夜色直播

Cancer and crash menopause

Wednesday 04 Oct 2023


After being diagnosed with breast cancer at 35, Alice MacGillivray went through chemotherapy and a mastectomy then had her ovaries removed. As a result, she faced the new challenge of a sudden medical 鈥榗rash鈥 menopause.

鈥楴othing prepared me for it. I was so hot, sweaty and irritable. I鈥檇 be going to the shop feeling ok and all of a sudden I would be like an inferno that wanted to explode. The menopause for me was harder than the cancer, it was too much. I wanted to be out of my body.鈥


What is a crash menopause?

The natural menopause is discussed everywhere in documentaries, podcasts and TV shows with celebrities including Davina McCall, Lorraine Kelly and Oprah Winfrey revealing the impact of its symptoms on their physical and mental health.

What is less talked about are the intense effects of medically or surgically induced menopause, which can be triggered by a range of cancer treatments at any age. The symptoms, which include everything from  and insomnia to low libido and brain fog, come on so suddenly and feel so intense that it鈥檚 sometimes known as a 鈥榗rash menopause鈥.

鈥楢 crash menopause can feel like you鈥檙e falling off a cliff,鈥 says Lisa Punt, Centre Head at Maggie鈥檚 Cambridge.

鈥榃hen we go through a natural menopause there鈥檚 a slow, gradual decline in our hormones, but with a treatment-induced menopause, you might go from having normal oestrogen to having a lower level than following a natural menopause, literally overnight. The impact can be far-reaching, affecting your long-term health, intimacy and relationships.鈥


Menopause 鈥 an overlooked side effect of cancer treatment

A survey carried out by Maggie鈥檚 shows how few people having cancer treatment are properly prepared for the possibility of going through a medical menopause as well.

The survey found that 30% of people diagnosed with cancer weren鈥檛 even aware that their treatment could cause early-onset menopause. On top of that, many said the menopause symptoms they experienced were worse than their cancer treatment.

鈥業t鈥檚 really shocking that so many people aren鈥檛 aware their treatment will cause early-onset menopause,鈥 says Maggie鈥檚 Chief Executive Dame Laura Lee. 鈥榃e know how traumatic an experience this can be for people on top of their cancer diagnosis with people experiencing loss of fertility and a range of debilitating side-effects. It is crucial we shine a spotlight on these issues and that information is more clearly available.鈥

Lisa has spent time with many centre visitors at Maggie鈥檚 who鈥檝e had their cancer treatment thoroughly explained to them but weren鈥檛 adequately prepared for the possibility of a crash menopause because it was seen as an after-thought or forgotten altogether.

鈥業n the midst of maybe talking about chemotherapy, mastectomy, and all the other challenges that come with a cancer diagnosis, menopause is something that's not necessarily focused on, but that needs to change,鈥 says Lisa.

鈥極ne woman I鈥檓 supporting at Maggie鈥檚 was treated for a colorectal cancer at 22. Her treatment brought on a crash menopause and she said to me, 鈥榃ho would have thought I鈥檇 be sitting through my History A-level exam having a hot flush?鈥 And you know, no one else understood that.鈥

Liz O鈥橰iordan, has come across medical menopause from two different sides of the hospital environment, both as a former breast cancer surgeon and as a breast cancer patient.

鈥楢s a breast cancer surgeon, I had no idea how hard the menopause was for my patients until I became a patient myself. We aren鈥檛 given specific menopause training and often don鈥檛 hear about it from our patients as we only have five minutes with them after surgery and then don鈥檛 see them again for years,鈥 she says. 鈥楾hat鈥檚 why it is so important that people know that they can come to Maggie鈥檚 for safe, trusted, expert advice.鈥


Dealing with the symptoms of a crash menopause

Three weeks after finishing treatment for breast cancer, Anna Cook, 54, went into crash menopause. 鈥業 found myself really tired but also unable to sleep,鈥 she says. 鈥業 had bad joint pain in my hands and my knees.鈥

But the symptoms weren鈥檛 just physical, they affected her mental health and her confidence at work too. 鈥業鈥檓 a really practical person. I鈥檇 worked in the same place for 14 years but one day when I鈥檇 gone back to work, I burst into tears in a meeting and this was really embarrassing. That鈥檚 when my manager sat me down and I realised that, 鈥榥o, I actually wasn鈥檛 okay鈥 and I wasn鈥檛 鈥榮ailing through this鈥 at all.鈥

Hannah Walsh, 40, says the symptoms of menopause hit her 鈥榣ike a brick鈥 after her treatment for breast cancer. 鈥楬ot flashes and insomnia have been, by far, the worst menopause symptoms for me,鈥 she says. 鈥業t would have been different to have had a few years to adjust to it and get there eventually but to crash straight into menopause is difficult in many ways and it鈥檚 upsetting because I鈥檓 not ready for it.鈥


How 夜色直播 can help

Thankfully, support is available. Lisa has developed a two-hour online 'Menopause and cancer' course for Maggie鈥檚 that gives support and practical advice on all aspects of the crash menopause.

鈥榃e look at the practical, physical and psychological effects and how to manage them. When people understand how something like a hot flush happens it can be helpful in managing it,鈥 she explains. 鈥榃e also have some really rich conversations about the emotional and physical impact on intimacy and relationships. It helps make people feel more confident and comfortable when they鈥檙e in a group going through similar experiences.鈥

Maggie鈥檚 menopause workshops or individual support are available through all 24 UK centres and have already helped countless people.

Anna found the menopause workshop 鈥榚mpowering鈥. 鈥業t helped me to meet people who also had cancer and menopause and we could discuss symptoms and problems in a safe and supportive space,鈥 she says. 鈥楳enopause is something that every woman is going to go through, so you do feel a bit silly when you have to admit that it really is difficult. I had no idea how much it could affect me mentally and physically.鈥

After feeling 鈥榖roken鈥 by the crash menopause, Alice found support and hope at Maggie鈥檚. 鈥業鈥檇 come into Maggie鈥檚 sweating, probably three or four times a week,鈥 she says. 鈥業 met others going through the menopause, there was a lot of perspective. I could find the funny side and laugh about it when I spoke to others too.鈥


Find out more

To find out more about Maggie鈥檚 free 'Menopause and cancer' workshops, contact your , email us at enquiries@maggies.org or call us on 0300 123 1801. Our contact hours are 9鈥5, Monday to Friday.

You can also find more information about .

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