Wednesday, November 30, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Supporting Yourself Through Menopause

Tina opened an area of discussion in her comment to my post yesterday.

She asks, "So my question is have you ever felt that doing anything to support yourself or even to diminish symptoms was in anyway untrue to your feeling that 'menopause is not a disease and does not need to be cured.' "

First, allow me to haul out a metaphor.

We know that pregnancy is not a disease. Yet, when a woman gets pregnant, she can expect to go through a tremendous number of physical changes, not all of them fun or pretty, with some lasting nine months and much farther beyond.

Morning sickness is one that comes to mind.

We know that morning sickness usually subsides after the first trimester. We know that by eating, small amounts of food frequently, and sticking to dry crackers, apples and lots of water during the worst times, the feeling of nauseousness will be reduced. We also know that motion sickness medication reduces nauseousness, and has side effects..

Do we change our eating habits and support ourselves through this stage? Do we rigidly stick to our regular eating habits and keep puking for the three months? Or do we pop a pill every day and worry about the side effects later?

The wise, common sense answer is not rocket science.

Menopause is as natural a process as pregnancy.

If I'm having a hot flash, I seek cooler conditions, remove some clothes, take a cool bath. If I want to reduce the number of hot flashes in my future, I take evening primrose oil, eat more beans, soya and flax. I support my bodies needs, naturally using methods that have no harmful side effects.

Essentially, I change my ways to support the change I face in order that the process of change is easier. I have no interest in making my own life more difficult. There are enough idiot's in the world doing that without my consent.

The beginning of anything new takes some getting used to. Humans resist change by nature. And menopause is change with a bad rap thanks to our youthcentric culture. Plus there's a massive pharmaceutical industry out there with a pill for every occasion and a marketing budget that tops many small countries GNP.

But we still have the ultimate choice to make wise decisions for ourselves, define aging in our own way, gracefully embrace our process of change and be our age with confidence.

Sue Richards


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Hot Flash Help

According to the U.S. National Institute of Health a hot flash is a sudden temporary onset of body warmth, flushing and sweating.

According to me, a hot flash is a shocking sensation of tropical type humidity that soaks, swells and flushes your flesh as it rushes, like a wave breaking over your body from bottom to top.

The Mayo Clinic reports that 75% of menopausal and post menopausal women experience hot flashes making them one of the most common issues for this age and gender.

I've mentioned global warming before on this blog. It would seem that if 75% of nearly one third of the world's population of women is over heating, something else is warming too.

What to do, what to do:

  • Move to Canada and live outside.
  • Take a pole dancing class and learn to strip.
  • If you're more modest, dress in easy to remove, multiple layers, then remove them one at a time.
  • Buy a cheap hand held fan and be your own fan base.
  • Turn down the furnace.
  • Go outside if it's cooler.
  • Open the windows.
  • Go sit in the basement.
  • Avoid food that is known to trigger a flash. Your personal list may consist of things you love like spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol. Sorry, but lettuce never has nor likely will be a trigger.
  • Slowly introduce more soy and flax seed in your diet. These, plus beans, peas and lentils contain "phytoestrogens. Researchers believe phytoestrogens may reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, and also help prevent heart disease and osteoporosis, although this has not yet been proven. Regardless, this type of protein is very good for your whole system. And being full of beans can be fun.
What to do if you remember:
  • Before bed, take the recommended on the bottle adult dose of magnesium/calcium combination.
  • Keep spare PJ's (or towel if you sleep nude) available. Although I haven't tried it, I'm told that 'Moisture Wicking' nightwear is pretty cool too.
  • Have a fresh set of sheets nearby just in case you 'have a soaker'.
Personally, I highly recommend getting a stash of fine quality semi-sweet chocolate to help you through your hottest times. It'll melt in your mouth and in your hand. Be warned that this is not scientifically proven, but it has no known side effects except perhaps another hot flash triggered by the caffeine in the chocolate. Any maybe some wild, hot, edible sex....with chocolate stains everywhere.

Sue Richards


Sunday, November 27, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Yoga

I got a comment on a previous post about the benefits of yoga for mind, body and spirit.

With 15 years of inconsistent but well intended yoga study under my soft roll down waist band, I completely concur. As one of my instructors points out, yoga makes you fall in love with your body.

What better time than right now.

Sue Richards


Saturday, November 26, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Down Down

Mostly, I am a frozen turd.

From early October to late April, since I can remember, I've been cold. Blue actually. Quite shockingly without any warmth to most of my body. People who touch me during my corpse season recoil in horror. Then they flee lest I'm contagious. Like freezer burn perhaps.

As I entered the neighbourhood of the Pause, the very idea of a hot flash was exotic to me. Imagine being frozen and then suddenly hot without the mess and bother of submerging myself in boiling water or burying myself in twelve layers of wicking, poly-pro, down stuffed clothing.

The mere thought makes me tepid and giddy with hope.

But why wait for my hormones to rear their hot little heads. This year, thanks to a flush in my bank account and a fondness for down, I've cornered the market by purchasing four high quality, feather filled items that I am fully in love with.

New gloves that triple the size of my hands but are guaranteed for minus 3,000 will solve my frozen finger syndrome. A duvet, light as...well a feather ....snuggles me through the horizontal part of my day. My full feather jacket, with the big puffy lid, gives my body practice for that post menopausal look that's nearing anyway. And last but not least, my vest, which since I've owned it has not left my body unless I'm wrapped in one of the previously mentioned items.

