Stefanie, 41, went through surgical menopause in 2017, at the age of 37, after having preventative surgeries because she tested positive for the BRCA gene (which can increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancer). She’s sharing her story to help other women know they’re not alone.
When did you start menopause and what were your symptoms like?
It happened after my mum lost a 9-year battle with
. She had the
, so I decided that after I’d had my second child, I’d get tested.
My daughter had just been born, my son was 2 and I was still grieving, so it was a hectic time. I remember a nurse called me with the results and said, “You have the BRCA gene.” I just said, “OK, thanks.” I didn’t really take it in.
When the dust settled, I told my dad and his face dropped. I realised this was all a lot more serious than I’d thought. The option ahead of me was to have preventative surgery – a double
[breast removal] and ovary removal [oophorectomy]. It was an easy decision and I went straight for it.
So, at 37 years old, I had the operations. On paper, the double mastectomy should have been the hardest thing, because it’s such a big surgery, while the oophorectomy was straightforward keyhole surgery.
Fast forward from those operations, and I’d physically recovered and healed. But then these horrible symptoms started to come over me. I was getting
and sleepless nights.
My symptoms didn’t come and go, they were constantly there. I couldn’t handle my mood – I was like Jekyll and Hyde and was seeing red so often. I remember my husband giving me a look, and I realised that if I carried on like this I was going to damage my marriage.
My tiredness and lack of energy was extreme, too. I was giving everything to my job, then everything to my home life, drinking loads of coffee, and running all the time. These things were making my symptoms worse.
I felt like I was at the bottom of a swimming pool, with the world going on around me. I didn’t know what was happening. I needed a lifeline. I called my doctor and she said she’d send me some
What did you do to help treat and manage your symptoms?
From the beginning, I was on synthetic
(HRT). I started researching and I read The Hormone Cure [by Dr Sara Gottfried], which will stay with me forever. It got me thinking about my hormones and HRT, and at the start of 2020, I changed from synthetic HRT to a bioidentical HRT. That was my first pivotal moment.
At first, my research was for fun, but then it became a healthy obsession. I found that there are so many things in your lifestyle that you can change and improve.
I realised that being a cardio bunny was ineffective, and that strength and resistance training was helping my bones become stronger. Gentle intermittent fasting (stopping eating after dinnertime, then only drinking water until the morning) was allowing my hormones and digestive system to rest. I also started taking supplements to help with my mood, immune system and healthy hormone production.
There are plenty of natural ways you can help yourself. These things helped me come back to life.
Were you having any perimenopausal symptoms before surgery?
No – I was thrown in at the deep end straight after surgery. Perimenopause [the time leading up to menopause] gives you some idea of what's to come and the symptoms trickle through, so you realise you’re entering menopause.
With a surgical menopause, you go straight from having healthy hormone levels to your progesterone and oestrogen hitting the floor. The effects of that are huge.
Did you know what to expect after your surgeries?
I didn’t know what to expect at all. My mum died at 64 and she’d gone through menopause in her early 50s. She was such a stoic, strong lady, so she wasn’t the type to sit you down and tell you everything that was going on.
So I didn’t hear about what to expect from her or from my doctors (who had only given me a leaflet). And I realised that no one else was talking about it.
Menopause is still a taboo for many people. How has menopause affected you mentally?
My first few emotions were of shame. I was embarrassed because I was so young and I felt like I was damaged goods. But then when I came back to life, I realised that actually, this was just the beginning. I wasn’t going to stand for feeling ashamed and embarrassed.
How are your symptoms now?
My symptoms have eased, but I’m not the finished article by any means. I’m at a point where I look back at myself in 2020 and I was running on a treadmill going nowhere, and then I started moving forwards in leaps and bounds.
Most of the time I now don’t get hot flushes or mood swings, and I sleep really beautifully. Sometimes I still get tired, or lose my temper, but on the whole it’s so much better than it was.
What do you wish you’d known before starting menopause?
How much of a truck was going to hit me. I wish someone had said, “This is going to be hard, but you’re going to be fine.”
What do you hope sharing your story will do for other women?
I hope they won’t feel so isolated, and that they’ll know there’s help out there. Along with HRT, there are so many natural and proactive things you can do to help yourself.
After quitting her busy career in media to find more balance, Stefanie now gives 1-to-1 coaching to working women who are struggling with menopause.
Follow Stefanie’s story and get in touch for coaching on Instagram
Find useful information on other areas of menopause with our .