Going through an early menopause

Having to deal with the menopause when you’re young can be incredibly difficult. It’s natural to feel it’s unfair or worry about the future.

The menopause happens when your ovaries stop producing eggs and your periods stop. For most, this isn’t until they are in their 40s or 50s. However, if cancer treatment has affected your ovaries or womb, it can cause an early menopause in your teens, 20s or 30s.

Menopause brought on by cancer treatment is sometimes temporary. However, if it is permanent, it can be very tough to come to terms with.

Your emotions and mental health

The menopause can be an emotionally fraught time for all women – regardless of whether children were likely to have been part of your future or not. Hormonal changes could affect your mood. The physical symptoms could impact on your wellbeing. You could be anxious about how it’s going to impact your relationship, or future relationships. You may experience complicated feelings about your femininity or womanhood, and feel like you’ve lost a fundamental part of who you are.

Finding out you’re unable to have children can feel like a bereavement. It’s natural to grieve for the loss and this might take a long time. From distress and sadness to feelings of anger, periods of reflection and on towards acceptance, everyone goes through this process in different ways. Often, putting your thoughts into words can help you figure out how to act on them, and this is where your support network can play a vital role.

Don’t keep these feelings to yourself. From a partner, family member or trusted friend, your doctor, a member of your cancer care team or a counsellor, you’ll find just opening up will help you cope with any issue on your mind. It may not resolve things straight away, but knowing you have a support network available means you’re never alone.

Feeling ok about it is fine too. There’s no right or wrong here. It may be that you’ll face difficult feelings about it at some point in your life – just not now. Or it might just not feel like an issue. Maybe you’re 100% sure you didn’t want children anyway. There’s no need to feel guilt or pressure from yourself or anyone else.

How you might feel physically

During menopause, hormone changes can cause hot flushes, vaginal discomfort and painful sex, weight gain, mood swings and poor concentration. You might not have any of these symptoms, or you might have a few. Most can be managed and will go away on their own, in time.

If anything’s causing you problems, your cancer team will be able to talk to you about your options. It’s tempting to jump on Google but hunting around online for answers isn’t always straightforward and can often be misleading. Talking to someone about your individual needs can open up possibilities you might not have been aware of.

Try to take good care of yourself with a healthy diet and exercise.

Dealing with hot flushes

Try to think about your outfit choices. Choose cooler fabrics and try to layer light clothes rather than wearing anything too thick and bulky. You could go for styles that are cut away under your arms or with a lower neckline. If you have long hair, you could consider wearing it up or getting a new, shorter style so the back of your neck isn’t covered.

If you’re on the go, a can of cold drink – even just to put on the back of your neck – can be instantly relieving. There are also instant cooling towels available that you can keep in your bag.

You could talk to your team about complementary therapies that may help with night sweats, such as acupuncture. A thinner blanket could also help with this.

Read more about hot flushes at cancerresearchuk.org

Becoming a parent in the future

When it comes to becoming a parent in the future, you do have options. These could include having a baby with fertility treatment, perhaps with help from a surrogate to carry the baby in her womb, or an egg or sperm donor. Fostering and adoption are also things you could consider when it feels right for you.

What matters is that you feel happy and supported in your decision, whether raising children is a part of your life or not.

Sources of support and information