Like most women, I always knew the day was coming when I’d have to deal with menopause. I wasn’t especially worried about it, as I didn’t want to conceive any more children and considered menstrual periods to be an annoyance I would gladly do without. I’d heard about hot flashes, night sweats, and all the rest of the possible symptoms, but I also knew that not all women had to deal with those and blithely assumed I’d manage to just sail through it all. 

But then I had my first hot flash.

It seemed that one minute I was riding in the car with my husband, heading home from a trip to the shopping mall, and the next minute I felt a sensation I could only describe as being cooked from the inside out. I actually panicked a little before I realized just what was happening. And then I ordered my husband to pull into the nearest convenience store so I could buy a cold drink with as much ice as possible in it.

Eventually, I learned to cope with the hot flashes without being quite so dramatic. And that was a good thing, because they came with relentless regularity. I was averaging about ten to twelve hot flashes a day and woke up at least three times a night with them. I would usually manage to fall into a deep sleep in the early hours of the morning, just before it was time to start my day. Tired and crabby became a normal state of being for me, no matter how hard I tried to feel otherwise.

Still, I knew this phase wouldn’t last forever, and that many women found relief using natural remedies. I tried them all, but none made the slightest bit of difference, much to my great disgust. I heard hormone replacement pills almost always helped, but I had also heard they were considered to be risky, so I simply soldiered on. My doctor told me typical menopausal symptoms last three to five years, so I believed the only thing to do was get through it.

Unfortunately, my symptoms didn’t let up after I passed the five-year mark. When I mentioned it to my doctor, he said that since the symptoms were lasting more than five years, I was probably one of the minority of women who would have them long-term…meaning many more years, and possibly, for life. Alarmed, I asked my eighty-six-year old mother when her hot flashes had finally ended. She thought about it for a minute, and then said,” I don’t believe I’ve had a hot flash for at least five years, maybe a little bit longer than that.” I know she doesn’t have a great memory, but that was still not the answer I wanted to hear.

So at my next annual check up, I talked to my doctor about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). He told me there were risks, but they were extremely small for the first three years, and that he would support whatever decision I made. I thought about enduring another twenty years of hot flashes and night sweats and then asked him to call in the prescription. I knew the pills slightly increased my chances for breast cancer and blood clots, but that was a risk I was prepared to take, especially since I had no family history of cancer.

We all have the right to make educated and personal choices about how we handle our health, including how we manage menopause.

Ann Coleman

I learned quickly that not everyone approved of HRT, and since we live in a time where minding other people’s business is considered not only acceptable, but often downright mandatory, I was told by many that I was foolish to take the pills. Naturally, many of those who said that were men or women who had gone through menopause with few or no symptoms. “Hot flashes are natural,”  I was told. “Women have been coping with them for centuries.” I never actually pointed out that disease and death are also natural, but that doesn’t mean I have to embrace them, but I thought it once or twice. My body may be my own, but my choices about it were apparently up for general discussion.

It’s been four years since I started HRT, and I’m gradually weaning myself off the pills. So far, the hot flashes have been minimal and tolerable, so I hope that is a good sign. I didn’t stop taking them because I gave in to outside pressure, though. It was a personal choice I made after my husband was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. Suddenly the world of cancer and its treatment became all too real, and I was no longer willing to take the risk, no matter how small.

In short, I simply changed my mind.

The lesson I’ve learned from it all is this: We all have the right to make educated and personal choices about how we handle our health, including how we manage menopause. And we have the right to change our mind when presented with new facts or new circumstances. We don’t have to explain our choices to anyone or apologize for them when others disagree. I will forever be grateful for having a doctor that simply presented the facts and let me make my own choice about how I handled my menopause symptoms, because he recognized what many people do not: the symptoms were mine, the risks were mine, and ultimately, my body is mine and mine alone. 

Resources about HRT and Hot Flashes/Flushes:

Ann Coleman is a woman in her late fifties who loves reading, writing, working with shelter dogs, working on her house and yard, and helping her extended family. She writes about recognizing and appreciating the positive aspects of aging on her blog Muddling through My Middle Age.

Write for Navigating the Change.