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I'm A 38-Year-Old In Menopause And The Way We Talk About Women's Health Needs To Change

Hi world, I'm Megan. I'm 38, and last summer I entered a new (to-me, anyway) phase of life: menopause.

Woman smiling at camera with glasses and a septum piercing, resting her chin on her hand

In case you're like, 'Wait, what's menopause and what's perimenopause, and how is medical menopause different, and what does any of this mean??' let's start with some quick definitions:

Menopause occurs because our estrogen levels get lower, eventually causing the menstrual cycle to end. Clinically, doctors will usually say you're in menopause if your menstrual cycle has ended and you haven't had a period in one year. The average age of menopause in the US is 51.

Perimenopause literally means "around menopause." It's the time leading up to the end of your cycle when many of the symptoms we associate with menopause may appear.

However, just as our period symptoms can vary, some people don't notice symptoms during peri while others may observe a wide (and surprising) variety of changes. Perimenopause can last for seven to 10 years, and it's not uncommon for it to begin in the late 30s or early 40s.

Medical menopause is menopause that's caused by a medical treatment. For some, this might occur after ovary removal surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Medical menopause can come with more severe side effects than natural menopause, but it really varies from person to person.

As for me, I get monthly ovarian suppression injections plus a daily pill. Together, these medications keep the estrogen levels in my body extremely low, which is great for preventing my highly hormonally-driven cancer from returning.

Top view of a small plate with a single white pill and text saying this itty bitty pill has had a huge effect on me

Now that I've been in menopause for a little while, I want to share a bit about what it's been like for me so far and how I hope millennials (aka people currently between the ages of 28 and 43) will change the way the world sees menopause.

I went into menopause knowing very little about it — and I know from talking with other millennials that it's a mysterious topic for many of us. My mom never said a word to me about what her menopause was like, and our culture is often either silent or outright cruel when it comes to discussing "the change." Pretty much everything I knew about menopause before it happened to me came from mean jokes on '90s sitcoms.

Woman resting face on hands, looking pensive, with a coffee mug beside the computer

The shame and silence around menopause is beginning to melt away, and I hope millennials will push the envelope even further as we go through it. I loved the response last year after Drew Barrymore had her first hot flash on live TV. So many people felt seen in that moment. It made something that's often invisible (or treated as embarrassing or shameful) into a national conversation.

Drew Barrymore in a talk show setting with a surprised expression, captioned with her quote on experiencing a hot flash

I also hope millennials will continue the push for better healthcare in perimenopause and menopause. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a safe and effective option for many, but it fell by the wayside for years, leaving people experiencing troubling symptoms to tough it out on their own.

Woman sticking a hormone replacement patch to her upper arm

Some people, like me, can't take HRT, and others simply don't want to. We need hormonal and nonhormonal options that can help alleviate bothersome symptoms and keep us feeling vibrant as we age.

Person holding pills in palm with pill bottle nearby

Some people argue that menopause is natural, so why should we need specialized healthcare for a natural event? They couldn't be more wrong. Dr. Javaid explained, "Menopause is natural, but it comes with a host of disruptive and sometimes devastating quality of life side effects that I don’t believe women need to suffer through. The costs of letting menopause symptoms go untreated are immense, and they include both physical and economic costs."

Woman lying in bed with a pained expression, hand on forehead, eyes closed, suggesting illness or discomfort

Finally, I hope that millennials will take this moment to get proactive about our health. There are definitely things millennials can do now to prepare for the eventual transition into menopause.

Woman lifting a barbell overhead in a gym setting, focused expression

It's honestly been scarier for me to write about my menopause than it was to share about my cancer — and that's wild!! It shows just how much shame we've built up around this completely natural process. We need to be more open about menopause and we have got to stop acting like our reproductive status has any impact on our value as people. There's a whole lot of life still to be lived on the other side of menopause, and we deserve to enjoy it.