That is, until last evening. In mid conversation, down vest wrapped and all, the heat started clawing it's way up my spin, around my ribs and straight to my head. This wasn't gentle, consistent down heat. I was flashing for all to see.

Quick out of the gate I was.... unzipping my downy cover and tossing it on the floor with noticeable speed. The conversation, about this blog, got a dramatic underscore. And I got a taste of my global warming.

Sue Richards


Friday, November 25, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Winter is Menopause

There is snow covering the land of Guelph. The light, fluffy variety that seems playful, even pretty. Fun kiddie snow.

Kind of seductive really. You can almost believe that this winter won't be so bad when the first snow fall glitters so. But this kind of snow is not the only snow that falls. My personal fave is the heavy cow shit sized hunks that fall at night, filling my driveway to the brim. This followed by the 'just doing my job' snow plow operator who mounds said 'snow shit' into a wall across the end of my exit. The second of the 1-2 punch is the instant drop in temperature that magically follows the plow like winter follows fall.

There is nothing quite like waking up to an impenetrable mountain of ice blocking a car that's needed. There's not enough coffee in the world to offset this feeling.

But strangely, I manage to escape. Last year, I took my ax to the whole mess. I call this 'girl driveway clearing'. It wasn't pretty to watch, and I know I made my neighbour nervous, but it was effective. And within two days I was free, albeit crippled with back pain. But proudly, with both limbs still attached.

This post has nothing to do with menopause or my period.

Not on the surface anyway.

Winter is the season of menopause.

Sue Richards


Thursday, November 24, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Intruders

My first intruder of the day, if you can call my period that, decided to drop by, unannounced, for mid-morning coffee.

"Staying long", I inquired as I rifled through my bathroom cupboard for 'the fixins'.

The usual twist of pain spoke volumes.

Well at least I get a shot of estrogen this month I thought. Might stop my hair from shedding.

My second intruder arrived under cover of darkness. I'm strangely unfazed by the experience, my first of this kind. As a future precaution, I told the cop I was going to write down my neighbours phone number and keep it by my bed.

The big, burly man in uniform looked at me with amusement, then said, "Dial 911, not your neighbour".

"Ah yes", I blushed, mentally comparing, my image of thin, artist Gareth with the man before me. "What a good idea."

Sue Richards


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Weapons of Mass Destruction

One would think, that since we can put a couple of men on the moon just because it beckons, we could figure out how to accurately and easily test our hormone levels.

Let's face it, hormones, unlike the old man in the moon, threaten world peace every minute of everyday. This constant and known issue should be a priority to national security forces around the world.

I realize that national security is mostly comprised of men and men's hormone's play a different game. But these men have mothers, perhaps wives, maybe daughters, all of them moving towards or in menopause. This must be the ultimate Homeland Security issue sitting right smack dab in your house. In fact, this menace could be sharing your bed.

Listen up fellows, let's be frank. We, the menopausal women of the world, have weapons of mass destruction. They are not hidden in a cave somewhere in the Canadian Shield. We are each carrying. Holding. Packing a wad.

We would like to continue living our lives without fear of killing you or being depressed. We do not want to be given a 'silver bullet' that will cause other ugly symptoms or disease. We seek balance, naturally, safely.

We admit this freely to you in the hopes that you will put a bit of your problem solving nature into motion with the following:

  1. Saliva Hormone Testing has been around for 30 years and has not been embraced by the medical community. Studies show that this affordable test, done in the comfort of your own home is accurate at determining hormone levels. Saliva testing plays a key role in bio-identical hormone replacement, an individualized, low dose form of natural HRT. Please launch Operation Spit Test and encourage the medical community to learn about this form of testing and bio-identical hormone replacement now.
My menopause is not your menopause. Difficult as it may sound, one size pill/patch or cream does not fit all. We are unique creatures, all of us.

For those women who want a full menu of meno treatment options, we need individual testing and individualized, natural hormone replacement. Since you guys seem to be running the joint, would you mind looking into that for us.

Sue Richards


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

My Menopause Blog: The Lesser Talked About Telltale Signs of Menopause

There's ying.

And then there's yang.

Yesterday's post focused on the physical changes that knock on your door as you move through menopause. These are frequently bantered about, instilling dread and loathing into any woman in the neighbourhood of 'the pause.' I mean, who wants to fry, dry up, or melt down with no notice?

I fall prey to this menopausal fear mongering all the time. But then I remember how much calmer and self assured I feel and how given the choice I would not want to be a minute younger. Besides, unless you are experiencing Sudden Menopause (my condolences) the symptoms of menopause have the urgency of a garden slug and the predictability of the weather. Maybe you'll be warm today. Maybe you won't.

Besides physical changes, it stands to reason that women go through a spiritual and emotional transition too. Here's a list of the lesser talked about, but no less significant menopausal signs.

