Posted by kathryn on June 21, 2011
True story: healthy woman and menopause at 38 who had to come to terms with no children and her sex life was over. Anne Scott wasn’t told about her condition until she wanted to prepare to have children at 40. In my own research, I’ve spoken to a number of ’early pausers’. They do feel really isolated even more than their older sisters. Listen to Anne’s story, now. I’m grateful to Anne Scott for sharing her story with us. Full transcript follows and all references to herbal tonics and medical practitioners involved in Anne’s care are noted throughout.
Kathryn Colas: Hello, everybody, good morning, it’s Kathryn Colas here again from http://www.simplyhormones.com Today I’m here to talk to Anne Scott, about her own journey through menopause. I met Anne at a women in business conference last November and we started talking about hormones, as you do, and I thought she had a very interesting story to tell.
Now Anne’s background is IT and communications, delivering technology, and now she’s completely turned that on it’s head and is now helping businesses. She specialises in business creation and transformation, helping people to be intuitive in their leadership and she calls herself Crossing Frontiers now. So let’s go on to that Anne, and talk about your journey through menopause. What would you say were your symptoms, the symptoms that you first recognised, that made you think it might be menopause and what age were you then?
Anne Scott: Good morning Kathryn, great to speak to you. Yes this is a really interesting question, because retrospectively I can see that my first symptoms were probably night sweats. And I was having those probably in my mid thirties, 35, 36 up to about 39, got really hot, really sweaty, woke up at night had to change. Sometimes had to change the sheets.
KC: So what did you do about that then?
AS: Well, actually I just lived through it, and I think part of it was at the time, what I worked out myself, was that there was a relationship between the night sweats and at night when I had a couple of glasses of wine, so I thought OK the alcohol was exacerbating this so I thought I still want to have my few glasses of wine. So I assumed that it was purely to do with the alcohol, but now that I am where I am, sort of like 15 years later, I clearly realise that was a very significant symptom.
KC: Yes. So that’s all you did about it at that time. You felt it was alcohol related and had no idea that it was potentially hormonal and that you were starting to go through menopause, you were peri-menopausal.
Early 30’s: 10 months without a period
AS: I didn’t, because the other thing that had happened to me in my early 30s is, I had, I think about 10 months without any periods… Bearing in mind that I’m not under weight and nor am I significantly overweight, a robust person. I lost a bit of weight at the time. I was very delighted at the time, as I was travelling. It was when I was 30, I was travelling in Asia, I was really pleased not to have periods; it was a great convenience actually. But it did cross my mind that potentially there was something else going on there. About literally 9 months later I got to Australia and my periods started again, so I didn’t particularly worry about it, but when I got to my mid 30s, when I was having periods I had a very clear 7 day period, which was quite heavy and it was certainly very heavy at the beginning of the cycle so I would have to wear tampons and sanitory towels and just be very aware of it, and in my mid 30s that changed significantly, so that was the other change I noticed.
Heavy Periods then less and less
My periods, quite quickly, I suppose over a period of about 2 years, went from 7 days down to 5, then down to 3 and probably in my late 30s and moving into my 40s I was actually having a 1 day period. So that was another significant change. For me I didn’t actually go to the doctor. I didn’t treat it as a medical issue. But what I am interested in, and some of this is because of my study, I am interested in alternative health, so I was going to an acupuncturist and I also found a great homeopath at that time and so I did start taking herbal and homeopathic medications, but not specifically because I thought I was menopausal.
Didn’t even consider Menopause as a cause
KC: No. Did you know about menopause at the time? It probably didn’t even enter your radar did it, at that age?
AS: The only reason why it even peaked my interest is because an Aunt of mine, on my fathers side, had what they called an early menopause. They had just got married when I think she was 36, and within a couple of years, very similar to my story I suspect now, she was menopausal, but this was a bit of a family anecdote, it wasn’t something she talked about.
Doctors insisted NOT genetic, therefore NOT menopause!
But every time I talked to a doctor or talked to somebody in the medical profession about it they were very clear that the menopause, that your genetic predisposition would come from your mother. Now my mother didn’t start her menopause until she was well into her 50s. In fact she was pregnant when she was 48, and I think she had her periods into her mid or late 50s. My mother’s story was completely different.
