Tips to manage menopause
Human bodies go through many changes as they age. This occurs in both women and men. And every woman goes through menopause as she ages. Some are forced into early menopause due to medical reasons, like cancer. So today I’m sharing four tips to manage menopause.
And to the men stopping by: don’t stop reading, please. If you know a woman, you too should understand what we face. It might help you better support the women in your life. And feel free to share this with those women.
I’m often baffled how little our society likes to discuss normal human body functions and changes, especially the female body. Men and women alike are fascinated by the female body, yet it feels at time that it’s taboo to discuss what occurs in our bodies. It’s almost like we’re supposed to be ashamed of menstrual cycles, graying hair, wrinkles showing the fortune of being alive to age, menopause.
And heaven forbid a woman goes through a cancer that impacts her body, such as breasts and uterus. Everyone wants to support people in the cancer fight but it’s tough to get others to understand the actual impact these cancers have on female bodies (I know men experience similar issues with their bodies and I empathize!).
One of the greatest challenges I face as a breast cancer survivor is the long-term impact treatments and other medical decisions have on physical, mental and emotional health after treatment ends. We don’t talk enough about these outcomes, which makes it even more challenging on those of us blessed to live beyond cancer treatment.
Falling off Mt. Menopause
To recap for my new visitors (welcome!), the breast cancer I cleared four years ago was hormone estrogen receptor positive. Basically, estrogen hormones are not my body’s friends anymore. So to ensure the cancer NEVER returns, I have to suppress estrogen hormone production. I take a daily estrogen inhibitor and had my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed last year. This unfortunately put me into immediate surgical menopause.
My oncologist once described natural menopause as a slow walk along a winding path on a mountain (she knows I love to hike!). You transition into through your body’s gradual changes and potential symptoms. However, surgical menopause is like being pushed off the side of the mountain! Your body goes through changes almost immediately, causing multiple symptoms to possibly hit at once. Yeah, that’s a good description. And unfortunately what I’ve been facing.
What the heck is happening?!
Menopause puts all women at risk for various side effects, including bone loss (osteoporosis), hot flashes, vaginal atrophy, thinning hair and more. In some cases, women can go on hormone replacement therapy to help manage menopause. Unfortunately, breast cancer survivors can not (or at least those with my type of diagnosis). While menopause is a natural aging process of the female body, surgical menopause is that on steroids.
This is not meant to be a competition among women of which menopause style is better/worse.
I personally hate competition among women, especially when it comes to health. This is simply meant to shine light on challenges that many women face from cancer and other health issues. And as I mentioned a few paragraphs above, it irks me that our society appears to suppress women’s health topics and conversations. So I’m working to change that.
It’s tough being a young woman facing menopause, especially when it’s not naturally occurring. It’s been a mental and emotional struggle as much a physical challenge. While I know that I would eventually slide into the body changes, having everything hit at once has been really, really tough. Plus the added knowledge that this is happening due to that stupid, effing disease makes it more frustrating.
But I’ve decided to tackle menopause like I did cancer – learn, be proactive, take control. And I’ve learned a lot over the past year!
So I wanted to share some tips to manage menopause:
Track your triggers.
Menopause can bring a host of side effects, including hot flashes, weight gain, joint aches and muscle inflammation, and more. However, some of these can be managed through simple lifestyle adjustments. Learning if something makes hot flashes worse, or better, can be super helpful.
For instance, shortly after I entered menopause, I began having mild hot flashes (thankfully mine are not nearly as bad as other women who struggle with night sweats and more). I began tracking what was happening when I had a hot flash – what was I eating/drinking? Where was I?
A few short weeks into tracking, I noticed hot flashes most often occurred after I ate processed sugar (my favorite Swedish Fish candies) and drank wine (I really only drink white wines which tend to have higher sugar). I also noticed in my tracking that the more physically active I am, the fewer hot flashes. Now I know what primarily cause my hot flashes.
Talk to your doctor about support.
This is super important. Make sure your doctor is aware of symptoms or problems you’re experiencing. Whether physical, emotional or mental. Remember, menopause impacts the whole body! And if your doctor isn’t listening or helping, find a new doctor. Seriously. Your care team is critically important to maintaining your physical, mental and emotional health. You should trust your team [Read my post about finding a new doctor.].
There is a lot of support available to women facing menopause. Some things that I’ve learned include:
- Supplements – natural supplements, including vaginal suppositories or oral pills, help with vaginal dryness, hot flashes, sexual desire, etc.
- Vaginal/pelvic floor physical therapy – this specialty can help women strengthen your pelvic and vaginal muscles to reduce pain, ease urinary incontinence and soften internal and external vaginal areas (and it’s typically billed as regular physical therapy; check your insurance to be sure).
- Vaginal laser therapy – this special procedure helps vaginal cells regrow and thicken the lining of the vaginal wall (most insurances do not cover this; check your insurance to be sure). Talk to your gynecologist to determine if this is the best and safest option for you.
One of the best ways that I manage menopause symptoms is exercise. I know, I know, I’m fortunate to love being active [Read this post for tips to get motivated]. It’s a lifestyle choice for me because I know the value of keeping my body healthy and strong. But, seriously, exercise has drastically helped me through menopause. Being physically active seems to manage hot flashes, almost eliminating them, plus helps with bloating, muscle and joint aches and more. And, being active definitely helps my mental and emotional health. Because let’s be real – these changes to our body can cause a lot of emotions! So try walking, swimming, Zumba, yoga, hiking, biking, whatever you want. Just get moving. And consider inviting a friend or family member to join you. I often find it’s more fun with company (although I also enjoy my quiet time to relax and unwind).
Don’t be ashamed to discuss your experience with other women.
If you’re a woman facing menopause, you’re not alone. Some of your friends or family may also be going through this. The more often I’ve been talking about my symptoms, frustrations and strategies, the more other friends share their experiences. We’ve been able to share tips and simply be there to support each other. It’s fantastic!
If you’re not in menopause, whether it hasn’t started or you’re done, or you’re a man, I encourage you to be supportive to the woman/women in your lives facing this health change. Don’t mock. Be understanding, especially if you’re in a relationship and your partner is experiencing physical changes. It can be a lot. Having support, empathy and kindness make a world of difference (in EVERY situation, not just menopause).
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If you have tips to manage menopause, share in the comments below to help others!
Please note that I am not promoting nor encouraging you to try these options, simply sharing resources and information that I’ve learned about to manage menopause. This post is not intended as medical advice. ALWAYS talk to your doctor for medical advice. You are responsible for doing your own research and making your own medical decisions.