  • Wisdom: ability to use foresight and hindsight in tandem.
  • Sexual freedom: fear of pregnancy vanishes.
  • Confidence: increases.
  • Speaking up: willingness to speak your mind blossoms.
  • Lightening up: less sweating of the small stuff.
  • Adventuring: new energy for new adventures.
  • Learning: a quest for new knowledge.
  • Authenticity: more real and true to self.
  • Power: recognition of personal power and how to use it.
  • Creativity: surges of creative energy emerge.
  • Laughter: recognize life as funny.
  • Courage: built from life experience.
  • Compassion: increases for self and others.
  • Forgiveness: willing to let go of grudges and other baggage.
  • Knowing: what you do and don't want.
  • Grief: a time to mourn life's collection of losses.
Women often speak of gaining a 'zest for life' during their menopausal years. Menopause signals a time when child bearing, rearing and nurturing are finished thus freeing up a tremendous amount of energy and time for other more self focused activities. You no longer need to keep the family ship floating.

Finally, it's your turn girlfriend.

Sue Richards


Monday, November 21, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Telltale Symptoms of Menopause

When people, men and women alike, think of menopause, it is the hot flash that gets the most attention. Given 75% of menopausal women face some degree of flushing, this makes sense.

Hot flashes also get the focus they do because they lean toward the dramatic side of the coin. If you're bright red with beads of sweat pouring down your brow and indulge your desire to strip naked, you will be noticed. You will also be on high alert for future heat attacks and likely take some measures to reduce the flame.

The hot flash is not the only thing to look forward to as you enter this stage of your life. Declining estrogen production will impact other parts of your body besides your central heating system.

Take this list of other telltale symptoms for example. (Pass this post on to other pre/peri/meno/post women you know.)

  • Night Sweats: first nocturnal cousin of the hot flash.
  • Weight Gain: sometimes referred to as figure changing, shape shifting or thickening.
  • Memory Lapse: the nice way of saying your brain turns into a sieve.
  • Vaginal Dryness: the oasis turns to desert.
  • Vaginal Itching: ouch.
  • Decreased Sexual Desire: the third in the trilogy.
  • Mentrual Irregularity: the band does not play on.
  • PMS: prementrual syndrome becomes peri-menopausal syndrome. Same thing, different day.
  • Dizziness: can be nauseating.
  • Heart Palpitations: beating to a different drummer. No cardio vascular required.
  • Migraines and Head Aches: throbbing noggin'. Needles in your eyeballs feeling.
  • Stiff Joints: knees, hips, shoulders all seem to be fused together.
  • Leg Cramps: your PMS cramps move from your lower abdomen to your legs.
  • Body Aches: all parts, for no apparent reason, anytime.
  • Fractures: your bone density is revealed in a snap.
  • Breast Tenderness: double ouch.
  • High Blood Pressure: know as hyper-tension, your blood flow reduces.
  • Skin Wrinkles: face character enhancement.
  • Bladder Control/Infections: frequent, urgent, often or ouch.
  • Mood Swings: shifts in your outlook from one blood curdling extreme to the next.
  • Digestive Sensitivity: you've reached your quota.
  • Fluid Retention: swelling up.
  • Hair Thinning: falling out.
As you can see, pretty much every part of you, top to bottom, inside and out will go through a metamorphosis of some sort. Kind if like a baby in the womb, only opposite.

Not everyone will experience all these symptoms at once or at all. But the stages of menopause have fuzzy lines drawn between them. No symptom is cut and dry, orderly about appearing or predictable.

Kind of rogue like, your menopause will unfold with little consideration of your appointment book, with little regard period.

Sue Richards


Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Warranty Expired

I am a physical wreck.

Following Friday's collision with 'death desk', and the subsequent blackening of my left thigh, I cautiously made my way through Saturday. No crazy sex for this kitty cat. Rather, I found solace in a bottle of Italian Red and a pork tenderloin.

For reasons that defy logic, this morning, clad in a sweater and knee high slippers, I decided to muck through my largest closet. My mission. To find my old brown down coat and store my 'not warm enough for winter' leather jackets.

When my lower back seized up, it was immediately clear that I had a situation on my hands. Deep in the back of this no-woman's land, no pants in sight, I was in pain deeper than 'death desk' had dished out.

I lowered myself to the floor. This after discovering there was no way up. So, butt to the ground, I backed my way out.


Every movement offered the undesired feeling of having a butcher knife jabbed into my sacrum.

Too vivid?

Too bad.

Once out of the closet, I used my desk to straighten.

Sound gay?

It wasn't.

I did a quick inventory. Seemed that as long as I stayed ramrod straight, my back felt normal.

Too bad I had to pee.

That's yet another feature of menopause....frequent peeing.

But I digress. Or do I? Regardless. My body seems to be in a state of decline.

I told Gareth to put me in my composter.

Sue Richards


Saturday, November 19, 2005

My Menopause Blog: When I Am An Old Lady

My sister-in-law gave me the book, When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple when I was in my early 30's. Seemed my fashion reputation was established and she wanted to show her support. Or maybe it was her way of warning me of my dotty future.

Regardless. I wear purple. Always have. And if the book is accurate, it's just going to get more pronounced.

Which may be bad for my health if last evening's tragedy is an indicator.

I attended The WalMart Movie, The High Cost of Low Prices at the University of Guelph, my alma mater.I could go on. Better if you see the film yourself.

It's a bit nippy up here in Canada right now so I was bundled up in multiple layers of colourful clothing. Envision this. Mint green corduroy pants, orange jacket and scarf, mauve hat.

