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Vicky Saynor, 47, from Hertfordshire, was told the changes in her body and mental health were a reaction to chemotherapy but she knew something more was going on…
As told to Andreina Cordani
‘I didn’t notice the changes in my body at first. After all, I had bigger things on my mind than low mood and aches and pains. I had come through breast cancer and six months before I had finished my final course of chemo. I was grateful that I was still here, and this was my chance to get things back on track.
I had a busy life. As well as bringing up four children my husband Chris and I ran a luxury retreat business together, Bethnal and Beck. I had always prided myself on being totally on it. I was efficient, organised, with the memory of an elephant. But now I was tired all the time, forgetting the most basic things and the joint and muscle pain became agonising. It was making me miserable. I used to love taking long walks with the dog but now I could barely make it around the field near our house.
My GP said that none of this was surprising in the wake of aggressive chemotherapy. But my body shape was changing, too. My old clothes were uncomfortable, and my weight crept up from just under 11st [69 kilos] before the cancer to 13st 3lbs [84 kilos]. I tried my usual weight-loss tricks – cutting carbs, stopping snacking and reducing my wine intake, but nothing worked. Chris would always tell me I looked lovely, but my changing body was an unavoidable reminder that I didn’t feel like myself anymore.
During a routine gynae exam, another doctor suggested it might be menopause. I was completely stunned. Like many women, I’d assumed menopause wouldn’t affect me until I was much older – I was only in my mid-forties. But it explained the brain fog, the exhaustion, the low mood.
Because I’d had breast cancer, I was told HRT wasn’t an option and instead I was offered antidepressants which didn’t help at all.
Searching for alternatives, I started seeing another doctor who prescribed supplements – such as ashwagandha to ease my anxiety – but it didn’t work. By now depression was affecting my work, my relationship, my time with the children.
I kept telling myself that I’d been through cancer, I should be grateful to be alive. I should just dig deep and get through this. But I just didn’t seem to have any reserves of strength left. I started to feel suicidal.
I remember standing on a beach in Spain, on what was supposed to be a fun holiday, utterly miserable. Was this really going to be my life from now on?
I confided in my doctor, and she agreed that I should try HRT.
I had always been told hormone replacement therapy could make breast cancer come back, but this doctor explained that my type of cancer was called ‘triple negative.’ It wasn’t hormone-based. Most of the research on the link between HRT and breast cancer focuses on hormonal cancers so those findings didn’t apply to me. There was still a risk, but it was a smaller one – and right now the biggest threat to my health was my mental state.
I was in such a bad way that it was a risk I was more than willing to take.
I felt better almost immediately. My mood lifted, and so did the horrendous brain fog. And my aches and pains went away within weeks – it turned out that they were menopause symptoms too!
Now my joints had stopped aching, I started my long walks again. This built my confidence, and made me realise that I was still capable of exercise. I joined a gym and started weight training. I got stronger, I didn’t get injured and my confidence grew.
I also asked to be referred to a specialised menopause consultant – and that’s when I found out why it had had such a massive impact on my life. My cancer treatment had pitched me into full-blown medically-induced menopause, so instead of building up slowly through perimenopaus, my symptoms had all crashed in on me at once. She tweaked my HRT dose until things were under control.
My consultant also diagnosed me with type 2 diabetes caused by the chemotherapy – another reason I had been feeling so tired! So my story wasn’t just about cancer, and it wasn’t just about menopause – it was a mixture of both.
I started following Michael Mosley’s blood sugar diet which managed my symptoms – and my weight.
Slowly the weight I had gained started to come back off. Now, 16 months after first starting HRT I am down to 11st 4lbs [72 kilos] and feel so much fitter and healthier. But more importantly, I feel like Vicky again.
I married Chris just before the cancer diagnosis and it feels like our married life has been dominated by cancer, Covid and menopause. Now it’s time for us, along with my three stepchildren and my son Milo, 13, to enjoy life together. I still have days when I’m low, but I’ve learned to lean into these, to rest instead of trying to push through. It really helps that I understand what’s happening now.
I’ve learned you should trust your instincts and keep looking for answers. My advice to anyone who is struggling after breast cancer is to see a menopause consultant who can offer more specialist help.
It’s great that there’s so much more talk about menopause now. If I had known right from the start what was happening it wouldn’t have hit me so hard, and that’s why I’m sharing my story. The more we talk about it, the less people like me will suffer in silence.’
To find out more about Bethnal and Bec head to www.bethnalandbec.com
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