Navigating conversations about menopause requires a delicate balance of understanding and empathy, especially for women who have undergone cancer treatments. However, despite the growing awareness surrounding menopause, the specific challenges faced by individuals post-cancer often go unnoticed. Managing menopause after cancer can be harder as there are fewer treatment options available compared to women who haven’t experienced cancer. “What Not to Say to a Menopausal Cancer Survivor” is our advice based on conversations in our Facebook group. We know many of you feel alone and are a little upset by well-meaning advice from others who don’t understand the intricacies of the situation we find ourselves in.

A recent survey carried out in collaboration with University College London Hospital revealed that 90.4% of the women surveyed began menopause as a direct result of their cancer treatment. This data highlights the importance of making sure that conversations around menopause are handled sensitively and responsibly.  

Much research has been conducted into the emotional symptoms of menopause at 50, for example. However, it’s important to acknowledge that managing menopausal symptoms can be both physically and emotionally more demanding for women of any age following cancer treatment. In this blog, we explore the significance of approaching these discussions with compassion and sensitivity and shed light on the unique experiences of those affected by cancer treatments during menopause.

The menopause ‘holiday’ myth

Have you ever heard someone say, “It must be nice not to worry about periods anymore”? While it might seem like a perk, the reality of menopause, especially after cancer treatment, is far from a holiday. The hot flushes, mood swings, and sleepless nights are just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, we understand that it might feel appropriate to make light of a situation, and friends don’t always know what to say, but we also know how upset many of the people in our community feel after conversations like these.

Plus, many women facing menopause post-cancer also struggle with the emotional weight of infertility. So, assuming menopause is a carefree break from periods overlooks the challenges women have to deal with. So, it’s important to ditch the oversimplifications and offer understanding and support where it’s really needed. Explaining to others how complex your situation is is a good starting point!

Early menopause induced by cancer treatment

Sure, beating cancer is a triumph, but the aftermath often includes unexpected challenges, like early menopause induced by treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, long-term hormone treatment and surgery. These interventions can disrupt ovarian function, causing menopausal symptoms to emerge prematurely. 

While survival is celebrated, the reality of facing menopause earlier than expected can evoke a mix of emotions. Despite the relief of overcoming cancer, many women grapple with feelings of loss, uncertainty, and even grief over the abrupt end of their reproductive years. It’s a complex journey that warrants understanding and support alongside the cheers for defeating cancer. We hear from so many of you that you don’t want to be seen as complaining, after all, you’re lucky to have overcome cancer. But, we need to share what we’re experiencing so that our doctors can help us, and family, friends and employers can support us.

The misconceptions about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is often advertised as the best solution to menopausal symptoms, offering relief from hot flushes, mood swings, and more. However, many survivors are told that HRT is contraindicated. So, it might feel very frustrating when all your friends say how amazing HRT is when it’s not an option for you – particularly when your doctor hasn’t given you any other alternatives. We also know that many of you had to stop your HRT when you were diagnosed, so this might feel like a double whammy. Understandably, you could be worried about how you might feel once you have to stop. This is compounded by the fact that women receive no support in managing this transition. Not only are you told you have cancer, but you’re also told you have to come off your HRT. It’s very tough!

Challenging cancer treatment myths

Myth: “You’re so lucky you didn’t need chemo.” This downplays the experiences of women who didn’t go through chemotherapy during their cancer treatment. While avoiding chemo might spare some from its tough side effects, it doesn’t mean their journey was a walk in the park. Each treatment route has its share of physical, emotional, and mental hurdles. Comparing them can brush aside the struggles each individual faces.

Myth: “Tamoxifen is just a little white pill.” Tamoxifen may seem small, but its effects are anything but minor. Many women grapple with its side effects, from hot flushes to joint aches and memory problems. While it is, of course, a medication to help reduce cancer from returning, the toll it takes on women’s health mustn’t be overlooked. Celebrating the end of active treatment often misses the ongoing challenges of Tamoxifen therapy, emphasising the need for continuous support and understanding post-treatment.

How to offer support instead of assumptions

If you’re reading this and you want to support a friend or family member, then here are our top tips on how you can offer good support:

When supporting a woman experiencing menopause after cancer, it’s important to prioritise open dialogue, active listening, and empathy over assumptions. It’s ok to say ‘I had no clue all this was happening to you!’ Instead of offering unsolicited advice or trivialising their experience, create a safe space for them to express their feelings and concerns without judgment. Let them know you’re there to listen and support them through this transition. 

Avoid making assumptions about what they’re going through or suggesting quick fixes like hormone replacement therapy without understanding their individual needs and preferences. Validate their experiences and offer practical support, whether that’s helping them find resources, accompanying them to appointments, or simply being there to lend a listening ear. By showing empathy and understanding, you can make a meaningful difference in their journey through menopause. Most importantly, you don’t need to help them fix it all. Instead, just by saying, ‘Tell me more about what’s happening to you, because I have so little knowledge’, you’ll be off to a great start. 

Supporting women through menopause

To wrap up, it’s clear that supporting women through menopause, especially after cancer treatment, is all about empathy and understanding. We’ve busted some myths, talked about the ups and downs of treatments like hormone replacement therapy, and highlighted the challenges of early menopause. 

Explore menopause resources and support networks

Take the next step in understanding menopause and its effects by delving deeper into the topic. Explore resources tailored for menopausal women and their supporters to gain insights and knowledge about this transformative phase of life. Whether you’re seeking information for yourself or looking to support a loved one, plenty of valuable resources are available. 

Plus, consider joining our community forum or support groups to connect with others going through similar experiences. Share advice, seek guidance, and build a supportive network as you navigate the journey of menopause together. Check out the links below to get started:

Get your voice heard

Now, we want to hear from you. Share your experiences in our Facebook group, and let us know how you’d like to be supported during menopause. By listening to each other and offering a helping hand, we can create a caring and inclusive community for women going through this journey. Together, let’s stand by each other with compassion and kindness.

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