Sunday, August 21, 2016

Life updates, how it feels to go through early menopause and the future

Whilst I understand this is not the usual make up review post you might be here for, and that my story is probably highly irrelevant to most of you reading, I've been AWOL for a little while and I wanted to explain why.  I am currently going through early menopause and it has been such a nightmare that I wanted to share some of my thoughts and feelings about what has happened to me in the hope that someone, feeling the same worry and stresses I have felt in the last few weeks might one day find this post and feel they're not alone.

OK so back story (I apologise if you've been following me a long time and know all this already).

Two years ago I was diagnosed with cervical cancer and my treatment was major surgery-removing my cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes, plus part of my vagina and lots of lymph nodes.  For ethical reasons, and because the cancer was not present in either ovary, my surgeon preserved them and pinned them to my abdominal wall to keep them out of harms way from chemo and radiotherapy.  I recovered well and went into remission but there were a lot of continuous side effects that I have never really spoken about.  Firstly, for the last two years I have been in pain almost daily from lympocheles which is a collection of lymphatic fluid that gathers and forms a large cyst-however the pain was mostly very manageable and I was monitored regularly.  My last CT scan was in February this year and showed the lymphocele present but shrinking.  Secondly, my complexion became horrendous-blemish after blemish, nothing helped and I suffered from very sore, cystic spots constantly.  I saw several doctors but nothing helped.  Finally, my ovaries became polycystic and one of the main side effects I had was growth of hair on my face-I had not had this before and it was such a confidence destroyer.  However, there was an easy fix and I started to shave my face twice a week (using eyebrow razors) and this kept the problem at bay. 

About 12 weeks ago I started suffering with horrendous abdominal pain-it started during a meeting with my boss Raj and he was so concerned that he wanted me to go to the doctors immediately.  I refused; I had had similar pains before and knew in a few hours they would dissipate.  But they didn't and the next day I was worse-my assistant Chloe and Raj forced me to take an emergency doctors appointment and I was seen by another gynecologist at my usual hospital.  She did a scan immediately and saw two new masses around my ovary that were not present on my scan in February.  She actually took a picture of the scan on the monitor using her mobile phone and went to see another doctor immediately.  I was given pain relief and asked to come back for another scan in the morning with a radiologist.

The third day I was in agony.  I don't know how I got to work as I could barely walk.  I went for my appointment at 10am and I cried the whole way through, begging the doctor (who I knew quite well) to tell me what was wrong and to help me.  I couldn't talk to my mum and dad as they were on a cruise but I feared something was really wrong.  The doctor told me he would write his report and send it to my surgeon Dr Rajesh but within 10 minutes of leaving the hospital, Dr Rajesh was on the phone to me, telling me he had arranged an emergency MRI scan which I had two days later.  To cut a long story short, I needed surgery and on the 23rd May I had another major operation to remove the two new masses and unfortunately Dr Rajesh also had to remove my right ovary.  Even though I knew I couldn't have children following my first diagnosis and surgery, it felt like that was just reiterated 1000 times again.  My mum flew out to help me and after 2 days in hospital I was allowed home to recover.  And I felt fine, I didn't feel emotional and I recovered much quicker than my first operation.  I couldn't have done it without my mum and she made the process of getting better so much easier.  Four weeks later I was well enough to return to work.

I only had to work 8 days before I had a weeks holiday booked in the UK for my friends wedding but I was so so worried about flying home.  I was worried about the long flight and just 'being' in the UK.  I hadn't been for six months and in that time I had split up with my fiance of 13 years and had major surgery.  About 3 days before I flew I started to get these weird weird feelings-it would start at the bottom of my back and feel like a wave rising up my back into my head-I would feel extremely hot (but not sweat) and I would have a weird 'sicky' feeling at the back of my throat-it also felt a bit like I was claustrophobic.  It would only last a minute or so and then go.  I thought maybe it was anxiety about my trip.  And then they started coming more and more.  I also felt very unsettled and teary.

I went to the UK, had a good time but the second I got on the flight I was uncontrollably crying.  I couldn't even say why or control myself.  Ever since my first operation I have been quite emotional, especially at work and feel like now I am known as the girl that cries!  When I got home to my apartment in Dubai I was still crying and just couldn't stop.  Driving to pick my cats up, tears streaming down my face I thought 'how can I get through work tomorrow like this'? and I called my doctor for an emergency appointment.  I walked into her room and burst into tears again.  I felt utterly utterly out of control.  I felt like my body was controlling me rather than me controlling it.  This anxious crying person was not me.  There was no discernible reason why I would feel like that.  My doctor referred me back to the gynecologist who saw me the same afternoon and they ran a blood test to test my FSH level.  Anything under 21 is 'normal', mine was 79.9.  I was going through the menopause.  My doctor told me my body thought it had been hit by an earthquake.  I'm 36 years old.  I shouldn't go through the menopause for another 15 years. 

Part of me felt relieved to be able to put a label on this feeling.  I knew I wasn't right, even in London I had been completely disinterested in shopping and just wanted to hide out at Danielles and anyone who knows me knows that I am a total shopaholic.  I found Selfridges chaotic and overwhelming-I know it is crazy busy in there but that kind of thing does not bother the normal me.  I feel like even now, I am still a bit disinterested, maybe disengaged is a better word and feel like I am a difficult friend at the moment.  I've not been great at keeping in touch and I am sure my friends are confused at my inability to engage in conversation yet at the same time be present on, for example snapchat. My blog was of no interest to me and my tolerance levels of most people were very low.  And I was so paranoid, going over and over in my head any comment that felt negative or any situation where I felt I didn't know where I stood.  In short, I felt more lost than ever before.

