You want to take my ovaries out?

I was diagnosed with a BRCA2 gene mutation on August 1, 2013. My surgery for a complete preventive hysterectomy (to remove my ovaries, Fallopian tubes, cervix, and uterus) was just six weeks later on September 11. I requested to undergo BRCA1/2 genetic testing as a “tie breaker” to help me decide if I should have the surgery, to not only put an end to my endometriosis pain (by removing my uterus) but also to lower my ovarian cancer risk. My mother died of primary peritoneal cancer in 2004, so when my genetic test results came back positive, I knew it was time for me to move forward with the surgery. I was not yet having any symptoms of menopause.

The surgery itself was a piece of cake for me. I was up and moving around in a few days. I had no complications, and I was back to work the same weekend. I now didn’t have to worry about being at high risk for developing ovarian cancer. About six weeks later, though, my body noticed that I didn’t have any estrogen. I knew estrogen and other hormones were important for many functions (mental and physical), but I had no idea how vitally important it actually was for me.

All kinds of weird things were happening to me. I was having memory issues, I was grouchy (according to my kids), I smelled different, my skin was strange, my stomach wasn’t working right, my knees were hurting when I bent down, I couldn’t sleep... and the worst was the night sweats! I would barely fall asleep, then warm up and be drenched almost immediately. I think it was especially difficult for me because I was not in menopause yet prior to my surgery, so I went from a moderate healthy level of hormones to zero hormones, and this had a big impact on my body. My doctor recommended low-dose venlafaxine HCl (or Effexor XR®) to help with hot flashes and night sweats. For me, it worked for the hot flashes, but I had other side effects from the medication, so I had to stop taking it.

Since I was having a lot of issues related to hormones, my doctors asked me if I wanted to start hormone therapy. I was initially reluctant to take any hormones. I was afraid because three of my cousins were diagnosed with breast cancer and one had ovarian cancer. However, by April 2014 I was having a lot of pain in my joints (arthritis). I began to do some research, and with the guidance of my doctor, I tried a low dose of estradiol (a form of estrogen) to see if it made a difference. Within just two short weeks all the pain was gone, the hot flashes stopped, I could sleep, and I could remember what day it was! I was surprised and so grateful.

Removing my ovaries as a preventive measure against ovarian cancer was still the best decision for me, but I wish I had considered hormone replacement from the very beginning.  The effects of surgical menopause may be different for each of you and there may be different options related to hormone therapy, so talk to your doctors to learn more and find out what might be best for you. I also examined my lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and spiritual well-being. I made adjustments to help give my body more specific support for its changing needs. I modified my exercise routine and my diet. I learned that if I just pay attention to what my body is telling me and modify my lifestyle accordingly, it can make a huge difference! I feel amazing today (honestly, no real symptoms of menopause) because I let go of the fear and made changes. I can’t take care of anyone else, unless I take care of myself first.

Isn’t that why I had the surgery in the first place?

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