For many of us, yes it can. And honestly, that has helped me feel close to normal again.
Did you know that about 70% of breast cancers are “fed” by hormones, called hormone receptor positive cancers? Mine was. And I have come to see this as a good thing, because it means that our amazing doctors now have medications that can “starve” cancer cells by blocking estrogen receptors in our bodies. These medications are a powerful weapon in the arsenal to fight cancer and to keep it from coming back. But fighting cancer cells may not be all cancer medications do.
Menopause as a medication side effect? Most doctors don’t tell you that these medications are going to put you into menopause, because scientifically speaking it isn’t exactly the same process. Tamoxifen, for example, is the most frequently prescribed medication to treat or prevent breast cancer in pre-menopausal women. It is a Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulator, or SERM, which means that it doesn’t block ALL of the estrogen receptors in your body, just some. Menopause, on the other hand, does come with reduced estrogen in your entire body. While this scientific difference is very real, the experience many of us have does not feel so different from menopause. So instead of calling it menopause, we are told that there will be “side effects” to the medication. As it turns out, the “side effects” are quite close to the effects of menopause. Night sweats, hot flashes, weight gain, changes in libido, skin dryness, just to name a few. Sound familiar?
Ovary removal is another weapon in the arsenal to fight cancer, and it is a mighty weapon indeed. My oncologist introduced this as an option to compliment the medication and “do all we can” to prevent recurrence. This is a very common treatment option. Many women choose this as a surgical option in lieu of medication as well. For some, it is a more natural path forward vs. medication. It is, however, an abrupt entrance into true menopause. Menopause normally takes time to occur, your hormones fluctuating as they reduce over years and your body transitioning into a new normal as it finds its balance. But when the ovaries are removed, that transition happens almost immediately and it can be an abrupt change for some women. As with all treatments, this is why it is so important to seek out the testimonies of other women who have made these choices so that you are armed with the knowledge to make the best choices for yourself.
Reframing the treatment “side effects” as menopause can help connect you to the information and products that can help you be your best self. Biologically most of these side effects are truly caused by effectively reduced estrogen in the body, just like the symptoms of menopause. So, products that are researched and created to nourish estrogen deprived skin, like SeeMe Beauty , can be more effective choices for helping to restore your healthy glow. For example, artichoke leaf extract was chosen as one of the five hero ingredients in the SeeMe Complex specifically because it had been shown to reduce the appearance fine lines and wrinkles faster than retinol in estrogen depleted skin. There are many other products out there targeted to other concerns too such as hair loss, feminine health, hot flashes, quality of sleep, etc. that can help us thrive in this new normal. Please don’t just assume that nothing can be done to mediate these symptoms. There is so much fun yet to be had!
Some of these can be hormone based, however, and would not be appropriate for those of us working hard to keep our hormone levels down so it is best to do your research and consult your doctor.
Joining the Sisterhood. I am now aware that there exists an army of women who have gone through this journey and who now volunteer with many amazing groups that support women fighting breast cancer. Beautiful, scarred, wise, strong, brave warriors who made themselves known to share their journeys and walk with me through mine. They said, “this is a sisterhood that I never wanted or dreamed that I would be a part of, but here we are, and we do not walk alone.” They shared stories of their difficult days, and of their triumphs and setbacks, and brought my focus beyond the present and into the future. They said that one day I too would come alongside some beautiful woman with a new and scary diagnosis, and it would be my turn to pay it forward just like they were doing for me. Please reach out to your care team if you are diagnosed with breast cancer and ask what groups are affiliated with your care givers. You are truly not alone.
What I didn’t understand then, and I do now, is that the journey through breast cancer can also, for some of us, merge with the journey through menopause. The treatments for one may trigger the other. And that the journey through menopause is a rite of passage that all women go through makes it all feel a little less like a “side effect” and more of a part of just being a woman. A sisterhood of a different kind. At SeeMe Beauty, we call it our tribe.