For those with limited colour education, mauve is a tint of purple. Orange, green and purple complete a triad colour scheme. It's a distinct, yet fetching look that is part of my signature.

I rotate around the colour orange.

As I walked across the front of the mostly full auditorium of 300 people, I suddenly became self conscious of my mauve hat. I go through this every winter. Hats, for me, take some getting used to and the season has just started. The hat in question is brand spanking new and very noticeable. My extrovert bought it. Now my introvert was wearing it.

In my attempt to remove my new hat, with a nonchalant flip of my wrist, I lost my attention on the task of negotiating the seats, narrow ledge and upcoming obstacles. Distracted, I rammed my left thigh, with incredible force, into a hard plastic desk top.

Instantly my entire leg shot full of pain. I, now embarrassed, in excruciating pain, with hat head, and still in the front of the audience, soldiered on with nary a grimace.

Liar, liar, leg on fire, my inside voice screamed, me certain blood would start to appear on my green pants at any moment.

For the rest of the evening, all night, and currently, my leg is but a shadow of what it was before my mauve hat insecurity reared it's friggin head. The bed sheets hurt. My pants are killing me. Don't get me started on the water from my shower.

Ironically, my thigh is purple.

When I am an old lady be damned.

Sue Richards


Thursday, November 17, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Blogging Better Health

The Canadian Women's Health Network has asked me to write a story for their spring edition of Network Magazine. The topic: women's health blogs. My approach: light yet informed.

Rather than blither on about how wildly good blogging about health issues that resonate for me has been, I would like to include a splattering of the broader (pun intended) world of women blogging about their health.

I can't promise live links to your blogs. But I can provide a map and introduce a readership to the blogosphere.

Interested in sharing your story? Please comment on this post.

Sue Richards


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Estrogen Deficiency

Yet another perspective....from Dr. Love.

“If estrogen deficiency is a disease, all men have it!”

Dr. Susan Love's Menopause and Hormone Book: Making Informed Choices

Sue Richards


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Taking Ownership

Finally, the type of November day that crawls under my skin and shakes me to the core. Bleak is the word. Chilling, gray, somber, deathly are reasonable substitutes. I have no doubt that when I die, it will be in November.

I find November's seasonal transition the toughest to weather. It's the end of a pleasant relationship...the one I have with spring, summer and early fall. The parting from something I love to something that I find more challenging....winter.

And yet, winter can be so satisfying. My introverted side gets to fully exercise, tucked in and away. I own down filled duvets, coats and mitts, good boots, funky hats. I know many stunning trails and dogs who love to walk. I have a woodstove. So it's not winter per say. It is the transition to winter from a more colourful, higher energy state.

Much like menopause I guess. A transition.

Here's a wee bone that I would like to pick.

Notice that I did not use universal language, the royal 'we' and suggest that you too feel as I about November. Instead, I took ownership of my own feelings.

Currently, I could list a arms length of friends, who are giddy ...darn well busting with excitement about this month. They love every grey sky, soggy leaf, frost frozen plant.

I find these friends charming and yet slightly annoying. I'm attached to my grim reaper November attitude. Heaven forbid that my attitude adjust and I become more accepting of what is.

Here's how I handle them. I let them be cheerful. I don't try to convince them that my way, the dark and winding road, is the only sane approach to handling November. Secretly, deep down, I do hope that some of their 'come what may' vibe will help temper my doomed view. But I also stand firm in my negative perspective. I don't want to be cajoled out of my headspace. I'd rather find my way through, adjusting if I please, because a shift in my approach simply makes more sense to me.

I hate it when people tell me how I feel. Or when they incorrectly assume I feel as they do.

Unlike November, I pre-decided to take My Menopause ride with a sense of adventure and a bag full of curiosity. Humor too. Given My Menopause trip will last a stunning dozen years, give or take, I'm looking for a long, hardy laugh, the easiest passage and an interesting experience. I aspire to be the cover girl for Natural Menopause.

You may not feel the same way. And that's fine with me.

As my friend Pierre says, "Vive la difference!"

Sue Richards


Monday, November 14, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Social Conditioning

In University, I had a rat. My job, as part of a behavioral psychology course, was to 'condition' (train) the rat to press a bar for food, and avoid another similar bar that offered nothing.

Once the rat learned the pattern, the professor would change the experiment and a new series of actions would have to be learned in order for Rattie to get it's food pellet reward.

Rattie was being 'socially conditioned' to behave in a way that I saw fit. This was an experiment. The subject was a rat. We were in a lab. I was a student learning course content.

How does this experiment differ when the subjects are unaware people and the lab is society. And the folks in charge of the pellet machine are hired marketing professionals.

Last week, I asked myself the question, "does my estrogen dip stick say ADD A QUART or is this part of my conditioning as a peri-menopausal woman in a pharmaceutical driven society."

In yesterday's post, Kathleen succinctly nailed the issue. "If there's one thing we can count on as the march of science and medicine continue apace, it is the inevitable '‘pharmaceutical fix' to cure women from the illness of being women."

Ah yes, the illness of being a women. Let's see...yup, all those cranky cramps, and that bloody blood, relentlessly pouring, month in, month out. Better solve that.