KC: So listening to what you have to say there, your symptoms didn’t seem to follow the norm. You were following this homeopathic regime and so, was that helpful?
Significant Hot Flushes kicked in
AS: I found it helpful particularly; I then started getting hot flushes in my early 40s, so that was much later. I had night sweats and hot flushes, very separate. When my night sweats stopped, there was then a break and I had hot flushes, then I was getting a hot flush say once every half hour. Very, very strong for about 2 years and it was at that point that I really found that the homeopathic and the herbal medication really helped. I would also say that probably in my 30s I suspect now that the… what I was taking really helped the flow I guess. What I noticed as well was I had a massage at one point called a Chi Mei Teng massage, and it really loosened up or really got things flowing. I really felt I was stuck and that’s how I would describe my system, my menstrual system, in my late 30’s, was that it was stuck. And I felt that these things I was taking were helping.
KC: Yes, they do say that certain massages to help the flow of the organs and help us to unblock certain areas. I know from my own self and a lot of other women would concur that I have reached what I would describe as a tsunami, the symptoms all came together at one point and were so overwhelming, I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. So did you reach that point at all?
Hot Flushes were most distressing
AS: I’m not sure that I did, I think the most excrutiating symptoms were the hot flushes. Particularly because I was working in a corporate environment with a lot of men, and also because my normal disposition was to feel cold, so I dressed for the cold and suddenly I’m having these experiences and the way I dressed just didn’t suit. The idea of wearing a polo neck, I just wouldn’t dream of wearing a polo neck now. So I really had to adjust the way I dressed. And also at the end of a hot flush, how cold and clammy you feel, so I really found that very discomforting.
Awful to discover my mother suffered badly with heavy periods, flooding
The one thing that I am aware of, having talked to women and my mother say for instance, this thing about heavy what they call flooding I’ve never experienced. I’m sure you know a lot more about that. I’ve never experienced that. What happened was my periods tailed off, they didn’t get heavier. It is possible that they did get heavier but might have been in my late 20s. It’s so long ago I just would never have correlated it. So I didn’t have this experience of my periods getting heavier and heavier before they tailed off they just tailed off and that was a convenience. It was a convenience not to have heavy periods. But my mother particularly suffered flooding and she suffered them out in public and that was something I was always apprehensive about because she told me some horror stories about that.
KC: It can be a nightmare for some women. And unfortunately it’s still the case that so many women are then offered a hysterectomy to be the method of reducing that problem and it so is not, there are so many other avenues to explore before you take that vital track. So, your symptoms, apart from the hot flushes, or the night sweats rather, and then the hot flushes, there weren’t any other symptoms that you particularly experienced.
Menopause not discussed by sent for ovarian scan
AS: No but I did have a bad experience at this time, I think when I was probably 40, 41. I think because, and I’m not sure, unfortunately, why I was prompted to go to the doctor, but I was prompted to go to the doctor potentially because of my periods in fact. At this point they never discussed menopause with me, but what they said is I should go for an ovarian scan, which I did, and at the time I think they said they couldn’t see one of my ovaries, and they said look maybe you should come back, but you know what, you look healthy, you look you… you’re not having any other issues, just leave it, but about 6 months later I had a niggle and I thought I’m going to go back and see if there’s anything going on, so I went back and they said there is definitely an ovarian cyst, you should have come back sooner than this, and we’re referring you.
Ovarian Cancer and it was my fault?
This all came through my doctor and they were referring me to potentially an ovarian cancer clinic, which was obviously very shocking for me and the decision I took was to use my private health care and find somebody that I could talk to privately and I ended up in the Queen Charlotte Hospital in Hammersmith. A lovely gentleman there, whose name I’ve forgotten, and he said “right we’ll get you down for a scan and straight away”, which they did, no ovarian cyst and in fact I had had a number of pains a few weeks before which maybe suggested that it dissipated but what was interesting is that he said I’m referring you to a clinic for follow up, which I thought was an ovarian clinic.
‘You’re menopausal, you know that’ – I said, ‘no, I had no idea’!
