EMW21 (Theresa)

Name: Theresa
Age at interview: 46
Diagnosis: Medically-induced early menopause (following a risk-reducing bilateral oophorectomy)
Age at diagnosis: 41

Background: Theresa works full-time as a research manager, and lives in a metropolitan city with her partner. She is from a Northern European background.

About Theresa: A family history of cancer prompted Theresa to have genetic testing at age 41. After learning she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation, she had her ovaries removed, and later a double mastectomy. Surgical menopause led Theresa to experience hot flushes, interrupted sleep and low libido, though taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) has alleviated these symptoms. Theresa feels she is through ‘the worst of’ the experience, although her bone density and heart health are ongoing concerns.

More about Theresa: When Theresa was in her early 40s, she decided to have genetic testing after her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, given there was a history of breast and ovarian cancer within their family. It was found that Theresa carried the BRCA1 gene mutation, which puts carriers at increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers. On advice from her doctors, she decided to undergo a risk-reducing oophorectomy, and later to have a double mastectomy.

Theresa found the oophorectomy to be ‘pretty straightforward and easy to recover from,’ and was soon able to resume her daily activities, such as working, shopping, and walking her dog. However, while she described feeling ‘lucky’ that she did not have any surgery-related complications or infections, she admitted she had underestimated the impacts of ‘instant’ surgical menopause. Initially, Theresa wanted to ‘just be strong’ and get through the experience without taking medication. However, a couple of years later, she decided that she ‘didn’t need to suffer’ and decided to take Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). 

Theresa experienced a range of menopausal symptoms, some of which persisted for longer than others. For example, while ‘annoying,’ hot flushes seemed to ‘wane pretty quickly’; poor sleep quality, on the other hand, became a longer-standing issue impacting her energy levels during the day. Decreased libido was another symptom that did not seem to improve over time, and together with concerns about her bone density and cholesterol levels, motivated Theresa to begin taking HRT. She described ‘feeling better ever since.’

For information about surgical menopause, Theresa relied ‘heavily’ on her doctors and specialists. For advice and support on day-to-day management of menopausal symptoms, she also visited websites and online support forums, and talked with people going through similar experiences. Theresa described her experience with the public healthcare system as positive, and spoke appreciatively about a menopause specialist who asked targeted questions about her symptoms to better understand her experience.

Theresa described having a ‘very good support system’ including her partner, close friends, and supportive work colleagues. She felt this support helped her avoid any major identity or self-esteem issues as a result of early menopause, though felt that her age, maturity may have also played a role in preserving her sense of self. The fact that she did not want to have children also helped. Although her bone and heart health remain ‘ongoing concerns,’ overall Theresa feels that she has ‘made it through’ the worst of the experience, and is now ‘doing fine.’