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"The Menopause & Me" By Andrea Dudley-Owen

“I always assumed I would follow the same menopausal pattern as my close female relatives. But, as I discovered, real life doesn’t work like that. Two years ago, at the age of 46, I thought I would continue having my periods and remain fertile for possibly another few years, but, in February of the second lockdown my periods stopped. I didn’t worry too much about it at the time and didn’t go to the doctor. I hadn’t realised was I was entering the perimenopause. What prompted me to go to the doctor was finding a lump in my breast. My doctor told me that my periods might have stopped due to a change in my hormone levels caused by the stress of that second lockdown. That change in hormone level could also be a possible cause of my breast cancer, which was confirmed that October 2021. I was still reasonably young and very upset about my situation. In fact, part of the anger I felt at the time of my cancer diagnosis was the unfairness of going through an early menopause. Fertility is an absolutely integral part of life and especially womanhood, whether you want children or not. So, accepting infertility is something one really has to come to terms with. I expected my menopause to happen later, more organically as part of the natural ageing process. It was instead premature, initially through stress and then chemical intervention as a result of chemotherapy. External factors created by that strange lockdown led to the stress. Those factors negatively contributed to my emotional state, which possibly affected my physical state. Since then, I’ve had a masectomy, a reconstruction and chemotherapy which are all serious interventions to treat the cancer. I also believe that the chemotherapy I received had a significant impact on my menopause. Strangely, I had my final period in the week my treatment began. Again, this was possibly induced by the stress I was feeling at the time and it is an indication of how stress can create physical responses. When I was being treated for cancer there were a large number of women under and around the age of 50 going through the same process. All of us found it difficult to determine what side effects were caused by ‘chemo’ and what were the effects of the menopause. Possibly there were similar effects and these were a combination of the two? One common theme was the temperature differential in our bodies. Science tells us that chemotherapy changes our regulated temperatures due to interference with our hormonal balance and a full year after my chemotherapy has finished but still receiving treatment, I still experience regular hot flushes preceded by suddenly feeling really unwell. It is, of course, a well-reported symptom – you feel terrible for a minute or so and then a quick and almost unbearable rise in temperature as if you are burning up. I would not consider taking HRT. Given that my cancer was hormonally receptive, I now take a hormone blocker for the next 5/10 years. This comes with side effects but the risk of cancer recurrence is reduced with the ongoing treatment and I am prepared to suffer side effects as a result. To take HRT would be counterproductive. So, how has this impacted on me in the workplace? As a Deputy and President of a large Committee, the time that I have most contact with others is during States meetings or committee meetings. When I suffer from a hot flush I think it must be quite obvious. I feel I go bright red and quickly need ventilation and will reach for some water and a notebook to fan myself. Often it is my male colleagues in the room will open a window. There is a lot of kindness and concern shown by both sexes, but the consideration response of the men I work with certainly doesn’t reflect any negative stereotyping that can often be found in the media. My family life has been female dominated, with a feature of strong matriarchal figures. But I have also been brought up with some strong male characters too, relations who have formed formidable partnerships with their wives, who have been brought up to respect women and understand the roles they play in our families. These male relations have acknowledged and respected what it is to be a woman and a mother, with the various stages our bodies have to go through to fulfil that function. For example our menstrual cycles have never been a taboo subject in our household and we have never shied away from talking about it. It is encouraging that as our society’s understanding has improved through science we have learned to embrace and celebrate our differences as women within the community. But among the men and women who are my family and friends I feel that we have always been caring and considerate of each other in this way and respectful of our differences. I am really supportive of the ‘Embrace the Change’ event which has been organised by my sister. The menopause is a very personal and private experience and what I have shared in this article is personal. As a naturally private person, it’s not entirely comfortable for me to be this open, however sharing advice and helping others understand what is normal in terms of bodily changes for women they should expect and what should raise red flags is invaluable Although as a generation we are better informed, I believe there is still room for more conversation and raising awareness and asking questions is important, no matter how silly you think that question might be. After all, as my experience shows, everyone is different and we all have to face our own personal menopause experience. For more information on the event and who will be speaking go to

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