I ended up in a menopause clinic which I wasn’t aware, they hadn’t briefed me; I was examined by a woman, who reported to the nurse while she was examining me that my uterus was closed, that it was, I can’t remember the words she used but it really sounded quite shocking, and it really implied that my uterus wasn’t operational.
And I said “I don’t understand what you’re saying” and she said “well you’re menopausal, you know that”. And I said “no I don’t know that. I had no idea about that” and I would have to say that was the most shocking experience and it was shocking to receive it from a woman. And there was this big expectation that I understood, I think I was 41 at the time. Implication is that actually I was well menopausal. Well into my peri-menopause at that stage.
Why don’t doctors ask patients for their opinion – they’ve certainly got one!
KC: So yes that is quite shocking and it still shows, that doctors aren’t talking to, well not so much not talking to each other, they seem to know who to refer us to, but they’re not talking to us to make the connection and discussing it really to get our opinion and we certainly have one. It’s sad news isn’t it. So as a result of that you didn’t go back after that referral to the menopause clinic?
Attending a Menopause Clinic for 8 years
AS: I did and I’ve been going there ever since. I’ve been going for 8 years now and unfortunately I’ll be 50 this summer. But what that triggered for me was then this realisation that I probably wasn’t going to have children. I’d left a relationship with somebody who couldn’t commit. I’d been with them for 5 or 6 years, they were never ready to have children and I thought well I still had the opportunity, the possibility, so at the age of 41 I really had to start going through that grieving period about that.
KC: So do you think it was because of the uterine, what appeared to be a uterine malfunction that was probably the reason you couldn’t have children, that it was all linked somehow?
AS: Well, I think they made it very clear. Potentially I guess if I got together with a partner, I wasn’t with a partner at that point, suddenly you just thought well I’m going to have to fast track this, find some guy, have sex all the time and hope for the best, then realised that I was on the downward slope. For me the likelihood of it happening is really much more limited. I’m sure if I said I’ll go for hormone treatment, I’m sure if I took a very directly focussed approach I potentially could have children now, but at the time it was just this realising that my natural cycle and my body, and I’ve always felt actually that really I like being in tune with my body and I have actually never been on the pill. So I’ve never taken the contraceptive pill and haven’t actually had HRT either, for the reasons that I really would love to work with my body with the more natural approach around it. So it was that realisation that my body in it’s natural state, obviously wasn’t for having children and also allowed all those components of things that have happened in my 30s like the year of not having periods, or hot sweats or night sweats all suddenly fell into place really.
KC: Yes, you could see the pattern, then but you were too young to acknowledge it at the time and nobody else helped you to find the right answer. So how do you feel now, health-wise?
Good care from Mr Nick Panay’s clinic
AS: Health-wise, I feel healthy, I am aware of and I’ve had some challenges around this. I think medically because the menopause is medicalised in this country you know, but medically the three things that you know certainly I’ve been advised about in the clinic, which I really love actually, Mr Panay, it’s a gentleman called Mr Panay (Mr Nick Panay http://www.nickpanay.com). I like him, I like his clinic and apparently he has told me I’m the only person in the clinic who is not on HRT and we’ve had a number of discussions around it. My mother had oestrogen related breast cancer, so that was a very significant factor for me. As well as the fact that I didn’t really want that kind of intervention, a chemical, pharmaceutical intervention.
3 important areas of concern for me now: bone, heart and brain health
It wasn’t really of interest to me, but the three things that they mentioned was bone health, heart health, brain, bone and heart health, and as a result of going to the clinic they sent me for bone scans, and the key deficiency, that’s obvious now, is that I’ve got osteoporosis. And over the last 8 years that has been quite significant, the decline in my bones and to add to that I’ve been kaycene (dairy product) intolerant. I’ve been allergic to kaycene all my life, but actually only became aware of it in my late 20s. It’s only been medically acknowledged in the last 2 or 3 years, but I haven’ t been taking dairy products since my late 20s, so I haven’t drunk milk. I have goat and sheep products but I don’t drink milk.
KC: I think it seems to me that a lot of women are lactose intolerant, I know myself and I didn’t recognise it. As a child it was always a treat on a Sunday to have a coffee made with boiled milk, and I used to love it because of all the frothy stuff on top and I always used to feel ill afterwards and never associated the two things. Until I was going through menopause and now I don’t have lactose and all the rest of it and I have changed the way I drink that type of thing altogether, so it’s very interesting isn’t it?
