Written by Carole Beck on January 10, 2018
The menopause is a completely natural part of ageing for every woman, but it can make you feel isolated and misunderstood. Here, we talk to four of the women from our Me.No.Pause campaign about what it’s like for them, what they’ve learned and why they wanted to take part.
‘An emergency hysterectomy pushed me into the menopause’
Atifa Ismailmiya-Balding, 47, lives near Guildford, Surrey. She works as a wellbeing counsellor
‘In May 2017, I needed an emergency hysterectomy because I had fibroids. My ovaries were removed too, and this plunged me into a surgical menopause. Within a couple of weeks, I had multiple menopause symptoms, including insomnia, 40 hot flushes a day and such reduced bone density that I needed support to walk.
It was a very scary time – I thought I would never recover my health – but with the help of a low-dose hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for my bones, and some lifestyle changes, like making sure I eat little and often, I’m now back to full health.’
Why I wanted to get involved: ‘I want other women to know their lifestyle really matters during menopause. For example, drinking water, exercising, meditating and getting enough sleep really helped me, so it could help others.’
‘My early menopause was triggered by chemotherapy’
Cassandra Fellingham-Orr, 38, lives near Brighton, West Sussex. She has just graduated with a Masters degree
‘At 35, after having my three children, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer and treated with chemotherapy. The treatment neutralised my ovaries and power-bulleted me into the menopause almost overnight – just as some of my friends were having their first babies. The first signs were hot flushes; I was on fire 20-30 times a day, and I started sleeping on the floor under an open window.
Eventually, I discovered the more I exercised, the fewer hot flushes I had. At first, I could only manage walks in the fresh air but later I started running and boxing too. Now, I only have hot flushes three or four times a day.’
Why I wanted to get involved: ‘You learn a lot about periods but very little about the menopause, especially before the age of 40. I want to tell women that you can be young, sexy, active – and menopausal! It’s just part of who I am: I don’t let it define me.’
‘My GP misdiagnosed my perimenopause’
Bunny Cook, 47, an actor, lives in London
’I’ve been in perimenopause for the last four or five years. At first, the GP put my menopausal symptoms – such as anxiety – down to stress and told me to change my diet. But as time went on, I realised I was actually in perimenopause. Weirdly, the natural texture and colour of my hair also changed.
Three or four years ago, I often experienced night sweats and hot flushes, but they’re very rare now. I found that cutting out wheat from my diet really helped, as does taking extra vitamins and minerals and, above all, making sure I exercise frequently.’
Why I wanted to get involved: ‘Gay and gender-neutral people are invisible in the media generally, but when it comes to menopause, the symptoms can make you feel really uncomfortable if you’re exploring gender-neutrality.’
'I didn’t think it could be the menopause’
Toshi Walker, 56, an acting agent, lives in Wolverhampton, West Midlands
‘At 52, I started experiencing menopausal symptoms, including terrible mood swings and around 15 hot flushes a day. I have multiple sclerosis (MS) and some of those symptoms got worse, too.
I’d undergone a hysterectomy in my thirties but kept my ovaries, which meant I didn’t go into menopause at the time. So, when I started getting menopausal symptoms 20 years later, I didn’t think ‘menopause’ but rather that something had gone wrong with my hysterectomy. Luckily, my GP put me straight.Initially, the menopause made me feel less of a woman and out of control of my life. But one of my daughters suggested switching to an organic, vegan diet. I also started using herbs and supplements, like black cohosh, getting outside more for fresh air in my wheelchair, and meditating. Nowadays, I feel amazing.’
Why I wanted to get involved: ‘Every woman goes through the menopause, and yet there’s still this code of silence. I wanted to help break this code particularly for women with disabilities. Yes, menopause is a new stage in your life but you’re still a woman.’
And a word from Toshi’s husband, Phil, 55
‘Sometimes it’s very difficult to identify what is flaring up for Toshi – is it the MS or the menopause? But the key for me is to listen carefully, be a cheerleader for my wife and put myself last during this time. For example, our bedroom often ends up being a dual-climate zone – all the windows open for her, and all the blankets on me. But I’m absolutely fine with it.’Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.