The popcorn bag is popping in my microwave. I’ve ransacked the pantry looking for chocolate. I’m craving a Diet Coke but I put on the kettle for tea instead, knowing that in truth I’ll put hot chocolate in the cup once the water is hot.
While it probably sounds like a familiar premenstrual routine (please, tell me I’m not the only one who needs salty and sweet, in excess, STAT!), it is quite the opposite. Cancer—actually, the chemotherapy that saved my life—left me in a post-menopausal state at 38 years old.
I knew it could happen. It was on the waiver I signed when my doctor presented all of the potential side-effects from chemo (as if I felt that it was actually a choice for me not to have chemo!). The waiver included lots of other scarier side-effects, ranging from heart conditions to bone loss to death, so menopause didn’t stick out. And obviously I’ll take menopause over the alternative (i.e. not being here at all!) but being post-menopausal at 38 has its challenges.
Here are the 5 reasons I’m sad that I’ve reached menopause.
1. I miss my period. I know that sounds strange to those still welcoming (if not so eagerly) their monthly visitor, but I miss experiencing the cravings, the changes in my body that signified something happening, and the extra sleep I needed and usually found a way to take.
2. I’m lonely. Think about how often you talk to your girlfriends about your period, or your body in general. I don’t know any other 38-year-olds going through this, so my peer group for menopause support is much older. That’s not terrible, but it’s just made me feel a bit more different (as if having cancer wasn’t enough to make me feel different).
3. I miss the mikveh and the rhythm that keeping the Jewish laws of family purity provided our marriage. Going to the ritual bath each month was so special and spiritual. It was my chance to take time for myself, to bathe and shower without my children interrupting, and to be totally alone with my body and my spirituality. As opposed to my work as a congregational rabbi, my time in the mikveh was just about my personal connection to God.
And then returning home to my husband was truly a honeymoon each month. Intimacy felt more special because there were times it was prohibited and then times it was encouraged, commanded even. Our union was elevated; God too was in our bedroom. The connection was powerful, and I believe it was even more so because it was punctuated by the different times of the month.
4. I worry about my aging (yes, now officially aging!) body in more ways than I thought possible. Bone density. Vitamins. Heart conditions. Healthy weight. The list goes on. It’s not easy to grow old gracefully. It’s not fun to fight it every step of the way either (remember that old Oil of Olay commercial?).
5. I am no longer able to produce life, and I need to come to terms with that difficult reality. While I did not want to have any more children, it’s different when it’s my body telling me that I am no longer able to fulfill the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.” I am so happy to be the mother of two beautiful boys, and so grateful that I am blessed with the gift of motherhood, but just knowing I couldn’t have more children, even if we wanted to, is very painful. My body feels empty; there’s a void in my uterus.
I am struggling to transition to this new, and reproductively speaking, final (may it be till the age of 120!) stage in my life. This is huge. There’s a finality that I feel has come too soon, or at least sooner than I had ever hoped it would.
In the greater scheme of things, I’ll take chemo-induced menopause any day over the alternative. I am so grateful to God for giving me life, sustaining me through the dark months of cancer, and enabling me to reach this new phase in my life. And I will celebrate, even as I continue to enjoy my popcorn and chocolate. Perhaps now it will actually be a cup of herbal tea that I will raise as I toast, l’chaim! To life. To life, indeed.