way. It’s hilarious that your kids think your hot flashes are “cool”!
There is no hiding menopause – it comes with us everywhere we go – to work and even as in your case, to your son’s wedding! Communication is key to preventing problems in your marriage. Your husband and children will not personalize your potential irritability, because you were open and honest with them. This prevents unnecessary divisiveness in a family.
I have a 14 year-old daughter who’s just starting her periods, so we have some joking with her 17 year old brother who looks at her sometimes and says, “Oh my goodness, Linda!” [as in, Linda Blair;-]
What you have in your house I call dueling hormones. You have a woman in menopause and a child in puberty. In fact, you can take that Menopause Symptoms Chart, open it up, and sit down with your daughter who is going through puberty, and say, “Look, here are some of the things I’m going through. Are you going through any of these?” Chances are she is feeling some of these same symptoms as her hormones are fluctuating, too. Instead of being a really combative time, this sharing can bring you closer.
What’s interesting is the whole time you’re having your period, you can’t wait until you’re done with it. And then when you’re done, you’re kind of sad. You never think you’re going to have these kinds of emotional elements to deal with when you’re done. You think you’re going to be done, and you’ve arrived.
I’m glad I brought my family on board, and my daughter who’s going through puberty understands that she doesn’t always have to feel and act perfect. There’s a reason for her mood swings, and it helps my younger daughter who is 11 to understand what’s coming. It’s really valuable. I think I’ll be a better coach for my daughters having understood menopause now.
You are breaking the taboo and spreading the wisdom to the next generation! Not only will your daughter know what to expect, but your son will be prepared and able to support the women in his life as well. I love it!
I think I might have just gone to one doctor until reading your book and realizing that I may need to talk to a few people before I find the right one. I have two people right now that I feel really good about starting with.
Great! Interview them so that you can truly understand their philosophy and how their office works. This will help you select the specialist you feel most comfortable with. You can offer to pay them for their time, but I can tell you that nobody charged me.
Before you call, take some time to jot down the questions that you want to ask the doctor in the interview. This will ensure that you don’t forget to get the answers you need.
When you find the right specialist, take your filled out Menopause Symptoms Chart with you to discuss with your doctor. If you take these steps, you will be able to get the help you need. I’m pretty confident actually. What do you think?
It’s funny. I think back. I went to college for six years. Now, I’m into my kids schooling and this and that, and I thought, “Why have I not engrossed myself more into this research.” It was kind of a wake-up call. Like, “Come on, Leigh. You know how to get out there and find information. This is about your life, your quality of life.”
The good thing is that I’m excited about this and anxious to see what I find out. It’s a good thing. I don’t feel afraid or fearful anymore. I feel like, let’s figure this out and get on the right track here.
My motto is: Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT! Knowledge is empowerment. I am confident that you will find the help you need and deserve now!
I completely agree! I’ve waited longer than I should have, but I have gone from confusion and fear to empowerment. This is not a problem anymore because I know how to handle it.
Now, when you go in to see a doctor, you’re not just sitting there, saying, “Here I am. Take care of me.” No. You’re saying, “Here I am. Let’s talk about what my options are and what I need.”
I was already excited to let my friends know about your blog and the book. I’m going to take the book with me to the doctor’s office. It’s amazing. I appreciate your help on this.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Together we can break the taboos surrounding this and help women find the support and help they deserve. Go find hormone happiness and don’t give up until you do. Start today! Be sure to keep us posted on your journey.
If you’re like Leigh and have been waiting or, even worse, ignoring the signs of perimenopause and menopause, there are immediate things you can do. First, sign up at EllenDolgen.com to receive my weekly Menopause Mondays newsletter and Menopause News Flash that comes out each Thursday. This will keep you informed of the latest information out there. If you educate and empower yourself, this will lead you back to the life you deserve.
Remember: Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
Tell me: Do you want to be featured in the next Ask Ellen segment? Send Ellen an email with a brief paragraph about why you think your story could help other women.
Knowledge = Empowerment. Start now!
- Hormone therapy regains support, 10 years after study warning of health risks, by Sharon Kirkey on Canada.com, September 9, 2012.
- Mount Holyoke Alum Doctors Guide You through the Latest Menopause Research, July 17, 2012, on alumnae.mtholyoke.edu.
- Menopause: Tests and diagnosis, a simple explanation from The Mayo Clinic.
- What Tests Determine Menopause?, answered by Dr. JoAnn Manson on everydayhealth.com.
- Alternative and Complimentary Lifestyle Modifications from redhotmamas.org.
- How Fruits and Vegetables Are Crucial to Post-Menopausal Women, CBSNews.