Now 34, Aminatou Sow was diagnosed with endometrial cancer two years ago, following decades of inexplicably protracted, debilitating periods. While understandably frightened at the time, the author, speaker, and co-host of the popular Call Your Girlfriend podcast says the discovery offered a measure of relief, too.
“Even though that’s bad news for many reasons, that made me feel more in control than the feeling that I’d had my whole life — not knowing what was wrong with me,” Sow tells Christene Barberich, Refinery29’s global editor-in-chief and co-founder, in this week’s UnStyled podcast. “It was really, really freeing to know that there was something that could be done... having a diagnosis was really powerful.”
Her doctor’s plan of attack to fight the “ginormous tumour” in her ovaries was suitably aggressive, and included both a hysterectomy and oophorectomy (the removal of the uterus and ovaries, respectively). And one incredibly major side effect of those life-saving surgeries: “Menopause started immediately,” Sow says.
What’s it like to be menopausal before you’re even 35? “All I will tell you, as a cancer patient, is that menopause hit me incredibly hard, and if I’m really honest about it, there are days where I was like, Wow, cancer was a walk in the park, menopause is hell,” Sow tells Barberich.
For starters, she says, there are the hot flashes. “Satan is inside your body when you’re having a hot flash. I was having them multiple times a day — just the quickness with which it happens, just the fact that you are not in control of what the trigger is,” Sow explains. “I would get a hot flash immediately if something was too funny or not too funny.”
And then there are the emotional and hormonal components. “I’m a person who has always been very much in control of my feelings. I don’t say this as a point of pride, it’s actually bad. I repress every feeling I have.” These days, however, Sow has accepted a lack of emotional control. “Menopause is multiple feelings at the same time.”
The biggest shocker of all, however, was the glaring lack of medical expertise available when it comes to menopause. “I have very regular checkups at my oncologist, and every time I go in, we'll talk about everything: how are you pooping? how are you eating? Nothing is off the table,” Sow relates. “These are people who put nuclear material in your body, who take care of you. But the minute you’re like, ‘Well, menopause,’ everybody looks at you and goes ‘Have you tried peppermint oil? Lavender?’” she says, laughing.
Rest assured, however, Sow is adjusting. “This is year two now, and it’s getting better.”
In her UnStyled episode, Sow also gets real about the challenges (and aftershocks) of possibly becoming a parent after her ordeal, how she created her hugely successful podcast, why friendship is life’s “main course, not dessert” and more. Listen now and subscribe via Apple Podcasts.