Continuing on with my series about my experience so far with Menopause and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Check out Ageing and Changing and Doctor Time if you missed them and want to read what came before this post. Doctor time ended with the nurse sending me off with instructions to keep a daily diary of symptoms and also some wise words about how as women we are conditioned to grin and bear and it.
I kept thinking about what she had said. Even as she had been talking I knew I had been shifting in my seat an almost guilt like feeling developing in me as I recognised myself, but I smiled at her, thanked her for time, and hurried on my way. I did as she suggested. Found a little notebook and started jotting down things I noticed each day.
It is very easy to forget how you were yesterday, or a couple of days ago. Changes can be gradual and sometimes so very subtle making it easier to dismiss, and also just accept as your version of normal. It is not like when you are sick and you wake up and you know it, your nose is streaming, your throat is sore etc. It’s far more creeping and insidious than that. Writing it down every day, even if some days all I wrote was, so tired today, very quickly made it apparently clear that things were definitely not OK.
I can’t tell you how many days I wrote down, so tired today, and when I say tired I mean the bleary eyed kind of tired that makes your brain foggy. Oh and yes brain fog too, finding it hard to concentrate, being forgetful. The night sweats were starting to become more often than not and I had even started having some hot flushes during the day, although not many to be honest. I knew my aching joints was getting worse so that was not a surprise, but also my sex drive was definitely starting to dip. I really wasn’t that bothered. Mostly I think because I was so tired all the time rather than not wanting sex but still.
After 3 weeks I made another appointment with the nurse and went back. She was surprised to see me so soon but I told her what had happened and she smiled and said, well I thought so but usually I find it takes most people a couple of months before they come back.
We had already talked a bit about the Hormone Replacement Therapy options but now that I was back and definitely wanting to go ahead she went into a lot more. She told me the one she thought I should start with. Basically there are two types, one for when you are still ovulating and one for when you are not. Because I had a period in the last 6 months, in fact I had just had 2 within 3 weeks of each other, she said I was definitely still ovulating and so to start with the type that combines oestrogen and progesterone. It basically mimics your ‘normal’ hormone cycle. She told me I should still have a period which would be at the end of each pack but not to worry if I didn’t. She also talked about some of the common side effects like sore/tender breasts etc.
We talked about the breast cancer risk again and she told me to make sure I went to my mammogram screening that I should get in the next 12 months as I will be turning 50 and went over the common things to look out for but also not to worry about it as the potential risk was actually tiny.
She took my blood pressure. She did not weigh me, or mention anything related to weight. She talked through how the patches worked, when to change them, what to do if they come off, and also said be patient. Just like your symptoms slowly crept up on you, you are probably not going to notice huge changes in the first month. She gave my a prescription for 3 months worth and told to make an appointment to see her roughly during the middle of the last packet.
I had to wait a couple of days for the prescription to go to the pharmacy as I picked to have it sent electronically and finally I had my new patches in my hand.
The instructions she gave me was to wait for my next period and then put the 1st Hormone Replacement Therapy patch on the 1st day of my period but that if my period didn’t come after a week or so when it was due to just start it anyway. So I waited. I actually wait about 6 weeks as I constantly felt like my period was about to start but in the end I realised I could be waiting 3 months or even more and every day I was feeling more and more emotionally fragile and tired.
So I went for it.
The very first patch peeled off in the hot tub. I did wait to use the hot tub until patch changing day. They get changed twice a week. The days depend on which day you started. My patch days are Wednesday and Sunday. So I waited until the Wednesday to use the bot tub. I was disappointed when it peeled off. I know 1st world problems, but I love my hot tub and I didn’t to only be able to use it on patch change day. So I went online and did some research and ended up buying some second skin patches on Amazon. However I have never used them because the next time I got in the hot tub it stayed absolutely firmly in place and I realised that the reason it had peeled off the first time was that I put the patch too close to crease at the top of my thigh and so when I sat and bent it was constantly folding in that crease and that had created a little gap where the water had basically got it and just lift it off. Now I have found the perfect patch placement spot which it slightly lower down on the fleshy part of my thigh/side of my bum I don’t have a single problem with it.