Changing our minds? That's an affliction for sure. Why would anyone change their mind in such a dynamic and complex world where lies are layered one upon the other? Better take this pill.

Not interested in sexual intimacy with the lug who never speaks, remote glued in his hand? Your dysfunctional my dear.

Don't look like a fourteen year old girl anymore? Don't eat. Just use this powder in water, every other Wednesday and you'll be in Thinville in no time.

Breasts not big enough to rival the air brushed, altered women in the glossy mags? Fork over your savings and we'll cut and paste you into the perfect you.

But wait. What if the perfect you , is you?

Understand this. I am socially conditioned. You are socially conditioned. We are all socially conditioned.

The conditioners want you to do what they want. They want you to believe their story. They want you to want what they have.

Unless we all get this part clear, understand the hooks and bait that will be dangled in our faces by way of women's magazines, television and Hollywood movies, we will be swayed from our own truth and slaves to the whims of societies conditioning. It won't matter how untested period suppressinging drugs are. We'll just be rats in a cage, pressing a bar for our next dosage.

Sue Richards


Sunday, November 13, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Periods Are Not a Curse

Kathleen O’Grady is the Director of Communications for the Canadian Women’s Health Network and a Research Associate at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia. She's also my pal.

Saturday morning, as I thumbed through my thick weekend Globe and Mail, I proudly came across her byline on this excellent article.

Kathleen gave me permission to republish her story here.

Haven’t we learned our lesson yet?
Periods are not a curse

Published: Globe and Mail, Saturday, November 11, 2005; Focus Section.

You’ve likely read about it by now, in your favourite magazines, on TV and radio talk shows, and even in past issues of this newspaper. There is a new campaign afoot promising women a care-free, stay-free life with no more PMS or cramps or pads and tampons – a future free of periods.

Periods are bad for you, we are told; they involve unnecessary blood loss and iron depletion, and if you are not wanting to get pregnant, who needs them?

About bloody time, say many of the news commentators. But hang on: periods are not the ‘curse’ that many of us are led to believe. In fact, eliminating monthly menstruation artificially by ingesting synthetic hormones may do much more harm than good.

Two new prescription medications promise to make menses a thing of the past: Seasonale, already approved in the United States and under consideration for approval by Health Canada; and Anya, not yet approved in either country, but already promoted as the wave of the future. Both are traditional hormonal contraceptive products that promise the ‘added benefit’ of menstrual suppression (those on Anya would have no menstrual periods; Seasonale reduces annual periods to only four per year).

Given the profitability of Seasonale in the US for its maker, Barr (sales of $22 million in the past year alone), one can only assume that similar products are in other company development pipelines.

But what is often left out of the hype around these products are the possible serious health implications of suppressing a woman’s menstrual cycle over the long-term.

Firstly, there’s too much that we don’t know about menstrual suppression for healthy women (those who have unproblematic periods).

No long-term studies have been conducted on the impact that menstrual suppression may have on fertility. No long-term studies have been conducted on the ways in which menstrual suppression may affect the development (reproductive and otherwise) of young women. No long-term studies have been conducted on the effects of exposing women to hormones over a longer period of time than regular contraceptive pills, and in some methods, in (small, but significant) higher doses. Seasonale, for example, exposes women to nine more weeks of estrogen and progestin every year than a regular birth control regimen.

If this sounds like too much nay-saying and prophesies of doom, let’s look at a recent example -- which should constitute a warning -- of what harm can result from messing with women’s natural cycles without scientific rigour or reason.

Until recently, women entering the menopausal years were advised that taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was the healthy thing to do – an ingestion of animal and/or synthetic hormones to artificially supplement their own naturally declining estrogen levels.

HRT (estrogen plus progestin) was believed to be nothing short of a ‘miracle pill’ that could improve heart health, enhance sex drive, offset depression, prevent osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease and contribute to an overall improvement in the quality of life. Advertisements to doctors and patients alike on the glowing qualities of HRT were so convincing that by the 1990s and into the turn of the decade, tens of millions of women in North America alone were taking HRT regularly as a means to improve their health.

Unfortunately, what was missing from this rosy picture was the science. No extensive randomized clinical trials had been conducted to assess the risks and benefits of healthy menopausal women taking HRT over the long-term, even though that is precisely what they were advised to do by many medical bodies, health practitioners and glossy women’s magazines.

Starting to sound familiar?

Then, well after decades of exposing millions of menopausal women to hormonal products in the name of good health, the Women’s Health Initiative study (the largest double-blinded randomized clinical trial of long-term HRT use by healthy women) concluded that HRT may be linked to an increased risk of strokes, heart attacks, blood clots, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

Almost immediately medical bodies and health practitioners did an about face and changed their prescribing guidelines and practices; they no longer recommend HRT as a standard ‘treatment’ for menopause. But not before countless women were harmed by an unnecessary meddling with their bodies’ natural functions.

It seems, sadly, that we’ve not learned our lesson.

Of course, there are many women who have chronic health conditions (such as endometriosis or fibroids), and for whom menstruation and menopause may be problematic, painful or unhealthy, and who need medical intervention. But for the majority of women -- the target market for both HRT and menstrual suppression products -- our cycles are a sign of health, not of illness.

