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Me, Myself, as Mommy: Menopause journey exposes the limitations of women’s health care

By Meg Sanders - Special to the Standard-Examiner | May 3, 2024

Photo supplied

Meg Sanders

My heart is trying to claw its way up my throat. I ooze buckets of sweat, as if I’m in the middle of a marathon, yet I’m shivering cold. If those thrills weren’t enough, at any given moment, I’ll feel like a lizard sunbathing on a rock under UV lights. Off to the general practitioner I go to get my heart checked. For a week, I wear a monitor around my neck as I coach soccer games, parent children, even sleep. Nothing abnormal detected, no atrial fibrillation like I worried. It wasn’t the heart attack I swore was happening, 80% of the symptoms in my head. The night sweats I blamed on my synthetic comforter, trading it in for feathers and cotton, all natural. Away went my polyester pjs, replaced with breathable fibers. A whole new bedtime wardrobe. Wouldn’t you know it, that didn’t help either. It was when hot flashes were introduced to the lineup that I started to consider menopause.

Unless you’re pregnant, have a disease or are best friends with your OB-GYN, it’s difficult to be seen by the gynecologist, especially in a state where they’re the hottest commodity. Due to insurance billing, visits cannot wade into unplanned discussion during a preventative visit; stick to the basics or face an added charge. Because of this, I scheduled a follow-up visit to discuss menopause. Shockingly, since millions of women, approximately 55 million in the U.S., start this trek every year, the wait list is months out. Finding a specialist for menopause — forget about it. Slowed-down ovaries aren’t as exciting as the ones creating babies.

Timing is everything, and as I sought out a doctor to help me with this imminent chapter, a study out of the University of California Los Angeles published research showing patients have lower rates of mortality when they are treated by a female doctor. The same study found women patients do even better than males when they are treated by women. Imagine that. It comes as no shock to me as I believe my female OB-GYN saved my life a time or two in the delivery room. Female patients being treated by a female doctor had a mortality rate of 8.15%. When being seen by a male doctor, the rate was 8.38%. That’s 5,000 women whose lives are saved each year because their doctor is female.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to deduce why this many be; it’s the same reason men shouldn’t be making the decisions on reproductive rights. When I tell my female doctor I have a headache, hot flashes and I’m tired, she doesn’t chalk it up to “being a busy mom.” Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, one of the researchers behind the study, theorized that male doctors may underestimate how severe a female patient’s symptoms are, particularly when it comes to pain levels. Dr. Tsugawa further suggests female doctors may communicate better with their female patients. It should be noted, Dr. Tsugawa is male.

I got in with Dr. Karen Bradley at Intermountain Layton Clinic and it felt like I got a golden ticket. She’s a busy doctor and my appointment was months out. Luckily, some time opened up and I wasn’t going to say “no” when I wanted a solid night’s sleep ASAP. Dr. Bradley is my menopause rockstar listening to my symptoms, concerns and dismay, firing back with options. She told me menopause isn’t studied nor is it a primary focus for many MDs. On the very day of my appointment, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to “advance women’s health research,” calling on Congress to approve $12 billion to understand issues like menopause, heart disease and osteoporosis. Timing is everything.

A plan is in place, action is happening. Each week, I slap an estradiol patch to my booty, swallow progesterone each night, stay active and read “The Menopause Manifesto” by Jen Gunter. Concerns over breast, uterine and ovarian cancer heightened due to hormones or the chances of stroke were put to rest with studies showing the benefits outweigh the risks. As if the perimenopausal gods are watching, another study published in a medical journal just this week found that with new hormones, delivered through the skin with a patch or gel, hormone replacement is safe and beneficial.

Thus far, it’s working for me. Each woman, goal and family history is different so it’s a very good thing there are several options available for women headed down the menopause pike. Treatment for menopause is constantly evolving; see the two major studies released weeks apart as proof. Hormone replacement therapy is the only rodeo in town. There are various approaches including lifestyle changes, nonhormonal medications including antidepressants, and time to discuss everything on the table.

Typically, a woman starts the process of menopause in their late 40s, early 50s. Menopause itself is diagnosed when a woman goes without a period for a year or more. Yes, I’m turning 40 next week, but just as I had kids in my early 20s, I like to do things early. For my 40th, I’m hitting the trifecta with my colonoscopy, mammogram and now menopause. I sure know how to throw a party. The best part has to be the party favors.

Three months, that’s how long Dr. Bradley says it would take before I see any major adjustments from the added hormones. Until then, I’ll manage through the night sweats, hot flashes, fatigue and frustration while I adjust to the blatant changes of my body. While some may say menopause is a period of transformation every woman eventually embraces, I think it’s OK to miss the body I had, worry over what’s next and how much things will change. But I’ll also come to accept that time marches on — right across my face.

Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 18 years.

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