Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
195 Little Albany Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08903-2681
Jackie is a 51-year-old woman working in landscape design and home repairs. She recently separated from her husband of 32 years, and has two young adult daughters who live on the other side of the country.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience, and how did you cope at that time?
My first symptom was night sweats at age 47. I thought the problem might be the beginning of menopause, so I read the book, The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing During the Change, by Christine Northrup. From the book I learned the importance of diet during menopause and started going to a nutritionist. The nutritionist helped me find out that I had food sensitivities, and I made some changes like switching from regular milk and cheese to soymilk and soy cheese. I’d always had a sensitive stomach, so this helped my overall health. However, I still had the night sweats, and over the next couple of years I started having other symptoms of menopause.
When did you get a diagnosis?
When I was 49 I went to the gynecologist because of vaginal dryness. That was when I got an official diagnosis that I was going through menopause. The diagnosis came from a blood test. At first the doctor wanted to put me on hormones, but I refused because of the history of breast cancer in my family. The doctor’s only other suggestion was to make some diet changes, which I was already doing.
What happened after you got the diagnosis? How did you try to manage your symptoms?
At 50 my periods started to get irregular and vary a lot from light to heavy. I also started having day sweats. I couldn’t sleep well and sometimes could only get three or four hours of sleep a night. This made me tired and cranky.
After about six months of these problems, I went to the health food store and asked for help finding something that might decrease them. I tried a couple of different formulas that did not help. But then last summer I had success with a formula that has the herb black cohosh in it. The version of the formula I take in the morning also has ginseng and black tea in it, and the version I take in the evening has valerian and hops along with the black cohosh. Soon I started to be able to sleep six hours straight and stopped having night sweats. In addition, the day sweats decreased somewhat. I’ve noticed that when I forget to take the formula, my symptoms get worse again.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
I started going to a counselor and personal growth workshops to get help reducing the stress in my life. Some of the workshops focused on women’s issues. These things have not only helped a lot in reducing stress but have also helped me gain more self-confidence. I now know more of what I want in my life and am making it happen.
Has going through menopause had any impact on your work?
Yes. Since my work involves a lot of physical activity, the sweating during the day got very intense. The sweat stung my eyes and made me feel itchy all over. It was very distracting. I’m really glad the black cohosh formula has decreased the sweating. On the more positive side, having increased self-confidence has enabled me to start my own business.
Has going through menopause had any impact on your family?
Yes. Because I wasn’t able to sleep much at night, I set up a room of my own so that I could do things while my husband slept. This made him angry because he didn’t like the idea of my having a separate room. However, we dealt with the issue as I gained more self-confidence from my personal growth work.
Since my daughters have not lived at home while I have been going through menopause, they have not been affected much by my symptoms. However, since I’ve been telling them about the changes I’ve been making in my diet and about my experiments with herbal remedies, they have been learning some things that have helped them too.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to finding out you were going through menopause?
At first I was scared that I might have to go through what my mother and older sister went through, which was having a hysterectomy due to very heavy bleeding and anemia. So, I started doing things to try to avoid that. That’s why I read Christine Northrup’s book when I got my first symptoms and then went to the nutritionist. And that’s why when my problem with stress got even worse from the menopause symptoms, I started going to a counselor and workshops.
As a result of doing these things, my overall health and quality of life has improved a lot. I have taken action on things that had previously been problems for me but which I had heretofore not been motivated to deal with. So, now I feel that going through menopause has been a blessing. I eat much better than I used to, I’ve lost 30 lbs., my blood pressure has gone from high to below normal, my stress level is much lower, and I’m much happier. Looking back, I believe that my menopause symptoms, as well as my life overall, would have been worse if I had not done these things.
What advice would you give to anyone entering menopause?
There are many different things you can try to deal with your symptoms. Read a lot to find the information you need, and then choose what works for you. But most important, develop yourself, become all that you are, and walk into your wisdom and aging with pride.
Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.
National Women's Health Information Center