Immediately I was put onto HRT tablets but initially told just to take the estrogen ones and to  disregard the combined estrogen/progesterone tablets you normal take for half of the month.  I was told because I have no cervix that the primary purpose of taking the progesterone is to protect the cervix against endometrial cancer and so therefore I didn't need it.  A second doctor then told me I should take progesterone because it has other benefits to me and the 'no cervix, no progesterone' line of thinking is old fashioned.  I was also warned there are big risks taking HRT-breast cancer and cardiovascular disease being the main two and I now have to have a breast scan every 3 months.  But if I don't take it I have been told I will have osteoporosis in my 40's.

The medication issue has been extremely confusing and is ongoing-both doctors would prefer for me to take a transdermal estrogen (usually a patch) because then the body doesn't use the liver to metabolise it which is better for me-but it's not available in Dubai.  I've engaged BUPA for a second opinion on the medication and am waiting for their final report but my case worker, a GP from the UK is utterly lovely and keeps checking up on me given I spent an hour on the phone to her in tears during our first consultation a few weeks ago.  She has also suggested to me there may be an element of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to my condition given what I have been through the past two years.  Sometimes, part of me sees signs there may be but honestly mostly I just think it's part of life.   And I am huge believer now in everything happening for a reason.  When you live for a long time with someone who is mentally ill as I did, freedom from that is an unbelievably precious gift.  That relationship had ground me down to a point where I was just surviving, whatever public perception I portrayed.  You never know what goes on behind closed doors as the saying goes.  Now I actually feel like I am living. 

But the HRT medication took a while to kick in-I cried at work during my last monthly 1:1 with Raj for absolutely no reason just after I started taking them-it had been a great month and I think Raj was startled when I started to cry. I tried to explain, through gritted teeth, embarrassment and sheer frustration that this wasn't me-that it was my hormones and I just couldn't control it.  Don't get me wrong, at the time it felt like this situation was never going to end but now, a few weeks later I am feeling 'normal' again.  The tablets have stopped the mood swings and hot flushes.  I feel more sociable even if I feel vulnerable.

I found this article written by a girl the same age as me about her experience of early menopause and so much of it resonated with me.   She talks about feeling like she didn't want to be noticed and how she felt isolated from her 'normal' friends who were all settling down, getting married and having babies in their 30's.  I don't resent any of my friends happiness at all, I just can't identify with it anymore.  I have no interest in relationships or dating and I do feel insufficient.  Maybe that will change in time but who knows?

I guess I am a work in progress at the moment-I am hoping to get my medication sorted soon and I am glad I sought help early on.  I don't feel any longer that my body is controlling me and that's a huge relief.

What's next?  I don't really know.  This year so far has been a big year of change.  Since splitting up with Mike I have more or less redesigned the whole apartment.  I've just bought a new car, I felt like I needed to cut all ties and associations to him especially given the way we broke up (a long, complicated and traumatic story.)  I needed a fresh start.  I needed to feel free.  And I think these changes are making me feel better.  I've lost some weight but want to lose a ton more.  I've joined a gym.  I'm still happy in Dubai and in my job and I'm good at it-I'm probably due a change but equally I'm a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to moving outside my comfort zone.  Blogging hasn't been of interest, neither has make up shopping even though I still 100% love make up.  Sometimes I feel blogging has had it's day-I watch far more youtube videos than read blog posts.  If I don't read as many blog posts how can I expect someone to read mine?  I wonder how relevant I am in a sea of glossy, beautiful bloggers with innovative content.  It's not a world I fit into.  But yet a lot of my good friends come from blogging and I don't really want to let it go completely.

Despite all this, there are moments when I do actually quite like myself, feel proud of being a single and independent woman standing on my own two feet 3500 miles from home.  I only had surgery 12 weeks ago and yet I am back at work, feeling pain free and I've done six flights already since the operation and did my 7th today.  I've made difficult decisions this year and fully faced up to the consequences and nothing has fazed me.  I felt like I had taken everything in my stride but when the menopause hit I suddenly felt like everything was crumbling around me.  Yet  I know there are things I do easily that other people maybe don't find so easy-I march through airports confidently, get on more flights per year than some people take in a lifetime and I'm a very confident driver in a city notorious for being intimidating to drive in.  There were several times when the menopause hit and my hormones were spiralling out of control without me knowing, where I told myself 'you're a bloody cancer survivor Stacey, what the fuck is wrong with you' in an attempt to 'motivate' myself out of the state of mind I was in

So bear with me whilst I find my feet.  I'm writing up and scheduling posts today so maybe it's about getting into a routine again.  I'm a terrible terrible overthinker/ overanalyser and however much I try to remind myself not to, it's a huge weakness of mine.  Maybe blogging will allow me to channel the energy I waste over thinking every situation into something more positive.

I know this post has been super long and rambly and if I still have your attention then thank you.  I've always been massively grateful for the love and support I receive through this blog even when I am undeserving of it xx


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