As a 36-year-old cancer survivor, I have been going through menopause for over four years now. It all started three months into chemotherapy when my doctor told me that my ovaries had stopped functioning because of the treatment. At first, I was devastated, I cried constantly, and felt a real sense of loss.
But now, while the symptoms of premature menopause can be challenging at times, nothing beats being alive and well. I still have the occasional "why me?" moment, but on the whole I am just so thankful I survived cancer and will do whatever it takes to continue to stay healthy and happy.
People often ask me what it's like having menopause at such a young age—and I suppose it's different for everyone—but here are some of the symptoms and side effects I experience:
1. I experienced changes in my skin.
Personally, I feel that I am aging more quickly than I would have if I wasn't going through premature menopause, and my skin has become much more dry and flaky than it was before cancer. As a result, I have become obsessed with skin care. I use coconut serum twice a day on my face and eat good fats like avocado, nuts, and oils to keep my skin plump. I look after my skin by going for regular facials, cleansing twice a day, hydrating, and eating well.
2. There's crying, lots of crying.
I wasn't always this way, but I am super emotional and cry easily. I tear up whenever I think about good memories with friends, when I speak with my parents or siblings, and when I watch a movie. The tears will hit me at any time of the day, whether I like it or not, and sometimes I have to close my office door or take a walk to get myself back together. This is something I've had to learn to manage and try to embrace at the same time.
3. My joints feel stiff and painful.
Sometimes my joints are so stiff and painful that I feel like I'm a hundred years old. It's worse when I'm cold and in the mornings, but practicing yoga and stretching for 10 to 15 minutes in the morning loosens up my joints, and it really makes a difference. Eating a lot of oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel also helps keep my joints supple.
4. I've become more forgetful.
My memory has deteriorated a lot over the past few years, and it can be stressful. Sometimes I forget silly things like dates or PIN numbers, but other times I forget important information and it can be a little bit scary. To manage my newfound forgetfulness, I put little strategies in place like setting alarms and making lists to help myself remember—and although it was difficult, I've accepted that this is not going to change anytime soon.
5. I'm always cold.
While most women going through menopause get hot flashes, I experience the complete opposite. Once a hot-natured person who wore special deodorant, I am now always cold, and it drives me crazy. My family even moved to Hong Kong for the warm weather, but I still struggle daily in my air-conditioned office. This is probably the symptom I moan about the most—I hate being cold!
6. My energy fluctuates.
Some days I am thriving and can do anything I want, but other days I am exhausted and thankful to just make it through the day. My energy levels are extremely inconsistent, and I have to manage this the best way I can without being too hard on myself. I try to eat well and fit some form of exercise into my day to prevent energy lows, but it isn't always possible. On those days, my go-to meal is carbonara (cooked by my husband) and a movie instead of exercise. I never allow myself to feel guilty on these days. Life is all about balance, and you have to do what is right for you.
7. I am infertile.
This was the most difficult symptom of early menopause for me to accept. It was all such a rush when I was diagnosed with cancer that I didn't have the time to freeze my eggs, and eventually, reality hit me like a ton of bricks. We have started the adoption process and I see a counselor; I guess like all women with fertility problems, it takes time to heal.
Throughout my experience with premature menopause, practicing self-care, nourishing my body with good food, and trying to exercise each day have been so important by allowing me to feel strong. Life is full of ups and downs, but with mindfulness, gratitude, and the right health strategy, you can greatly reduce the negative impact of many of life's challenges.
My current focus in life is to live, laugh, love, travel, and experience as much as I possibly can...because why the hell not?