The benefits of cow’s milk are a myth
AS: I believe it’s a myth about milk and bone health, and in fact what they said to me when they first did the scan is my bone health was really good, and so from the age of 28 through to 40 I hadn’t taken milk, but what I was very dedicated to, probably up until about 2 years ago, was weight bearing exercise, and I will go between 3 and 5 days a week to a gym and in addition I did pilates, I did hiking.
KC: All the right things.
Suffers with Tendonitis
AS: All the right things, but then what’s happened in my 40’s, I’ve had, and I guess this is with the menopause, the things around bones that I’m thinking of now is I’ve had more things like tendonitis, I’ve had things like, I had really bad tendonitis in my wrists, ended with problems with my ankles, so I actually had to stop the weight bearing exercises for a while. I then took up pilates and did some yoga and more recently I’m getting back into more weight bearing exercises again. But I have had nearly 2 years of not doing as much weight bearing exercises, and now is when I need to do it but really my body hasn’t been supporting me as well as I would have loved it to.
HRT can help arrest the decline of bone strength
KC: And I don’t think enough women realise that it’s the decline of our hormones and the changing of our hormones that does affect the heart and our bones and that you do have to take extra care about diet and exercise and make sure you’re eating lots of fruit and vegetables and doing, if not weight-bearing exercises, swimming, it’s still a strength exercise to do swimming, but do whatever makes you happy, and that’s why they’re still recommending HRT to a lot of women as a secondary prescription to support those areas because it has been shown that it helps avoid those problems, but I think women have got to be more proactive, and say we’re not going to rely on pills, I can do this myself, as long as they are aware of what’s happening in their body and how hormones are so powerful in our lives that we don’t realise how they have been supporting our good health all our lives. Because we have so many more of them than the men, of course, and then we come a cropper at menopause and nobody tells us anything about it, so end up with zimmer frames and all the rest of it, and a cabinet full of pills. We don’t want to do that, do we?
A good supplement is Udo’s Choice
AS: No we don’t really and I do think that when I realised the reverberation actually of oestrogen through our bodies, you did ask about some supplements earlier, but one of the things I was really pleased I was taking earlier, because I was having joint pain (that was another symptom I had was having joint pain), my sister-in-law is a physiotherapist and normally not into alternative therapy at all, but because of her physiotherapy she had come across a supplement called Udo’s Choice (available at http://www.bodykind.com) and she started using that, absolutely sang it’s praises and for somebody who would pop a pill before she’d do anything else, I was really pleased. So I started taking Udo’s Choice and that’s probably the supplement I’ve been taking for the longest period of time. I take 3 dessert spoons of that most days and that certainly has made a big difference to joint aches and pains.
KC: What’s it got in it specifically?
AS: I can check the ingredients, but the significant thing about Udo’s Choice, relative to some of the others, like there’s Linseed Oil, there’s Cod Liver Oil, and the way this is marketed certainly, I think that it contains Omega 3, Omega 6 and Omega 9, in the proportions that are appropriate for humans. Cod liver oil will have maybe Omega 6 and Omega 9, but not Omega 3 and they don’t necessarily have it in the right proportions, so I found that using Udo’s Choice, I’ve tried some of the others, but I’ve nearly always reverted back to Udo’s Choice, even though it’s more expensive, I really notice the difference around my joints, and also it is supposed to be very good for mood as well, and take the edge off depression. A lot of this is anecdotal as you probably know Kathryn.
KC: Yes, you don’t know when it’s happening to you. I was listening to Ruby Wax recently who says, I think the title of the piece that was in one of the papers was that she had been mentally ill all her life and she is doing this show at the moment, I think it’s very brave of her to do that, but you don’t from my, and from a lot of women, you don’t recognise, that you’re going through this crazy period and that you’re actually mildly depressed and you don’t have time to be depressed most of us because you’re always doing things, and it’s only when you sit down and talk to yourself one day and they say right, I’ve really got to do something about this and that’s when you, I think, become more spiritual in yourself and begin to recognise your own intuition, and lead a better life as a result of it. And many women change course and do completely different things. I’ve certainly come out of it a completely different human being with so much energy and vigour to run with things and do things ‘my way’. It’s quite a different thing that happens to women that is still not written about and we’ve got a long way to go to recognise the whole true effect of menopause in women, and we’re all working longer as well.