Despite the nurse saying I might not notice much change at first, well on that she wrong, because by the end of the first month the night sweats had completely stopped and I was back to sleeping again. I can’t tell you the relief that first morning I woke up and realised I had slept a whole 7 hours without waking. I felt amazing. Like I was me again. When Michael appeared in my room with my morning tea I was literally bouncing around in my bed I was so happy. I have not had any more night sweats or hot flushes since starting the patches.
I have been on them 4 months now and right at this moment you would have to wrestle them from my cold dead hands to get my to give them up because Hormone Replacement Therapy has totally changed my life for the better. I have more energy, I sleep properly, my mood is back to being nothing much to report. I get some slight emotional dip towards the end of a packet but that pretty much mirrors the PMT I had during my normal cycle. So far I have had a period every month. It is nice now though as I am back to knowing exactly when it will happen and also they are fairly light and last about 3-4 days. My stiff joints have greatly improved. It is no longer in my back or hips, but my fingers and feet still ache sometimes but nothing like they did and it continues to slowly improve.
When I went back for my check up I talked about that being the one thing that has lingered and she pointed out that it had taken 6 – 9 months for it to slowly build up and it could be normal to expect the same in reverse and it is improving just not gone away completely. The only real side effect I have experienced so far has been the sore boobs. One month, the 2nd month, they were so sore that it was almost a tingling sharp pain but that seems to have gone away now and they are just sore and tender but again only during the later half of the pack as I get closer to my period. It is not the worse the though, actually I rather enjoy the extra sensitivity!
I now have 6 months worth of Hormone Replacement Therapy patches and then I will go back for another check up. That will be with my new doctor which I am slightly apprehensive about because I have heard so many negative stories of people trying to get HRT from their doctor and not being listened to but hopefully as I am already on it and happy it should be fairly straight forward. I will of course write more when the time comes.
I plan to keep returning to this subject and talking about other related aspects. I have a post planned about libido/sex drive and one about my vulva/vagina but I am sure there will be other ones that appear to. If you have any questions or anything in particular you would like me to write more about please do leave me a comment or drop me an email. As always this is only my experience of the menopause and Hormone Replacement Therapy, everyone will be different but I wanted to be open and honest about it because as I said in my first post on the subject it still largely remains a taboo subject, far more so then periods themselves even and yet 50% of the population will experience it at some point in their life and it will often go on for a significant number of years. Unlike for my Mother’s generation when mostly it was a case of grit your teeth. that is no longer the only option out there.
I never thought I would ever go down the HRT route especially after my other experiences of hormone contraception but I can truly say that I am so glad I went and talked to someone and that I decided to give it a try. It has revolutionised my daily life. I feel like me again. I saw recently a quote by one of the menopause experts I follow on twitter than went along the lines of, we don’t want special treatment, we just want treatment. When you get your hormones back and balanced you get your life back and more balanced. I know it is not for everyone but it definitely an option for many so don’t grin and bear it, patch and grin about it instead!
My mother used to take HRT to “counter the effects of the menopause” (although, as a teen, I didn’t know what the menopause was, but I took her words as gospel and didn’t pry). In her case, she didn’t take any form of visible medication (as far as I could tell) – she baked a special kind of brownie that she kept in the fridge (in a plastic box reading HRT in huge bold letters).
To this day I’m not sure what was in it and, later in life when I found out what HRT was, I fully intended to ask her what was in her bakes, how it substituted for medicine, and why she kept eating them even though, from the look on her face, she clearly wasn’t enjoying them.
But I never did ask her. So I never found out.
I know Evening Primrose Oil and St. John’s Wort are thought to be useful herbal remedies for the symptoms of menopause so maybe she was baking them into cakes or could she have been making hash cakes?