I was talking with my (awesome) younger sister last night. It had been a while, so naturally, we spent several hours on the phone catching up. As usual, we covered a wide range of topics.
In passing, I was reminded that she’s almost 35. Whoa, holy hell! Where has the time gone? In my head, I still think I’m 35. In a mere 4 months, whip out the black balloons: I’ll be turning 40.
I joked, “oh yeah, that’s right! Wow.” And then, in a theatrical parent-figure voice, I said, “when I was your age…”
Five years ago at this time, I was waist-deep in preparations for my hysterectomy. This blog was semi-active then, but I hadn’t posted nearly as often. There were a few things I had neglected to talk about. Not for any particular reason, other than that I just hadn’t mentioned it.
I hadn’t planned on playing catch-up for topics un-discussed at the time they were happening, but I guess that’s what it’s come to.
“Preparation for hysterectomy”, for me, included the attempt to shrink my (huge) uterine fibroids with a prescription drug called Lupron.
Lupron is a Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) agonist, which means that it stimulates your body–in a big way–to release the hormone that tells your reproductive organs to release their hormones. The name of the game here is to try to tell your body “your hormones are too high as it is; stop making them.”
Because uterine fibroids (and their growth) are fueled by estrogen, the Lupron shots (yep, injectable) essentially throw your body into menopause–a chemically-induced menopause. But it’s menopause just the same.
Lupron is also commonly used in men with prostate cancer, for the same reasons; the prostate tumors are fed by estrogen (and testosterone, say some sources, although we now know that estrogen is a major–and possibly bigger–factor), and thus, (indirectly) forcing the body to stop estrogen production is said to shrink the tumors.
Lupron has its limitations, though. It doesn’t get rid of fibroids or prostate tumors by itself; it merely shrinks them temporarily, buying you some time and maybe making the surgery to remove them a little easier and less complicated.
It throws your body into such a tizzy, though, that by the drug manufacturer’s own guidelines, it’s not supposed to be used for more than 6 consecutive months.
And we had to shrink my fibroids. Because even according to Web MD’s write-up on uterine fibroids, mine were “extreme”. I was an “extreme case”.
So…five years ago at this time, we were planning my hysterectomy. It was my only option, my only chance at permanent relief, and I was quite comfortable with it. Several months out from the surgery itself, we began Lupron shots. Each month, I would go see my surgeon for a shot in the hip. I had already received one shot during the first part of April, and I was gearing up for my second of what would ultimately be 4 (or 5?) shots.
I spent three months in a pseudo-peri-menopause, if you will. My female monthly cycle was regular and strong, and it wasn’t going to stop without a fight.
But I fought the cycle and the drug won.
And I got a sneak preview into what my real menopause experience is probably going to be like.
It’s a unique perspective, based on a unique experience.
Menopause, for me, will likely be hot. The primary symptom I had was the hot flashes. Oh my god, the hot flashes.
They would come on at night, mostly. I’d be watching TV and suddenly feel a heat in my chest, my torso, all over. And then, I could not get cooled down fast enough.
It also happened in the middle of the night, when I was fast asleep. They would be so intense that I would wake up instantly, throwing all the covers off of me.
They also popped up whenever I was under stress. Sometimes I didn’t even know I was feeling stressed. It might be the anticipation and slight apprehension I would feel whenever I was about to meet with a patient. Suddenly, I would break out in a sweat–not the cold-sweat I get when I’m nervous, but a hot type of sweat that came from my core, just like it did at night.
The backs of my hands would also sweat, covering themselves in a shiny sheen, continuously not just “damp”, but downright wet. I remember clasping my hands above the conference table surface, keeping them from touching the surface, because I would leave watery handprints on the table where my hands had rested.
I didn’t gain any weight that I recall, nor did I lose any.
I’ve always wondered how stormy and/or volatile my moods would become during menopause. My question was answered, and surprisingly, the answer was: not nearly as bad as I had expected. Out of the 4-5 months, I only recall two separate days where I could tell that the hormonal changes were impacting my emotions.
One day, I got extremely feisty, very irritable, over something minor. I don’t even remember what it was. I just remember thinking, at the time, that must be the hormones talking. And it was pretty short-lived; soon afterward, I was back to normal.
The only other time my emotions took center stage of my attention span was a day in which I was browsing the HysterSisters internet discussion forum I had joined for support through this whole thing.
I had been browsing the categories and their topics, sifting through the threads, and it hit me…
Here was a place in cyberspace, where multitudes of women of a wide variety of ages were coming together, from all walks of life, from every background, every philosophical/religious/spiritual orientation, every political persuasion, and so on, and none of that label-stuff mattered. The lone bond we all shared across the board is that we were faced with either the prospect of removing/losing a very personal part of our femaleness, or perhaps we were heavily weighing the decision about its fate. We were all seeking and giving support. We were all sharing extremely intimate details. We were all engaging in a supportive, non-judgmental sisterhood.
It was so beautiful. So miraculous to me. I was filled to the brim with gratitude that I had found these lovely ladies. It was such a soft, nurturing, loving environment, which is precisely what I needed during a time when I would otherwise have felt so cold and alone.
The significance of all of this overcame me, and I started to cry. I cried and cried. Because of what I have since learned is alexithymia, I had trouble fully pinning down my feelings, the exact reason(s) for those tears. (Yeah, now there’s an interesting situation: let’s induce menopause in an unknown Aspie! Lol.) But it was healing. I’m not sure what it healed, but it was healing.
The surgery came and went, and so did my recovery. My ovaries were fine, so the surgeons left them intact. Therefore, I still have monthly cycles, but I have no clue when, because there’s no physical evidence, if you know what I mean. 😉
So there it is. I can predict, at least with some accuracy, what menopause will be like for me when I go through it for real.