One of the biggest problems with the Menopause is women not talking about it or sharing their experiences with their daughters. In this weeks blog Anna shares her story of how her Mothers menopause was brought on early by breast cancer and how her mothers openness helped shaped her attitude to life and her own period when it came.
Memories of my mom from my childhood are clear images. On Saturday mornings, she would burst through the front door, dripping in salty sweat after her morning run. Her image as I looked up at her, silhouetted in the door frame, crystallised in my memory.
She had my twin brother and me at 38. Most people might consider that late because her ‘biological clock’ was ticking. Maybe it took her till almost 40 to be a dimensional, complex woman and a loving, devoted mother. The impact she had on me, from girl to woman, was profound. She shaped my conception of womanhood: strength, playfulness, and a pinch of disregard for rules.
Most of all, she knew herself. Of course, motherhood was not easy—she reminds me that she didn’t have one good sleep for two years after my brother and I were born—and I am sure, at times, she felt as though she didn’t know herself. Nonetheless, she spent so much of her life struggling to find her unique identity. So now as a mother, she can model a secure and confident woman to her daughter. I think her solidness comes with her age. As a young girl learning to navigate the world, her solidness helped guide me.
When I was 14, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, it was only stage two, but at 14, I was shaken. The moment her disease became the most striking to me was after a week long camping trip with my class. The day before I left, she had a thick auburn hair. When I arrived at the airport after the camping trip, she was waiting for me with awkward straw hat on her head. She was beaming to see me and gave me a giant-mama-bear hug. She took off her hat to reveal wisps of thin grey hair. As shaken as I was, she was calm for me. She invited my friends over and we made a party of shaving her last strands of hair. Even in this tense situation, she embraced it with strength and playfulness.
Cancer kick started menopause for my mom. Hot flashes didn’t lend her any favours: At dinner with friends, she would yank off her wig or knit hat, revealing her sweating, bald head. What was even the point of having a wig, if it was too hot to wear? Most of all, she was really tired from a combination of chemotherapy and menopause. She spent many afternoons whizzing through seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.
My mom had surgery on her left breast to remove a tumor, making her chest uneven. She handled the changes to her appearance, the hair and her breasts—conventional indicators of femininity—in her stride. Her changed appearance indicated her fight against cancer, and she didn’t need her old hair and old breasts to be herself.
Although I didn’t get my period till two years later as I was a little bit of a late bloomer. Watching my mom deal with big changes to her body and come out the other side the same woman, made the changes my body went through less daunting.
To me, my mother’s wisdom has been her attitude throughout my childhood. From mother to daughter, older woman to younger woman, she is passing on her solidness in herself, strength in mundane and scary situations, and playful attitude. Learning how to comport myself is more valuable than any one piece of advice; she taught me how to be myself.