Menopause, what a change in a woman’s life! I was a medical student when I first witnessed someone with debilitating hot flushes and sweats. It was my mother. She was in her early 50s suffering in silence, overloaded with juggling the competing demands of running a business and looking after her family. It was very sad that she felt unable to talk about it because the norm was just to put up with it.
As a young doctor, I saw colleagues denying treatment to women. I felt often there was a lack of empathy because the menopause is ‘part of being a woman’, ‘it’s not life-threatening’, ‘it is not a disease’. To make matters worse in 2002 came the era of studies such as the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) and The Million Women that made scary but very catchy headlines on the breast cancer risk associated with HRT.
Fast forward 30 years from my mother’s experience and it still surprises me how little some of the confusion, the myths and the attitude around the menopause has changed. Somehow the menopause remains a taboo and more than ever it carries the dreaded perception that ‘we are getting old’ in a society that celebrates youth and neglects maturity.
Having said that, there has been some change in recent years, with celebrities coming forward about their symptoms and positive media presentations on the benefits of HRT and the flaws of the studies that scared doctors and the public over a decade ago.
However, I still see female friends, family members and patients, who are confused on how to manage the menopause or worried about the use of HRT. Who can blame them? There is contradicting information on the HRT risks especially for breast cancer, confusing terms such as bio-identical and body-identical HRT and so many alternative methods that one doesn’t know where to start or what is really safe; no wonder the frustration, fear and needless suffering continue.
But it needn’t be like that.
Since those early student days, I have felt passionate about being able to help women through this sensitive time of their lives and celebrate their ‘change’. As a young GP, I undertook specialist training on menopause care and worked at specialist clinics at Queen’s Charlotte and Chelsea & Westminster NHS Hospitals in London.
My aspiration for years had been to set up a community menopause NHS clinic. However, the idea was met by commissioners with a lack of either funding or interest or both. Having undertaken a Master’s Degree in Health Management and held senior management roles in the NHS, I understand some of the reasons for the reluctance with such projects. I have first-hand experience of how hard the NHS works to meet people’s health needs with the available resources.
The NHS has recently produced national guidelines to help doctors manage the menopause more appropriately. However, confidence in how best and safely manage the menopause is growing at a slow pace, and women are still affected by the early 2000s scares with HRT.
So here I am in 2018, setting up my own private clinic, trying to materialise my dream of helping women manage this sensitive period in their life. With the current life expectancy reaching beyond 80, a woman may be menopausal for more than a third of her life. This is not an insignificant part of one’s life!
I hit my big 50 milestone this year. Looking back, when I was a junior doctor trying my professional ‘steps’, feels like yesterday. Looking into the future, I may have another 30 years or so ahead of me if I am to reach the average life expectancy!
With interest, I am currently experiencing some symptoms which might be signs of the perimenopause. I want to continue to live life to the full and not allow the menopause with all of the physical, emotional or mental symptoms it may present affect the quality of the life I experience. I look into the future with excitement, there is still so much I would like to offer, do and achieve.
So when you have been busy juggling a career, looking after a family/partner, or getting on with day to day life and the menopause hits you, life should not pause. What better time for you to start a new chapter, what better time to look after YOU.
Dr Theodora Kalentzi