A Personal Journey to MenopauseWhen Chris Badano was in her mid-40s, her life began to change. Unpleasant mood swings and hot flashes told Badano that she had entered perimenopause, a stage of life that all women experience. Badano, now 49, works in Accounting at the Medical College of Wisconsin Library.
Perimenopause — the transition to menopause — is marked by physical, mental and emotional changes that can span from two to eight years. The end of the transition is menopause, defined as 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period.
During perimenopause, the levels of hormones produced by the ovaries fluctuate, leading to irregular menstrual patterns and, for many women, the onset of hot flashes. Other possible changes associated with perimenopause and menopause include night sweats (hot flashes during sleep), mood swings, vaginal dryness, fluctuations in sexual desire, forgetfulness and trouble sleeping.
Badano said she didn’t quite know if what she was experiencing was “normal” compared to other women. “After a few months of hot flashes and terrible mood swings, I wanted to talk to someone to get information about what I was going through — and to get help,” she said.
Badano learned about the Total Health for Midlife Women Program at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. While she had seen her own gynecologist and received a prescription for her perimenopausal symptoms, she felt she needed something more.
The Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin Total Health for Midlife Women Program was designed for women between the ages of 40 and 60 to help them better understand the changes they are experiencing. The program encourages women to take a proactive role in their health by focusing on prevention, wellness, health risks and education.
Badano was among the first women to visit the Total Health Program when it began in 2003. During her initial visit, she met Marlys Swanson, RN, BSN, nurse specialist for the program. Vanessa Barnabei, MD, is the program’s medical director. In addition to addressing each woman’s unique concerns and issues, Swanson also makes them aware of their risks for other health problems in midlife, such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
During a one-on-one session, Swanson listened to Badano’s concerns, obtained a complete health history, and conducted a series of assessments that addressed her perimenopausal symptoms. They also discussed other important health issues for midlife women.
“We seemed to click; I immediately felt at ease,” Badano said of the session. “Marlys took the time to discuss all of the issues I was going through. I spent an hour with her, and never felt rushed. She kept telling me, ‘that’s normal.’ It was so good to find out I wasn’t going crazy!”
Badano was smoking when she first met Swanson. “She told me that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women,” Badano said. (Smoking is a leading cause of heart disease, and a woman’s risk for heart problems increases when she goes through menopause.) “I was shocked; I didn’t know that. Marlys told me about resources where I could get help to quit smoking, and she keeps encouraging me.”
With the information and encouragement Swanson provided, Badano made lifestyle changes that addressed her physical and emotional symptoms, as well as her risk for heart disease. She quit smoking, developed coping skills for dealing with everyday stress, improved her diet and exercises more. Additionally, she follows Swanson’s advice to receive regular medical exams and screenings, such as mammograms and cholesterol tests.
Swanson also put Badano in touch with resources available through Small Stones, a health resource center of Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. Small Stones offers many resources, such as books and CDs, for women in midlife. Total Health participants receive a free one-year membership to Small Stones. Swanson also suggested products to help reduce hot flashes and told Badano about the free Menopause Discussion Group that she leads each month.
“It’s really interesting to listen to how everybody’s story (about perimenopause and menopause) is so different,” Badano said. Each month, Swanson plans a different topic for the group, depending on what participants want to discuss.
“This Total Health for Midlife Program has opened up so many new avenues for me,” Badano said. “It was wonderful to have everything explained to me and to be given many options. I now share this information with my female pals in my age group.”
Author: Marla Fraunfelder
Last Review Date: June 30, 2006
Online Editor(s): Christopher Sadler