What It’s Like to Lose Your Ovaries & Go Through Menopause at 32

woman walking down unknown road

Having your ovaries surgically removed might seem like a drastic measure to take in order to prevent cancer, but more and more women, including actress Angelina Jolie are making this difficult choice. And with the procedure comes one life-changing side effect: You immediately go through menopause. So imagine what that must be like if you're still in your childbearing years. We talked with one woman who had her ovaries removed in her 30s to safeguard her life.

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Juliet Farmer had already survived an aggressive form of breast cancer by her early 30s. That battle put her at exponentially higher risk for ovarian cancer. "Having heard so many ovarian cancer horror stories," Farmer told The Stir, "there was no way I was going to survive breast cancer and then get hit with ovarian cancer down the road."

juliet farmer

Doctors warned Farmer against getting pregnant or taking oral birth control as a breast cancer survivor. They just don't know enough, yet, about how the hormones can influence a recurrence. That meant possibly decades of condom use with her husband. On top of that, she did not want to pass her cancer risk on to future generations.

"So, in one fell swoop, we took care of my risk of ovarian cancer, our dilemma of contraception, and the risk of passing on breast cancer," Farmer says.

But going through menopause at such an early age has been difficult.

More from The Stir: 8 Things Women Need to Know About Removing Your Ovaries to Prevent Cancer

Farmer had gone through menopause before, at the age of 31, during chemotherapy, but her period had returned. This time, her surgically induced menopause would be permanent. She was 32 years old.

"The hot flashes were brutal!" says Farmer. So her doctor put her on the antidepressant Effexor.

In addition, she fluctuates between osteopenia (thinning of bone mass) and the more severe condition, osteoporosis. "I've had several broken bones since menopause, and my endocrinologist is keeping close tabs on me." 

Farmer also put on some weight. She was training for a marathon through her first year of menopause, which she says helped. But still, "It's a struggle." 

And then there's sex. "My sex drive plummeted almost immediately," Farmer says. "Menopause is not kind to vaginal tissue. Every week it’s like I’m a virgin all over again. Lubricant is a menopausal woman’s best friend!"

As for having children, for Farmer that presented less of a dilemma. "I was on the fence about having kids" before cancer, she says. "My parents went through a horrible divorce when I was 5, and my childhood was full of abuse, alcoholism, and a [I was living with a] bipolar primary caregiver who didn’t do much besides provide a roof over my head."

Even before her illness Farmer was not planning to have children, if any, until she was older. "I have never regretted not having a child," she says.

Ultimately, the emotional impact of going through early menopause has been nothing compared with what Farmer has already survived. "Once I made the decision [to have my ovaries removed], and given what I had already been through (breast cancer profoundly impacted me emotionally), menopause was just another side effect of my breast cancer, as far as I was and am concerned."

How would you feel about going through menopause early? What do you think would be hardest about it?

 

Images via Ollyy/Shutterstock, Juliet Farmer

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