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Unbecoming a Woman - What No-One Tells You About Early Menopause

19/07/2016 16:36 | Updated 19 July 2016

I have an irritable bladder. I leave my house, get to the corner of my road and suddenly I need the loo. It's irritating and a consequence of my early menopause. That's why I was in the waiting room in the Gynaecology Department having walked past and carefully avoided meeting the eyes - and stomachs - of women in various stages of pregnancy waiting for their antenatal scans.

With hindsight, I should have noticed that my appointment slot was for a whole half hour.

With hindsight, I might have paid more attention to the fact that the ladies in the room around me were old enough to be my granny.

I thought it was odd that the patient before me was in the consulting room for 45 minutes and when the nurse came out carrying a large quantity of paper towels and plastic, I admit I was slightly apprehensive.

I stood up in response to my name being called and the doctor's mouth dropped open - not in a good way.

Seated in the consulting room, he shuffled papers nervously while searching for my hospital number. I assumed he'd had a bad morning until he asked me if I knew why I was there (note to self: this is a question which should raise alarm).

Doctor: Ummm, I can't see Mr X's notes, or read his writing. Why don't you tell me why you're here?
Me: Cancer, blah blah, brca1, blah, blah, ovaries out, blah blah, menopause symptoms, blah blah, urine infections.
Doctor: I'm sorry to hear this. So, what did Mr X say exactly when you saw him?
Me: Well, I must admit, I'd thought this was something I just had to live with but Mr X said you could do a lot to help.
Doctor: So, did he tell you anything about the tests?
(By now a nurse has arrived).
Me: Just that they'd be a breeze after my cancer treatment.

I caught sight of a very apologetic looking commode in the corner of the room.

Doctor (speaking rapidly): So, about the tests, you do a wee and then we'll scan your bladder to see if it's working.

I can't remember what he said next because all I heard was "catheter," "probe," "vagina," "rectum."

At this point, I managed to have three thoughts simultaneously (remarkable as I often barely manage one): First thought - How ever will I manage to wee twice in a row? Second thought - Did he really just say something about putting a probe in my vagina while I do a wee? Third thought - What would Germaine Greer say?
Then came the punch line....
Doctor: While I sit behind the curtain measuring your urine flow.

What I wanted to say was that even when I'm alone at home I shut the bathroom door. I wanted to scream that I've had an episiotomy, agreed to having my breasts reconstructed using something akin to bacon despite being a vegetarian (another blog), but I'm drawing a line. I'm not having a probe stuck up my vagina whilst weeing in a bucket in front of him.
Me: I'm so sorry to have wasted your time, but no.
Doctor (noting my horror): It is a once in a life-time experience. But why not have a think about the second test while we do the first one?
Me: Err...
Doctor: You just do a wee........in the commode.
Me: What? Do a wee in front of you both?!
Doctor: Would you prefer us to go out of the room?
Me: Yes! (WTF!)
I manage to 'perform.'
Doctor comes back and scans my bladder.
Me: I've decided NOT to do the second test! (Google urodynamics if you want more information on this procedure. That's what I did when I got home).

If you think this post is about the inadequacies of the NHS, you couldn't be more wrong. The doctor, though embarrassed, was respectful and kind. The point is that I'm 47 years old and my bladder is behaving like a miscreant geriatric. The point is that as a woman with a BRCA1 mutation and a 60% risk of developing ovarian cancer, the decision to have my ovaries removed was easy - a 'no brainer.' But living with the consequences is tough. The point is, unlike Angelina Jolie-Pitt I don't love being in menopause. You see, I just don't think Simone de Beauvoir was referring to the menopause when she said, 'One is not born a woman - one becomes one.' Without ovaries, my body can't produce oestrogen and without oestrogen, I feel like I'm a woman 'unbecoming.'

Thanks to the women at the Research Centre for Building Resilience in Breast Cancer without whose encouragement I would never have dared to share my experience.

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