Implicit in the medical model of interference in women’s cycles, whether it be menstrual suppression or hormone ‘replacement’ therapy, is the idea that women’s bodies are broken and need fixing. That our cycles represent a disease that needs to be cured or repaired. Or even that women’s physicality is outmoded or defunct, too animal, too messy, too inconvenient, in need of updating, modernizing, mechanizing -- masculinizing.

It is no small irony that when we are menstruating, there are drugs to make us stop (menstrual suppression), and when we stop bleeding (menopause), there are drugs to make us menstrual again.

What drives this push to fix what ain’t broken is a misunderstanding of the complexity of women’s cycles. Menstruation is not just what happens when pregnancy does not – it is not just a failed process – but part of a complex cycle that is linked to other complex bodily systems that are directly involved in the development, health and well-being of women’s bodies. A healthy, regular menstruation signals that the body is well-nourished, that we are not overly stressed or under-threat, and that we are potentially fertile.

A failure to respect the intricacy and finely balanced nature of menstruation and menopause, and an undervaluing of the innate correctness of the female body – it is not flawed at the outset -- lead us to make the same mistake over and over again.

If there’s one thing we can count on as the march of science and medicine continue apace, it is the inevitable ‘pharmaceutical fix’ to cure women from the illness of being women.

But let’s break this particular unhealthy cycle and demand that the science come first, that we assess the real long-term risks of hormonal products against any possible benefits. Women only have true choices for their reproductive health when they are provided with all of the facts up front; in otherwords, an informed choice. Until then, long-term menstrual suppression is a gamble, an experiment for convenience with unknown consequences. We’ve gambled before and lost: let’s not wager again.

Sue Richards

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Friday, November 11, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Menopause Before 40

Breast of Canada Calendar customer and author Karin Banerd, contacted me with news of her book, Menopause Before 40. Given my posts about Sudden and Premature Menopause over the last few weeks, and the fact that My Menopause is not Sudden or Premature, I thought the title would make a good resource for those of you who are in this tricky boat.

To save you from winding your way through my blog, looking for the aforementioned previous posts, I have conveniently collected the links here.

Sudden and Premature Menopause
Causes of 'The Pause'.
Dealing With Sudden Menopause

Sue Richards

My Menopause Blog: Shape Shifting

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Dave Coverly, the talent behind one of my favorite comics Speedbump, gave me permission to post this gem.

More serious estrogen talk to come. But for now, a comical break.

Sue Richards

Thursday, November 10, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Estrogen Level - 2

So after writing yesterday's post I said to myself, "Sue, have you noticed a lot of toothless, wrinkled, sex mad women out there wearing diapers"? "Does my estrogen dip stick say ADD A QUART or is this part of my conditioning as a peri-menopausal woman in a pharmaceutical driven society."

Granny didn't think she had a problem with estrogen because she didn't. She wasn't loosing estrogen like the hankies and tissue that trailed after her. Her body was no longer producing as much.

Famous female celebrities will tell you that menopause can be cured by replacing lost estrogen. Open any women's magazine and I'm certain you will quickly find an endorsement.

What the 'stars' don't tell you is that they are being paid hugh sums of money to recommend the 'curing' product.

And really, who has more power to influence the average woman, than a beautiful, female star? It's no wonder that 'cure' making companies are hiring them on as marketing mavens.

But wait my friends. There's a fly in the ointment here. Menopause is not a disease. It is a stage in the natural aging process. And like it or not, humans have a life span. An expiry date. Best before. Production shuts down. Body parts wear out.

Best to make hay while the sun shines.

Menopause is BIG, BIG business. The more the business people who profit from menopause can convince you that your estrogen levels need to be topped up, with a little help from their various medicines, the more money they make. And make. And make.

And no, they are not thinking about your well being. Most business operates on a single bottom line. Profit. Profit comes before people. Always has. Always will.

The day businesses across the board, start looking at a triple bottom line; profit plus social and environment factors, then we can spend less time looking over our shoulders.

Here's the gist. Menopause is not a hormone deficiency disease. There are natural remedies to help ease the way. There's nothing wrong with getting older.

Your body is very smart. We just have to listen.

Sue Richards

Other pity comments on women's health can be found on my Calendar Girl Blog.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Estrogen Level

So here I am, on a rainy day, looking out my new office window, thinking about my estrogen level.

I'm imagining I have a dip stick just like my 66 Chevy has. Very easy to find with a red handle and a really long wand. When I pull it out, only the tip is wet. The marker says ADD A QUART.

Right then.

A low estrogen dip stick reading may offer the following life experiences for you as a menopausal woman.

  • Skin thinning and wrinkling.
  • Vagina dryness and constriction that may make intercourse painful. More susceptible to infections too.
  • Urinary tract ­ more susceptible to infection and the loss of muscle tone can cause incontinence.
  • Gum inflammation and a higher risk of tooth loss.
That's enough good news for one day don't you think?

More glad tidings about the exciting world of estrogen will be forth coming over the next few posts. I'll try to be as gentle as possible.

Sue Richards

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Keeping Regular

My 96 year old Granny died due to the complications of a fall. Not her fall. Someone, a much larger woman, fell on Granny in the nursing home they both lived in. Granny's injuries were more than she could recover from. She died a few days later.

