Aoife's story: 'I went through menopause aged 28'

After being diagnosed with cervical cancer aged 27, Aoife's treatment – which included radiotherapy and a radical hysterectomy – meant that she went through menopause almost 30 years earlier than average

by Aoife P. Rafter | 26th Oct 2020

Back to news

I think it's fair to say that I've been thrown a few health-related curve balls in the last two years.

Being diagnosed with stage 1b1 cervical cancer was certainly not foreseen. My treatment plan started quite urgently as my tumour appeared to be somewhat aggressive; I had a radical hysterectomy removing my uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix and the top of my vagina.

After a successful surgery I was left with a 20% chance of recurrence. In order to lower this to an approximate 10%, I underwent 25 sessions of precautionary pelvic radiotherapy over Christmas 2019. I finished radiotherapy in the middle of January 2020 and the effects of medically induced perimenopause soon kicked in.

For me, it started with an alarming amount of hair thinning. I shed so much everyday and still do. I block the shower on a daily basis, not to mention the hoover, something my thin head of hair has never experienced before!

I also suffered from severe migraines that left me completely bed ridden. At the time, I was totally unaware that this was a side effect of the menopause but then again, there are over 30 different symptoms and side effects of the menopause, no two people experiencing the same, so it can be hard to keep up!

Then came the anxiety and low moods. I became more anxious and depressed on a weekly basis, experiencing several heart palpitations throughout the day and not really being aware as to why.

This was soul destroying. I became impossible to live with and a shell of the person I was. This escalated so much that I now rely on an antidepressant to help regulate my moods as well as lots of complementary therapies too.

I feel that this aspect of the menopause is least discussed, despite the fact that it is so common. Many women are prescribed antidepressants rather than treating the cause of the low moods – that is, the reduction of oestrogen. Lowered oestrogen levels lead to lowered serotonin levels.

I believe that it is crucial that women know about this aspect of the menopause before they endure it. That way, they can be prepared for this aspect of the menopause and have the knowledge to treat it with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) rather than antidepressants.

Unfortunately, due to the type of cancer I had, I am not eligible for HRT as my cancer was hormone triggered. This leaves me having to go it cold turkey.

For this reason, a temporary prescription of Efexor (an antianxiety and antidepressant medication) and undergoing complementary therapies to help manage my symptoms is efficient treatment. Interestingly enough, Efexor is commonly taken by women who suffer from hot sweats/hot flushes from the menopause as it successfully tackles this disruptive symptom.

As a young person entering into perimenopause, I found it next to impossible to gain any useful and adequate information as to what was going on inside my body and what to expect from the menopause. I found social media to be the most helpful resource, finding the wonderful accounts of menopause doctors, patients, dieticians and specialised complimentary therapists.

I also advocate a lot on my own Instagram account @aoifep.r in relation to my experience with the menopause and other issues relating to women's wellness. I am also in the process of creating a wellness blog where I can discuss such topics in greater detail.

I feel very strongly that we should be taught more about the menopause at a younger age, whether it is through sex education in secondary schools or through our GPs. I don't think it is acceptable that we are only informed about menstruation and puberty in sex education, implying that that's all we need to be concerned about for our life span and not expecting any further hormone imbalances post puberty.

As always, I like to end my articles with the reminder that your health is your responsibility and no one else's. Therefore, it is essential that you take the time to get to know your body and become in tune with it. Your body is an amazing thing, it literally tells you what is wrong with it, all you have to do is listen to it.

Wellbeing of Women invests in research into menopause, including new ways to treat symptoms and support women going through it. Donate here.

Find out more about menopause, diagnosis and treatment here.