May 30, 2023

It Doesn’t Have to be ‘Dreadopause’: A Woman’s Reflections on Her Journey with Menopause 

professional photo of older woman smiling

The Society for Women’s Health Research spoke with Sharon Seibel, MD, and her husband Dr. Mache Seibel, about her journey with menopause. The following blog post captures takeaways from the conversation. This interview took place as part of SWHR’s Menopause Program. 

Not all paths to menopause look the same. For some women, menopause develops gradually, during a time known as “perimenopause.”  For others, menopause may occur earlier due to genetic factors, a chronic health condition (e.g., diabetes), chemotherapy, or radiation. For Sharon Seibel, MD, who is a psychiatrist and spent most of her career working in women’s health, menopause was triggered by a voluntary prophylactic oophorectomy (the surgical removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries).   

Ultimately, a combination of factors led Dr. Seibel and her husband, Dr. Mache Seibel, to the decision about surgery. First, Dr. Seibel had a long family history of cancer (what they presume to be ovarian cancer); her grandmother died in her 50s, and her great grandmother and one of her aunts died in their 40s. Additionally, Dr. Seibel was at an age where she felt that she had finished building her family (she was 47 years old at the time of surgery). Finally, she learned that she was a carrier of the BRCA gene, which increases the risk of getting several cancers, including breast and ovarian cancer. After she and her husband read the first study about how the prophylactic removal of the tubes and ovaries revealed a significantly decreased chance of getting breast and ovarian cancer, they both agreed that surgery was something she could do to be proactive.  

“Most women, when they think about menopause, they have a dread. In fact, some people refer to menopause as ‘dreadopause.’ But for me, I welcomed entering menopause because I grew up very afraid that I was going to develop cancer—even as a child.”

Following her surgery, Dr. Seibel started taking estrogen immediately, which controlled most of her menopause symptoms. Coincidentally, around this same time, the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study to assess prevention of certain chronic diseases in post-menopausal women in the United States, released its initial results about the major health benefits and risks of using combination hormone therapy. The highly publicized conclusions led to fear and confusion about the use of hormone therapy, which had lasting effects on the uptake of hormone use. Dr. Seibel, though, said she was fortunate to have her husband, who understood the issue, by her side.  

Now, 20 years after her surgical menopause, Dr. Seibel is experiencing menopause symptoms for the first time after getting off estrogen due to a breast cancer diagnosis. Her symptoms are a combination of noisy (hot flashes and brain fog) and silent (high cholesterol and bone health), which she manages through a combination of methods. She is adhering to a healthy diet (although Dr. Seibel says her diet has always been very good, she’s more careful now), working with a cardiologist to control her lipids, exercising more, meditating to control anxiety, and using a thermal wristband device that quickly cools to regulate body temperature. “I find myself having to look at every aspect of my body in trying to figure out what I need to do… My husband has this beautiful quote, ‘You have to take care of the sum of you, not just some of you,’ so I’m trying to take care of the sum of me,” she said.   

While Dr. Seibel is no longer working in the reproductive endocrine center she and her husband established, when asked how menopause affects her role as an editor of The Hot Years magazine, she shared that because she doesn’t sleep as well, she doesn’t have the same stamina. She said, “While I am still very creative and I can write, I have to work in shorter time frames.”  

In thinking through how her personal experience would apply to the workplace, Dr. Seibel shared the importance of employers knowing what menopause is, how women can be impacted by it, and being sensitive and having accommodations available to female employees in this life stage. Dr. Mache Seibel added that employers need to understand how uncomfortable it is for many women to talk about their transition to menopause and that making menopause-related jokes (e.g., comments such as, “Someone didn’t take her hormones today”) aren’t appropriate and yet, are too prevalent. They both encouraged creating an open environment, where people can feel comfortable discussing their menopause; allowing easy access to bathrooms, fans, and individually-controlled air conditioning; and providing flexibility for workplace uniforms, being able to take breaks, and work hours.  

“I’d like to see a day when menopause is considered with the same sort of openness and acceptance as pregnancy—from the standpoint of everyone gets maternity leave… I think it’s important to have some type of menopause policy in place, so that women could – if they needed to – have leave or more forgiveness for taking time off, and have their needs addressed,” said Dr. Mache Seibel.

Beyond promoting awareness in the workplace, Dr. Seibel doesn’t believe that, even among women, there’s an understanding of menopause and how to address it. She shared, “I accompanied my husband on his book tour for The Estrogen Window, and I got to speak to a lot of women personally. I was taken aback by how many women were suffering, and some of them were women who went into early or premature menopause [and] weren’t offered hormone replacement therapy.” Dr. Mache Seibel added that, in those cases, not treating menopause symptoms was a medical disservice because it puts women at increased risk for health challenges, including heart disease, cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety, and a host of other adverse conditions. 

However, Dr. Seibel shared her optimism that making menopause a part of everyday conversation, without the associated stigma, is starting. “Years ago, you never saw any ads on TV about treating menopause… now, people are actually saying the ‘m word’ out loud, which will help people become more aware of it as a normal transition in life.” In the workplace, she noted the importance of [appropriate] behavior starting at the top of a company. Having those in charge understand menopause can set a tone of openness and understanding—and that will trickle down.  

In one’s personal life, Dr. Seibel shared the importance of having a group of women to talk to, finding health care providers who are knowledgeable about menopause, and following a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Dr. Mache Seibel emphasized the criticalness of developing helpful and healthy habits over the course of a lifetime.  

“Menopause is a major life-impacting event, but it’s one of many. The issue with menopause is that it amplifies other parts of life. If you’re struggling with menopause symptoms, everything else is viewed through a lens of struggle, and it makes it harder to see clearly and to focus on a clear, happy picture,” said Dr. Mache Seibel. “If your symptoms get taken care of, then you see through a lens of being in balance…and it’s a much more clear, positive picture. All of this is connected. Menopause is not an island of a person’s life; it is part of a person’s life that is impacting everything, and the more you control this inevitable, must-happen event that is central to everyone’s being, the better the quality of her existence.”

Ultimately, Dr. Seibel shared, menopause is a normal life stage that “can be embraced; it doesn’t need to be dreadopause.”  


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