Now at my Mom’s house I was slowly feeling better each day and looking forward to the first time I could lie flat on my back.
It was during this time that the signs of menopause began. I would notice my body temperature fluctuating throughout the night but nothing I couldn’t handle. During the day I experienced many periods of being very cold. I would cover myself in a fleece blanket, in the middle of April.
Understandably, I was becoming fairly emotional. My brother, sister-in-law and niece had arrived for my Oma’s funeral the following week so it was a full house. Not an ideal situation after a surgery.
Facing the reality that all my options for having my own children had now been taken away from me, and not by my choice, was hard. This was the second time I would lose something that made me feel less of a woman, without a say. The emotions I had felt as though it was happening for the first time.
I recall going to the park with my niece one day and I sat there watching her play alongside many other children and their families. Behind my sunglasses my eyes filled with tears. I would never experience this for myself.
I found myself getting upset and emotional at the strangest times. Sitting at the table eating dinner I would go to the bathroom and cry, then come back to the table like nothing was wrong. Nobody knew how I was feeling…or if they did they didn’t acknowledge it. I felt trapped in my emotions.
I had taken a few weeks off post-op to ensure there was time to adjust to any side effects I might experience from my induced menopause. It appeared that most of the possible side effects were happening. Most notably were the hot flashes, night sweats, mood shift, and lack of concentration and memory issues.
Once I started back at work I was really struggling with these things and it made for an incredibly hard transition. I was lucky to get 3-4 hours of sleep a night because of the night sweats. It felt like I had the flu; I was freezing and covered in blankets one minute, then my internal furnace would blast on high and I was throwing the blankets off and putting an ice cold towel on my head. This would happen throughout the entire night, almost nonstop. With so much constant activity it was next to impossible to get any solid sleep. I’d wake up in a fog and then sit behind my computer battling the same issue. The ceiling fan would get turned on and I’d have to remove a layer of clothing before I was freezing and needing to reverse everything. I’m thankful for my patient coordinator who I share an office with.
I was also struggling with a major depression at this point. This is something that can happen when your estrogen is shut down. Going through induced menopause is much more severe than when it naturally occurs. I would wake up crying for no reason, leave my desk to cry in the bathroom, cry at night…there was a lot of crying. I would not see my surgeon for 6 weeks post-op so was unable to get help for any of this.
Between the lack of sleep and depression, I had a difficult time wrapping my head around work. I became increasingly frustrated with my lack of concentration, loss of short term memory and difficulty finding my words. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as feeling uneducated at work. The simplest words or phrases I couldn’t think of. My brain just couldn’t put the words together.
Women experience menopausal side effects, including those listed below, to differing degrees:
- Hot flashes
- Sleep disturbance
- Mood changes
- Decreased libido or other sexual side effects
- Weight gain
- Urinary incontinence
- Heart disease
Losing estrogen earlier than normal can increase your risk of:
- Heart disease
- Parkinson’s-like symptoms
- Premature death
After seeing my surgeon for the first post-op follow-up I wasn’t armed with much information to help me cope. They would send a referral for me to have an appointment at a top menopause clinic in the city, which would take 6 months before I was able to get in. I knew that Effexor was likely the medication they would eventually prescribe so ended up getting this through my family doctor. Effexor is a dual purpose medication. It’s an anti-depressant but is also commonly used in treating hot flashes. Over the next few months I would slowly increase the dose until it had put the depression and hot flashes in check.
It’s hard to know what’s causing what, but since that surgery and going on the medication I have gained 25 lbs. I have heard many women speak about how they gained weight after starting this medication. I certainly didn’t change anything enough to gain all that. I’ve always lost weight after surgeries, except this time.
My ovaries were removed as a preventative measure since my tumours were ER/PR positive, meaning I am unable to take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or any products that mimic hormones. I would need to avoid certain foods as well, such as soy, tofu, and edamame. These are all soy products that are natural sources of estrogen.
Finding my Family
Knowing that I was in need of some real support from people who understood what it’s like to be in your 30s and diagnosed with cancer, I found a support group for Young Adults. Who would have known I was still considered a young adult?!!
Two weeks after my surgery I attended my first group. An emotional wreck, I sat in a small room with about 10 other men and women and a facilitator. We shared stories, vented, cried and laughed. I left that group feeling the hugest weight lifted off my shoulders. It was the best I had felt in months. I had finally found my family. Some of the group would in turn become great friends who I’m so thankful to have in my life. I’ve laughed more this year than probably any year I can remember.
I found myself starting to really live life and becoming more discerning with who got my time. A lot of people continued to not understand what my life was like, didn’t know how to support my situation, and just plain old disappeared. This is incredibly common with people diagnosed with cancer. I try to remind myself that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. It still hurts, but I have lowered my expectations of people. And continue to be so thankful for those who are there for me when I need them.
I had decided to register for the 25km One Walk that took place in September as a way to give back to the hospital that was taking such good care of me and to support the very underfunded research for sarcoma cancer. With 50 subtypes and only 1% of cancer diagnosis being sarcoma, you can understand why it’s so difficult to treat. I would have to raise $1,500 just to walk. I was prepared to take on that challenge but didn’t expect anyone else to want to. When my good friend said she wanted to walk with me I actually started crying. I was so humbled that another person wanted to do this for me. The generosity of all those who donated truly made me cry many times. Whether it was $10 or $200, it meant the world. I hit my goal in 1 week. It took us about 8 hours to complete. I would walk the last hour or two on the ball of one foot with the proper use of my right foot. I don’t know what happened but my heel was in incredible pain. It started at the 17km mark but I wanted to finish. Had this not happened we’d have crossed the finish line much sooner. By the time we crossed the finish line I couldn’t even put pressure on my foot. My Mom was there and I had to hold onto her just to walk. I would be laid up for three days. I had injured my plantar fasciitis. I went to a chiropodist and finally got fitted for orthotics. The pain would remain for a month before it finally dissipated. Oh, and I forgot to mention…as soon as we finished the walk, we both signed up for the 2017 walk! I’m a glutton for punishment apparently.