As I have said many times, my aftercare following the removal of my ovaries was virtually non-existent. Following my hysterectomy, I faced – quite shockingly – a lot of obstacles and had to overcome many hurdles to finally get onto the right treatment path. Just getting a GP to listen to me was my biggest obstacle.
I was 8-months post-op before I started any form of hormone replacement therapy and it took a further 18 months from that point before I found the right HRT regime for me and began to feel more human.
If, as they say, I’d only known then what I know now ... I would certainly have made better choices based on the information that was not available to me at that time – I certainly would not have gone 8 months without any HRT, a decision which left me non-functioning and in a desperately dark place.
Surgical menopause is brutal. It can feel like a chronic health condition for many women. So, if you are facing the prospect of a hysterectomy, have recently undergone one or are even months down the line and feeling deeply plunged into surgical menopause, I would like to share a few helpful tips that I’m hoping will help you to take control of your own well-being.
My first piece of advice is to get yourself referred into a menopause clinic. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Yet, I had not even heard of such a place until 2 years after my hysterectomy! Unfortunately, many GPs – and even Gynaecologists, would you believe – do not have either sufficient training or knowledge to be able to prescribe, advise and guide you through surgical menopause.
If my experience is anything to go by, many GPs will simply try to fob you off and dismiss your symptoms as “viral fatigue” or “glandular fever” … But do not back down! You can ask your GP to refer you to your nearest menopause clinic.
To find your nearest British Menopause Society recognised specialist, visit their website and simply enter your postcode. You will then be presented with a list of your nearest NHS and/or Private Menopause Clinics. Unfortunately, there are not nearly enough NHS Clinics in the UK and some have waiting lists of 3 to 6 months. If you find yourself in desperate need of help, you may be looking at privately funding a consultation. I have had to do this on a couple of occasions and, although I didn’t have the funds to do this continuously, it was what I needed at the time to help me get onto the right treatment path as I waited for my NHS menopause clinic appointment to come through.
I generally find that once you are under the ongoing care of a menopause specialist you can then start to take charge of your own health and look at what does and does not work for you in terms of diet, nutrition, exercise and life style choices (more about this in our ongoing management of surgical menopause info sheet).
Another piece of advice I’d like to give is not to neglect your mental health. I was not offered any form of counselling either before or after my hysterectomy. To be honest, I had never considered counselling until I was plunged into the dark times that surgical menopause brought upon me.
I would advise any woman having a difficult time with surgical menopause to seek some support with a therapist who has a special interest in menopause.
It can be really hard facing up to certain things along the way but, with the right support, you can really begin to focus on accepting your situation and focus your mind on all the positives that life still has to offer.
Do your research and arm yourself with as much information as possible! The internet is a great resource of information if you know where to look. I’ve popped a few website links below to get you started:
British Menopause Society (BMS)
Women’s Health Concern (the patient arm of the BMS)
My Menopause Doctor
Something that I really struggled with in the first couple of years after surgery was finding others who were going through what I was. It was a lonely place and I felt like no one else was going through what I was – I even began to question my sanity.
This is where the good side of social media comes into its own. I joined a couple of closed groups on Facebook where other women can discuss all things related to menopause in a supportive and kind environment. It was helpful to read what others had experienced and how they overcame or learned to manage particular symptoms. It is also a great place to reach out if you are feeling a little lost or low. There are also some great resources and guides to read through on these groups. All of them are provided to empower women with information so that they can take charge of their own well-being.
But it wasn’t until I joined Instagram around 3 ½ years after surgery that I really began to connect with a community of truly amazing, kind and supportive women. Social media can be a double-edged sword but I have discovered professional menopause accounts, patient expert accounts, patient campaigners – and I have even made close friends with a few of the people I have met through sharing my experience. I have learned that peer support is a vital part of your toolkit: post hysterectomy, you do not have to feel alone in this – please reach out if you are struggling.