Dealing With Menopause and Infertility at 23 Years Old
When you are young and have your whole life ahead of you, the last thing that you think is going to happen to you is Cancer. This is a story of a young woman who has had to deal with infertility and menopause after Cancer treatments, like so many other survivors.
I am 23 years old and I am going through menopause.
Hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, irritability and crying for no reason. These are just some of the symptoms I have to deal with. The average age for menopause is 51, but for me and many others in my situation, we have to subtract about 28 years.
When I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia at 22, everything happened so quickly. In a matter of 4 months, I had 3 rounds of extensive chemotherapy, 2 rounds of radiation, and 1 grueling bone marrow transplant. I have to take hormones for the rest of my life because my own body does not produce enough estrogen, which protects bone and heart health.
During treatment my doctors gave me birth control and Lupron shots that took away my period in hopes of protecting my ovaries. I have not had my period in over a year and the gynecologist said that if it does not come back within a year or so and I am already seeing signs of menopause, that the "factories have officially stopped."
My whole cancer journey has been like a dream to me. But I know it is reality when I get pissed off for no reason because my hormones are unbalanced or when in the middle of the night I wake up sweating, even when it's cold. It is nothing compared to the things I went through when I was sick, but going through menopause at such a young age is not fun either.
Cancer also took away my ability to have children.
The Lupron shots gave me great hope at the time, but I have recently come to terms with the fact that I have lost my ability to have children. When I had to sign documents before my chemotherapy and radiation treatments, all of them stated that there was a slim to none chance that I could have children. I always had a slight hope that this would not be true. At that point I made the decision that fighting to live was more of an emergency. I did ask if I was able to save my eggs, but I was told that it was not possible because of timing. I always wonder from time to time if I tried saving my eggs and pushed back the timing for my bone marrow transplant, if I would still be alive and be able to have children.
I also wonder what will happen when I am dating and it gets serious. How am I supposed to break it to someone I love that, "I love you, but I do not have the ability to have children and I know this is something that you want, but it will not happen if you are with me." How does someone respond to that? I would seriously have to think about the future of the relationship and the uncertainty of the response is what scares me because my heart could be broken. Further evidence that the side effects and consequences of a cancer diagnosis linger for many, many years after.
What keeps me sane is when I think back to the day my sister gave birth to my first niece, before my cancer diagnosis. There was so much risk involved and I saw the pain that she was in. At that moment, I told myself that I would not be having children and that I would adopt. I figured that I would be unable to handle the pain that comes with childbirth. This, of course, was all before I knew cancer was in my future. Deep down inside I knew I wanted to have children of my own and above all, I just always thought I would at least have the option.
However, when I think back to this day, I recognize that maybe I was always destined to adopt, and that I should be excited about my future adopted children. I just have to be a little more creative when starting my own family, by fostering or adopting children, maybe some animals, (and definitely brainwashing my nieces and nephews into thinking that they are mine. ;))
Above all, I appreciate my life so much more than before – even with early onset menopause and the reality of infertility. I am excited to experience what the future has in store for me and will always remind myself to keep positive, because a positive mind equals a positive result.
Has your cancer treatment caused infertility or an early onset of menopause? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Ashley Pichardo is a 23 year old Acute Myeloid Leukemia survivor. She had just recently graduated college and landed her first job when she was diagnosed. Her life was turned complete upside down by this diagnosis but she did not let it break her. Since then Ashley has fully recovered from her cancer and has joined the Teach For America 2014 Corps, where she will begin teaching the youth.