What you need to know:
- Premature menopause, which is one that occurs to women below 40 has several causes: Cancer of the ovary, chemotherapy, surgery, and congenital malformations.
- According to Dr. Adongo S Meme, an Obstetrics and gynecology at Kenyatta National Hospital women experience hot flushes, sweating, vaginal dryness, insomnia, mood swings, and weight gain during menopause or after the uterus removal surgery.
I went through menopause at the age of 27. This is all thanks to a uterus removal surgery that I had to have after I being diagnosed with cancer. I was not ready for the hysterectomy; as the procedure is referred to as, neither was I ready to face the after-effects that came with it—menopause.
It all goes back to the day before my 26th birthday. I had gone for a random, unplanned, and my first ever routine pap-smear check-up simply because my medical insurance cover was about to lapse. I was then working as a field officer with Mercy Corps, Kiambu County, doing civic education, gender empowerment, and economic empowerment.
I had no physical symptoms and cancer was the last thing in my mind as I took the pap smear.
I forgot about the test until a month later when I passed near the hospital on my way to a coffee date when I decided to check my results. After about 30 minutes, three young ladies in white dust coats, who had been talking in whispers since I gave them my details, told me that I could be having cancer. I was shocked but anger took the better part of me when they told me it was not in their place to tell me what cancer I could be ailing from. 'Why then had they leaked this piece of information?' I wondered. The doctor was not available so I took my results and walked out.
Later I googled in search to understand the word cancer. Today, I advise people against googling any information immediately after any diagnosis. This is because of the psychological torture that comes with it. I searched for a second, third, and fourth opinion. I was scared, lonely, and sad at the same time. I agonised for months on what to do.
I finally got a doctor who explained to me like a six-year-old what my results meant. I had developed uterine cancer which is the abnormal (malignant) growth of any cells that comprise uterine tissue. The buildup of cancer cells causes a mass (malignant tumor). To curb its spread an immediate surgery to remove my uterus was needed. The doctors also told me of the side effects and success rates of each treatment.
After the surgery, the doctor told me, I was to either have none or a super high libido. I was to expect some hard time managing my weight because of the hormonal changes. My mind couldn't still grasp all that he was telling me.
I am a Christian but I couldn't fathom what kind of a God allowed this. I always wanted to get married and be a mother of seven. How did he imagine I'd bear them? Who would even marry a wombless woman?
Nevertheless, I had no choice. It was either I had the surgery or cancer willed me. On the 23rd of March 2013, I was wheeled to the theater for the surgery. Unlike the usual ways that cervical cancer grows, around the cervix, mine had affected one side of the cervix and extended vertically to the mouth of the uterus.
The after-effects were even worse. The hot flushes, weight gain, mood swings, and cold flushes weighed me down. Living without menstruation took me months to digest. I was the first one in my circle of friends and in my family to go through menopause—my mum had not. Being a single mum, I couldn't bring myself to elaborate to my then 6-year old girl what was happening. She simply knew that her mum was unwell.
Thankfully, one of my seniors at work had undergone an almost similar surgery so she walked me through it. I also got a lot of help from a UK online platform called Hystesisters. In the platform, of women who have undergone similar surgeries, I was allowed to be.
A few months later, after a lot of care from my family in the countryside, I was better and even resumed work. However, I felt restless. Working became a task. I felt that there is another woman out there going through a similar ordeal as I did, and I didn't want her to go through the pain and stigma.
I resigned from my job in July 2013. It was a leap of faith and I had no idea where I'd begin. I started by requesting for a slot from pastors to beseech women to go for pap-smear checkups.
In November 2013, I launched my organization named HELD Sister Foundation. I wanted to provide a shoulder to a woman going through distress hence the name (Hold Every Lady in Distress).
I remember this day in October 2014, when I was invited to give a talk to women at Mavuno church, Mombasa road. There was this beautiful girl, Joan who told me how she had just been diagnosed with Mullelian agenesis also called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome. Women with this condition have either half the reproductive system or none.
I was humbled as I listened to her narrate how she had to undergo menopause at 18. I held Joan's hand and many months after, we launched MRKH Africa which 1 am still a board member.
I have committed to help ease menopause symptoms and to teach men and women how to minimise its adverse effects. I have learnt how to manage the symptoms using foods and other natural remedies. I strengthen my bones with proper exercise, diet, vitamin D, and calcium. One is likely to add weight during menopause, so it's important to observe proper diet and exercise. I also try as much as possible not to eat sugary, salty, and caffeine-rich foods because these are known to trigger some if not most of the menopause symptoms.
I have done the research and studied more on ethnobotany having been inspired by my mother's wisdom on plants. I am developing different natural packages.
In 2016, I launched a natural and indigenous nutrition program that is now called, Rejuvenating Nature's Beam (RNB). We have a menopause relief health basket package that comes with an immune booster, a hormone balancing agent, a magnesium-rich agent, calcium, and iron-rich natural and organic products.
I do holistic health coaching because even with the products, someone has to help women to understand what is happening to their bodies. Otherwise, they end up frustrated.
I am proud that I was able to walk my two most admired and loved women - my mother and my aunt - through the menopause journey.