I’m Claire McKay, I’m 40 years old, a type 1 diabetic and I’ve been a teacher for 27 years. I currently work for a Hampshire Country Council service, supporting students who cannot currently attend school.
Ovarian cancer diagnosis
I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was 32. Thanks to swift action by my GP, it was caught early, at stage 1. I still needed surgery to remove the tumour.
At this stage, the worst case scenario of a hysterectomy and the subsequent loss of fertility was mentioned. But I was very much in shock and it was only a brief discussion before my operation.
Unfortunately, the tumour had adhered to my ovary and I had to have a radical hysterectomy. So at 33 years old, I went into surgical menopause overnight.
My menopause symptoms were rapid and fierce: hot flushes, palpitations, brain fog and aching muscles. All of these symptoms were there soon after my operation. But they weren’t really discussed at the hospital and I didn’t even know they were all menopause symptoms. At that point, everyone seemed surprised because I was so young and ‘did not fit the menopause mould.’
Cancer and menopause treatment
After my operation, I was sent home with an appointment to discuss HRT 3 months later.
Understandably, the focus in the hospital was on the cancer. But no one there really connected the cancer treatment with the fact that I was now menopausal. There weren’t any resources about what to expect. No mental health support was offered and there was no recognition that I was now on HRT for at least the next 20 years.
The operation caused my hormone levels to drop so suddenly that my symptoms were immediately severe. Those first 3 months after the operation were hideous. Because I was so young, I had very little knowledge of menopause. And I ended up going to see my GP convinced I was having a heart attack because my palpitations were so strong.
Thankfully, HRT has got my menopause symptoms under control. Although brain fog is still an issue from time to time.
Young women experiencing menopause
I still feel that my age means I’m often overlooked as someone experiencing menopause. I’ve found support working with Target Ovarian Cancer and recently spoke at the APPG about menopause. It’s helped me to feel I can make a difference and highlight that younger people need to be included in menopause education. I feel there’s potential for this to be included in the PSHE curriculum to help raise awareness.
Visit Target Ovarian Cancer for more information on their work to stop ovarian cancer devasting lives. www.targetovariancancer.org.uk