I was 15 when Granny passed away. Although we never formally talked about 'womanly things', her influence on such matters made an impact. Born in 1877, an orphan in Britain, her and her younger sister Annie married brothers and immigrated to Canada with their young children. My mother being one of them. Both sisters set up house in Toronto, on the same street.

By the time I was born, Granny was already over 80 and widowed. To my delight, she came to live with us at our cottage in the summer.

I remember one summer in particular. I was 5 and Granny and I shared my room. Both of us early risers, and extremely short (Granny was well under 5 feet) were like two peas in a pod, paling around, fishing in my aluminum row boat, having tea parties and playing Crazy Eights. Granny always wore a dress, with a giant broach at her bosom, a colourful hat, coke bottle thick glasses and tissues and hankies stuck up, in and down ever crevice.

Granny's claim, when asked about her extremely good health and longevity, was very simple. Eat good food. Particularly important was breakfast. Her specific recommendation, All Bran cereal, warm milk and blackstrap molasses. Every morning, without fail.

This, Granny instructed, set up your entire body for the day. Protein and fiber gave her energy and a bathroom routine you could set a clock to. She insisted both were the most important things. Keeping regular and having get up and go.

If she could, I'm sure she'd add one more. Keeping out of the way of big people with poor balance.

Sue Richards

Monday, November 07, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Asking Questions

This is me making lemonade out of lemons.

When I was 6, my mom went into the hospital. Forty one year's ago today in fact. She died a short time later on Remembrance Day.

Growing up without a mom...still to this very not a course I would recommend, although I've managed to get here and be me just the same.

It's true that my bushy eyebrows did grow back after I unwittingly shaved them as a twelve year old girl....and my period came with little explanation or preparation. With some help from random women in my life, I figured out fashion, hygiene, boys, sex, bras, makeup, bladder infections, birth control, housekeeping, broken hearts, broken engagements and grieving. And best of all, I figured out that 'no one person was going to tell me what I needed to know.'

Instead, I took on the task of learning everything I could about being a woman.

By the time I was 17, two more key family members, that I lived with, had died from disease, one due to a significant mis-diagnosis. My lemonade jug got filled some more. I developed a healthy degree of skepticism of the medical system on a whole and doctors in specific.

Given my doctor sees me about once a year for 20 minutes, it was clear to me that I would know more about my body, how it felt and what changes were going on than she would. Plus her knowledge, as a GP, was...general. My knowledge about myself is specific.

It is not uncommon for me to tell my doctor what is wrong and for me to be right about my assessment. My interest in myself makes her and I that much better at working together.

To round out my health team, and not to put all my eggs in one basket, I've invested my time in finding a slew of other health specialists. Intermittently I use the services of a Shiatsu Therapist, Herbalist, Massage Therapist, CranioSacral Therapist, Reike, Holistic Energy, Physiotherapist, Psychologist and Yoga Teacher.

I'm all about disease prevention. I love my body. I want to stay well. And I'm willing to ask questions.....even stupid ones. Sometimes it's smart to be dumb.

Sue Richards

Saturday, November 05, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Saying NO

I hope I didn't put anyone off with my graphic description of Sudden Menopause this week. (please check previous posts) I'm not one to sport rose coloured glasses. Yet my nature is to see the glass as half full. Still, when a spade is a spade it's unlikely I'll call it a shovel.

If you get my drift.

So Sudden Menopause.....not pretty in my books. Not just because of the direct impact that I reported either.

Women in this menopause boat continue to be moms, wives, employed, students, responsible and fully functioning as though nothing was different. Sudden Menopause is not a head cold that will clear up if you just lay down for a day and drink hot tea. It goes on and on and on and on....dishing up mood swings that a trained acrobat would be reluctant to flashes that melt flesh.

Collectively, we have created a society that has no space for anything but full speed, straight ahead. We don't have or make time to grieve our losses, reflect on our life course, take in profound changes in our world or bloody well breath deeply. Instead we soldier on, ignoring our own health and cutting an even wider swath because our world is upside down.

This to me is insanity. And a tragedy.

We, the menopausal women of the world, can change that.

Here's the ticket: Start saying NO.

Sue Richards

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Dealing with Sudden Menopause

So you've been hit broadside by a speeding menopause bullet train to hell and you're up to your eyeballs with symptoms that make whacking yourself over the head with a 2x4 seem like a fun idea.

What now?

Alas, there is no special treatment for you my friend. You get BIG symptoms, but no quick fix.

And....yes there's more.... you also get to face the emotional trauma of losing your fertility during your child bearing years.

Please put down the 2x4.

Again, this is not my story. I'm a lucky peri-menopausal duck. But this maybe the story of someone you know and love. Or perhaps you live this reality. Whatever the case, you have my compassion and a suggestion.
Here's what I've read.

Get ye into a support group. Likely the group will be focused on the primary health issue that lead to the treatment that resulted in sudden menopause. And the group may be connected to the medical institution that you use. Or, and this is very likely, you may have to spearhead your own support group. It will be important to make sure the group is age specific to you.

Some west coast women I know started a group called "The Young and the Breastless" after finding no solace in typical breast cancer support groups. They wanted to talk about sex, fertility, dating, relationship issues and being young moms and could not relate to older breast cancer survivors. Typically the the Y and B's are under 40.

This would be an example of, if you build it, they will come.