KC: And now you’re taking on a new career, post-menopausally and I bet you feel ready for it and you’re invigorated by the challenges that you’re now facing. I know you mentioned to me that you’ve studied medical anthropology and this is all new; suddenly we’ve become sponges again and can’t get enough information about certain things and we want to do other things to bring those areas of education into it. Would you agree with that?
AS: Yes. I wouldn’t necessarily feel it was directly related to the menopause, I could be wrong, because I’ve actually studied over the course of my life starting with the BSC and in my early working career I did marketing and then I followed that up with the medical anthropology, but what was fascinating about the medical anthropology for me was I did it through the school of Oriental African Studies, who have a very humanistic approach and really what the question is, in different cultures, is what does health mean? What is illness, what is cure? and what was fascinating was to realise that menopause is medicalised in this country, it’s a medical condition and I’m not demeaning it by saying that it shouldn’t be but it’s this idea, it’s like childbirth, it’s a medical condition instead of being natural events in our lives, but in a country like Japan for instance it’s not very medicalised. They actually don’t have a notion of menopause. According to what I’ve read.
KC: Until they move to the West.
In Japan: no menopause but do experience joint pain
AS: Exactly and they’ve done studies around that. And the key issues apparently that women present with in that age group is joint pain. It’s the bone issue, but they don’t have all this horrendous hot flushes and night sweats and I think there has been a lot of conversation about the relationship between that and things like lactose and milk and I wasn’t taking those in my diet, so it may well be, because I didn’t think I had a serious menopause, I don’t feel that it really impacted on me in that way.
Shocking realisation that my child bearing years were over
The shocking things that really happened to me were really coming to terms with the fact that my child bearing years were over earlier than expected and just also what that meant not to have periods.
My girlfriends are still talking about all of those issues and they’re asking questions and I’m in a different stage, so for me those were the really challenging things for me. It’s interesting, I don’t feel like I had to deal with lots of medical effects. I could go to the menopause clinic and they would offer me HRT and their whole thing around HRT, by the way, as you know, was for me to take it till I was 50, purely to cover that gap because the way they explained it to me was that when you’re around 50, 51 a number of other systems come into play which actually supplement oestrogren, and I decided not to do that. I think if my symptoms had been not so severe like I don’t really feel that I had significant depression for instance. I feel that the level of depression I had was the same as what I’d had with pre menstrual tension (PMT), so I may well have been lucky in that respect.
Atrophic Vaginitis a complete shock
But I do think the social aspects were very significant for me and just the only other thing I forgot to mention earlier, which was a shock to me, was discovering that I had atrophic vaginitis, and that again is oestrogen-related. And that’s pretty shocking because I hadn’t realised it and I was in a new sexual relationship and sex was very painful and I didn’t want to talk about it and only talked to a girlfriend who said “go to your doctor”. I said “I can’t do anything. I’m sure it’s menopausal” and I am actually taking local oestrogen for that.
World’s best kept secret – Atrophic Vaginitis
KC: And again, it’s such an embarrassing subject even for women that have been in, like me, been in (long term) relationships. I’ve been married 38 years now and I just couldn’t talk to my husband about that, I couldn’t talk to my doctor about it and it was only when I attended a medical conference that there was lecturer up there talking about it and saying what could be achieved by prescribing women locally applied oestrogen and all the other different products that are available, and I was so cross because there are so many women that are affected and nobody’s telling them that there is a simple solution. There’s a moral error there and you were talking about medicalising menopause, and I think you’re right. It seems to me that unless when you’re going through menopause and you’ve got all these symptoms, and some women going completely crazy and don’t understand it unless the doctor can put a medical label on it, like depression or it’s gynaecological or anything like that, if it fits into a department then you get taken care of, but it’s all those other women where there is no medical label attached and they’re disappearing under the radar and just being sent away with a pat on the hand saying “never mind dear, it’s your age” and to me that’s all wrong, they’re just not getting the right information. So again, they’re having to put up with it because they don’t know what else to do and the information that’s getting out there is very slow and it’s certainly not coming from the medical industry. So we’ve just got to get out there and do it ourselves haven’t we?