If you can afford it, a private therapist may be your thing and the perfect touch stone as you wind your way through sudden menopause.

Depending on your family dynamics, sitting down with family members and giving them the low down may help. Know that grieving a loss like fertility will take time and happen in stages. Having daily, unconditional support during your grieving process is wise.

And finally, as with every part of life, your approach and attitude will effect the outcome of your experience. I do not suggest that you stick an artificial smile on your face when quite the opposite feels more authentic. Try to be aware and true to your experience.

Be kind to yourself.

Sue Richards

My Menopause Blog: Causes of "The Pause"

I'm on a roll here.

My own experience with "the Pause" is rather tame and easily paced. I'm 47. My biological clock is ticking as it should. I moan about my missing mane and spend to much time trying to find things that I've forgotten the name of. My period comes, goes, goes, goes, pops back in for a quick visit and goes again. Over all, and to date, I'm managing just fine.

But not all women will experience menopause equally. I'm on the slow, scenic boat to China. Some gals are hit up side the head by a speeding menopause bullet train to hell.

I shall continue with my information download on menopause that arrives prematurely, without invitation and bearing no gift.

There are three main reasons for women to experience premature or sudden menopause.

Premature Ovarian Failure (POF): Typically the result of an autoimmune disorder. Your bodies immune system mistakenly attacks itself. From what I gather, some wires get crossed and your body believes disease has arrived. It then reacts by sending out an army of antibodies to combat the perceived threat. If the antibodies are directed to your reproductive system, your ovarian function my be seriously damaged. Or worse..... completely destroyed. Entire countries have been known to do this too.

Surgery: If you have your ovaries removed ...Oophorectomy.... or have your ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes removed...Hysterectomy... your hormone levels drop like a rock and you will experience instant menopause. Instant menopause is not easy like the name suggests. Think instant hell.

Here's the picture. First you are recovering from major surgery....maybe as result of a serious disease like ovarian cancer.....and you have immediate menopausal symptoms that are extreme due to the sudden loss of hormone production in your body. Your estrogen production line shuts down. Everyone is fired. You get physical and emotional pain all rolled into one ugly severance package. Ouch.

Even if your ovaries stay put during a hysterectomy, they may be damaged during the operation. Having a tubal ligation ("tubes tied") may also lead to ovary damage and sudden menopause.

Radiation Therapy, Chemotherapy and Tamoxifen: All three treatments disrupt ovarian function. Sometimes your ovaries will return to normal after the chemical treatment has been completed. But not always. Even though your period returns, you may no longer be fertile.

Tamoxifen, which is often prescribed for women who have certain types of breast cancer, serves to block your bodies ability to make estrogen. No estrogen production equals sudden menopause. And again, once Tamoxifen treatment has been completed, ovarian function may resume. Or maybe not.

Sudden menopause can also be a result of excessive weight loss (anorexia). This is yet another complex, female specific condition that requires serious attention. It's just not healthy to starve yourself.

So there's the basics. I'm no doctor. But I can read and gather information.

Sue Richards

My Menopause Blog: Sudden and Premature Menopause

Not everyone comes to menopause naturally and in their own time.

Sudden or early menopause is common and usually very traumatic for the woman and her family. Sudden menopause can be brought on by or be due to an autoimmune disorder, a hysterectomy, anorexia, chemotherapy, a reaction to medication or radiation.

Women younger than 45, who experience full menopausal symptoms (not perimenopausal symptoms) are considered to be experiencing sudden menopause.

Premature menopause is menopause that occurs before 40 and as a result of Premature Ovarian Failure (POF).

Sudden menopause is as the name suggests....sudden. Hormone levels drop over a period of days, weeks or months. Due to the early and abrupt nature of this type of menopause, more time and attention is required to develop coping strategies that will help alleviate intense symptoms.

Premature menopause is less abrupt but can be equally devastating.

Because of the nature of both sudden and premature menopause the woman will experience a different level of emotional reaction to her situation than someone who comes to menopause in due, natural course.

If the disease or the treatment that is prescribed has contributed to the onset of sudden menopause, (like breast cancer), then the individuals situation is that much more challenging and complex.

Psychological issues will likely need as much attention as the physical. Often, a woman facing sudden or premature menopause has a deep sense of being ripped off, feelings of intense anger and deep frustration.

If you know someone facing sudden or premature menopause, try to recognize the full picture they are facing and act with compassion toward them.

If this is your story, be as kind to yourself as possible. Seek support. Accept help and comfort whenever offered. Breath deeply.

You've got a pile on your plate.

Sue Richards

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

My Menopause Blog: Shame, Shame, Shame

With one third of the world's population of women entering or in full menopause as I type, I'm curious why we don't have menopause festivals, conferences, talk shows, stores, fashion shows, movies, sitcoms, parades, magazines, songs and traditional dances around the world.

Instead, we barely have honest, non-drug pushing, basic information.

My Granny lived to be 96 years old. She did not use Hormone Replacement Therapy. And yet, she did go through menopause. Besides her daily bran and molasses breakfast of champions, what would Granny have to share with me about the stages of menopause if she were alive today?

Women know so much about their bodies. Our intuition is a remarkable early warning system that can be trusted.

And yet, some form of shame keeps us tight lipped, doubting ourselves and silent.

I simply don't get it.

Sue Richards