“Oh my god, my sex life is over now as well”
AS: Absolutely, and I think a far better and more nurturing way to do it, to be honest, I feel, is women to women, and I don’t think it has to be medicalised, but I do think it’s so essential to have a forum and to be able to discuss, and also having better end results, to be able to say, yes I still want to have a sex life. Atrophic vaginitis, I got that when I was 45 and I thought “Oh my god, my sex life is over now as well”, and I really don’t believe it has to be like that, and being able to support each other whether it’s natural remedies, whether it’s something medical, let’s be open to all of it.
KC: Yes, because it’s all different and it’s choices we’re looking for and we all need to try different things to find the right things that suit us. And we shouldn’t be put off that, even the women that go for HRT, I say well go for it. If that’s suits you, if it’s sorting out your symptoms, bringing your life back into a steady pace for you to move forward then what’s wrong with that, but obviously be aware of the medical history, but all pharmaceuticals have their side-effects so we shouldn’t highlight HRT as being the worst case scenario because there are other drugs that have bad side-effects too; we’ve just got to be balanced, haven’t we.
Consult a Herbalist or Homeopath
AS: Yes, and it’s interesting that you should talk about that, because just I’m just looking here, I’ve got one of these tinctures I’ve used, and one of these if Black Cohosh, and many women may well have come across Black Cohosh, which isn’t a herbal tintcture, but it’s actually a very powerful tincture and potentially toxic, which I think is why there’s an awful lot of concern around herbal tinctures. It just goes to show that herbs are the basis of our pharmaceuticals, so equally we should be as respectful and cautious of something like herbal tinctures as we are of HRT. I feel quite passionate about this, I really would suggest to anybody if they want to use anything for menopausal management that they work with somebody like a herbalist or a homeopath, you know somebody who can come up with a journey plan, if you like, if they want to try these things for two or three months it may not be appropriate to keep going with some things for more than that. It may not be appropriate to put certain things together. So I think we have to be… to me it’s like about personal responsibility and values. You talked about people who choose HRT, women who choose HRT viz-a-viz those who don’t, and I think it’s all about resonating with ourselves, whatever resonates with us and if you do something that doesn’t resonate with you it’s not going to work with you and that’s my opinion.
KC: Yes I think you’re right.
AS: I think it’s not just the pharmaceutical, it’s about your relationship with it, I know that sounds a bit crazy but it’s that intuitive thing you were talking about, and I think that if you’re in tune with something it may well work for us, and if somebody else uses it, it may not.
KC: That’s right. That’s exactly what’s happening of course and it’s for us to be better informed to allow us to make those decisions for ourselves.
I think that’s been absolutely brilliant Anne we’ve had such a good conversation about so many different things there and I’m sure that all that information will help other women that are experiencing, maybe not everything you’ve gone through, but little bits here and little bits there, and it’s all so helpful.
AS: I’m very pleased for you to hear my story, Kathryn. My story’s going to be different to other people’s stories. What’s wonderful about what you’re doing is you’re really eliciting that. Your story is part of the patchwork quilt.
KC: Yes, well put; a patchwork quilt. And it’s all of our stories and we all pick a bit from it. It’s not that my story is the right story, we’ve all got little bits that match up and we think “yes, that happened to me, ah maybe I’ll try this, maybe I’ll try that.” So if it’s going to help women to be in better control of their own health and understand where they’re going with this I think we can all come out of it leading much better lives because it’s a metamorphosis, and we should come out of it leading happier and healthier lives.
KC: Thank you once again Anne for joining me on this journey this morning, and we’ll talk again another time.
AS: Lovely, thanks Kathryn.
Kathryn Colas: Well, that brings us to the end of the interview with Anne Scott who spoke most eloquently about her own journey through a very early menopause.
If early menopause is affecting you, there is a specialist website: http://www.daisynetwork.org.uk you may find useful. And can I remind you that there are over 200 pages of information on menopause symptoms and how to create your own pathway to wellness at http://www.simplyhormones.com
Until next time…